We, the undersigned students and alumni of the University of Toronto, call on the University of Toronto Student Union to take action to limit the on-campus influence of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), due to RBC’s complacency in the climate crisis and colonial violence. We call on the UTSU to take steps to phase out RBC’s influence on campus until a time that RBC has committed to divest from fossil fuels, and adopt policies to meaningfully integrate Free and Prior Informed Consent.
The UTSU’s continued support for RBC, including banking with RBC, accepting sponsorships from RBC, and hosting RBC on campus runs in direct contradiction to the UTSUs commitments to climate justice and Indigenous rights and its mandate to support students. In 2020, the UTSU ratified a motion to declare a climate emergency, support fossil fuel divestment, and commit to a socially-just climate transition at U of T.
RBC is the number one funder of fossil fuels in Canada and the 5th largest funder in the world, having lent $262 billion CAD to fossil fuel projects since 2016. RBC is also the lead financier of the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, which does not have the consent of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are rightful title holders of the land the pipeline will cross, and a lead funder of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which does not have consent from local First Nations including the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. By funding these projects, RBC is violating the principles of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and ignoring direct calls from the frontlines to drop the project.
Currently, the fossil fuel industry relies on banks like RBC to provide needed capital and social license to continue the extraction that is setting us on the path to missing our 1.5-degree target. RBC’s funding of fossil fuels directly threatens students' futures and is already directly impacting the lives of many students and their loved ones, as the frequency of climate disasters continues to increase.
As young people, we hold influence over RBC. Big banks like RBC know that their reputations among young people, on whom they rely on for profits, are fragile and that the reputational risk associated with fossil fuel funding is highest amongst our demographic. RBC knows they rely on students, for a steady influx of new customers and future talent for their workforce. This is why RBC continues to sponsor on-campus events, scale its on-campus program by opening dozens of RBC On Campuses across the country, and fund philanthropic initiatives like the Future Launch program which devotes $500 million into a 10-year program to win over young people eager to join the workforce.
The UTSU, as a representative of tens of thousands of young people, is in a strong position to influence RBC to withdraw its support for fossil fuels, just as the UTSU played a critical role in influencing the University of Toronto to divest. The UTSU should be using its societal influence to intensify pressure toward environmental and social justice values—not helping banks patch up their reputations.
Thus, we call on the UTSU to cut ties with RBC and develop a pathway to end the on-campus relationship by taking the following action:
- Release a statement publicly, or sign on to a joint statement of Student Unions, condemning RBC's complacency in the climate crisis and ongoing involvement in projects that violate the rights and title of Indigenous people, like the CGL pipeline and TMX pipeline.
- Open a pilot account with Vancity or another Credit Union, and develop and release publicly a report investigating the process of a full transition away from banking with RBC
- Develop a policy that prohibits banks' sponsorship of UTSU events and activities, as well as booting in student union spaces (including clubs fairs, frosh week, and so on)
- Disclose the details of the contract that the UTSU holds with the RBC On Campus branch