Big banks, big criminals?
With an office on many city streets banking giant HSBC plays up to its slogan “the world’s local bank”. But it also turned out that it was helping drug cartels, crime syndicates and so-called rogue nations to move billions around the world’s financial system. A Mexican drugs lord described HSBC as “the place to launder money”.
The bank was busted after a year-long investigation by US authorities.
The almost 400-page report revealed that customers took advantage of lax controls and poor oversight.
The report says that the bank’s Mexican arm transported $7bn to HSBC in the US, more than any other Mexican bank. Despite warnings, it did not think that was suspicious.
It also says HSBC circumvented US safeguards designed to block transactions involving people the US regarded as terrorists and states regarded as rogue – Iran, North Korea and Cuba among them.
And the report claims it provided US dollars and services to some banks in Saudi Arabia, despite US concerns that they were linked to terrorist financing.
HSBC has been fined $1.92bn – the largest fine in banking history. But is a fine enough?
“When you fine these guys you don’t change their behaviour. The fine is simply the cost of doing business. What changes the banker’s behaviour is when you put him in an orange jumpsuit and you put him in a six-by-four cell with a guy named Bruce who’s got two fang tattoos on the side of his neck. That gets his attention,” says Jeffrey Robinson, an author and journalist.
HSBC is the latest bank to pay up for falling foul of US regulators. They have taken in more than $5bn in recent years because banks violated US sanctions or broke the law. But no bank or bank executive has yet been indicted.
So are we back to ‘banks behaving badly’?
William Black, a former US federal regulator, certainly thinks so. He talks to Counting the Cost about fines, regulations and HSBC’s reputation.
‘Right to work‘
Counting the Cost also looks at unions in the US state of Michigan – fuming after a new law has hit their financial and political power.
Michigan is the home of United Auto Workers, the country’s richest union. More than 17 per cent of Michigan’s workforce belongs to a union – the fifth highest percentage in the country.
Thousands of union members hit the streets in Lansing, the capital of Michigan, to protest against a new law they fear will diminish their collective bargaining powers.
They failed though – the law was passed and now Michigan will be a ‘right to work state,’ which means workers will no longer be compelled to join a union or to pay union fees.
So in the future, unions will have less money and so less political clout.
They tend to back the Democrats and financially supported Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, so the US president went to Michigan this week and told people the law was about politics, not economics – in his words “what they’re really talking about is the right to work for less money”.
But supporters of the law say in these tough economic conditions, it is time to change.
So, how will the ‘right to work’ law impact unions in the US?