Barclays loses its grip while’s error is laid bare

Where is the sustainability boss at Barclays?

What’s going on over at Barclays? Once a bank on the verge of grasping sustainability, the firm seems intent on decimating the bespoke responsible business function every time it appoints someone.

Change is a theme across the bank, according to insiders. More than 100 executives and senior managers have gone in the past few years, replaced by an influx from US and other investment banks. So many have joined that Barclays is becoming known as “Citigroup in exile”.

The current executive committee of the entire Barclays group now consists of the chief executive, John Varley, and just three others – finance director Chris Lucas, chief executive of global retail and commercial banking Fritz Seegers and chief executive of investment management and investment banking Bob Diamond. Not exactly a broad-based approach to risk management.

Barclays, which is under more public scrutiny than ever before, does not even have a corporate responsibility/sustainability director.

Barclays’ community affairs manager, Rachael Barber, reports to the corporate affairs director, Howell James, who advises the board on strategy. The company’s central diversity team has been cut down, as have its environmental and internal communications teams.

In these times of banking irresponsibility, it’s worth recapping on whom has been in charge of corporate responsibility at Barclays in the past six years.

  • 2003: Chris Lendrum becomes group vice-chairman and board member responsible for corporate responsibility. Retires December 2004.
  • January 2005: Corporate responsibility handed to chief IT officer David Weymouth. He leaves in April 2005.
  • May 2005: Corporate responsibility passed to Leigh Bruce, as director of communications. After he leaves that summer (he has since rejoined Barclays in a different role), corporate responsibility passes to the new director of corporate affairs, Stephen Whitehead (who has since left).
  • November 2005: Alistair Camp becomes corporate responsibility director.
  • March 2006: Martin Mosley, consumer and community affairs director, who had led Barclays’ efforts on financial inclusion, leaves. To date, the function has not been replaced at his level.
  • May 2006: Christine Farnish, chief executive of the National Association of Pension Funds, is appointed public policy director.
  • 2007: Camp leaves; Farnish handed the sustainability brief, to go with public policy.
  • April 2008: Barclays’ corporate responsibility report is not delivered in time for the AGM, for the first time ever.
  • November 2008: Farnish made special adviser for public policy and regulation to Howell James, director of corporate affairs.
  • 2008: Andrew Flett, global head of environmental sustainability, leaves as part of the reorganisation. Barclays effectively decides it no longer needs a head of sustainability.
  • 2009: No director of corporate responsibility/sustainability.

Surviving senior corporate responsibility and environmental experts at Barclays amount to Chris Bray, credit environmental risk policy director, and Philippa Birtwell, head of public issues. Both have excellent reputations. The question is who is interested in the work they do?

Insiders complain that other functions at the firm, such as compliance, risk, legal, and human resources, have been left severely under strength. And this at the very moment when the bank’s actions are coming under government scrutiny. An interesting strategy.

Asked why it does not have a corporate responsibility director, Barclays says: “We have a largely decentralised management structure where business unit CEOs are responsible for sustainability progress within an overall framework set by the [group executive committee].”

Barclays says sustainability is “managed within a robust framework of internal control, governance and risk management … Barclays group chief executive John Varley has accountability for sustainability at board level”.

The company seems to have a number of junior managers tasked with dealing with some sustainability issues, but with no corporate responsibility or sustainability director. Most odd.

The bank’s next corporate responsibility report, due on 23 April, will make interesting reading. covers up, the self-styled online environmental news channel, issued an odd press release in March.

Apparently’s “Naked News” branding idea for its weekly round-up has had to, in the channel’s own words, “re-robe and re-name due to the threat of legal action from Canadian-based web TV operation of the same name,”., which calls itself the channel “with nothing to hide”, features, as one might imagine, scantily clad presenters gradually removing what little clothes they had to begin with as they detail the latest headlines. appears keen to promote its mistake, saying: “It was a bit of a schoolboy error for us not to thoroughly check operations using the name Naked News.” Quite. What was that about all publicity being good publicity?

Another list of ‘ethical’ companies, sigh…

Readers of this column may be aware that Greenwasher does not think much of “best of” lists of companies. They suggest companies such as, say, Pfizer and Microsoft, can be meaningfully compared.

Some of the entries in the latest list of 100 best corporate citizens, published by CRO magazine, may come as a surprise to environmental and ethics campaigners. Included are: Exxon, Yum Brands, Reynolds American, Weyerhaeuser, Monsanto, Goldman Sachs and Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold. Make of that what you will.

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