Food campaign news
Calling the Financial Services Authority to account
Last week we launched our exposé of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) – UK's supposedly 'independent' regulator of the financial services sector. We revealed how the FSA – funded by the banks and staffed by ex-bankers – acts as a lobby arm for the banks. It’s a classic case of 'regulatory capture' where an industry watchdog, created to act in the public interest, instead promotes the interests of the businesses it's supposed to regulate.
Its mis-directed influence undermines the public interest especially in the area of winning new rules to tackle food speculation. The FSA's influence has pervaded into every level of EU decision making on financial reform through staff secondment and the lobbying of MEPs. The City of London want to continue betting on food without any restrictions and FSA has been working behind the scenes to forward this agenda.
We wanted to expose the FSA but also hold it to account. So alongside our report we launched an online action to get people to email Adair Turner, chair of the FSA, and then to follow up with a phone call. The FSA is not widely known by the public and so is not used to direct public pressure. We asked people to comment on their phone calls so we could get an idea of how this action was going.
The initial comments showed that the FSA's staff were quite baffled about the issue and weren't quite sure how to handle the call:
I rang and got through to a receptionist who had no idea what I was talking about. She put me through to the customer services line and I pressed 1, then 5 on the automatic system.The guy I spoke to also had no idea what I was talking about and thought I might have confused them with the Food Standards Agency! I assured them that I was talking about the financial markets and commodity speculation. He said the FSA's remit has nothing to do with the global food markets and I said that was all the more reason not to meddle in them on behalf of the banks. He repeated that the FSA doesn't regulate global food markets and I said "I wish you did!"
Then as the week wore on and the calls mounted up, they realised they were being targeted and provided standardised scripts to their call handlers. Some were told they would get individual replies:
I just called and the switchboard operator was really friendly - had had a lot of similar phone calls. They offered to put me through to the helpline to discuss it further. Told me they'd had lots of calls and emails, but would respond to them all.”
Others were told that the FSA had already given WDM their response:
Got through straightaway to someone who said, 'Yes we know about the WDM's concerns and we have had a lot of emails, so your email will have got through.' I asked if they would, as requested, send an individual response about what they planned to do about this issue, but she just said that they had responded to the WDM.”
Thank you to everyone who took the email action and the phone action. Collectively, we've made them feel very uncomfortable.
We can confirm that the FSA has not responded to us directly about the exposé, although a spokesperson did make a statement in the Guardian in which they argued that the FSA is meant to “take account of the competitive position of the UK financial services industry” and “influence the international and European policy agenda”.
We have followed up with a letter to Lord Turner to explain why we targeted the FSA and to call on the FSA to stop promoting the interests of the banks in EU discussions on regulating food speculation. We'll see how he responds. In the meantime, if you think we should not let the FSA off the hook so easily, let us know your ideas in the comments section below.
You can still take the FSA action here.
Read our full report on the FSA here.
Heidi is a campaigns officer at WDM, working to stop excessive speculation in food in financial markets.