Barclays suspends sponsorship of Download, Latitude and Isle of Wight festivals

<span>Corey Taylor of Slipknot performing at Download festival, 14 June 2019.</span><span>Photograph: Joseph Okpako/WireImage</span>
Corey Taylor of Slipknot performing at Download festival, 14 June 2019.Photograph: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

Barclays has suspended sponsorship of all Live Nation festivals for 2024 – including Download, Latitude and the Isle of Wight – after protests from bands and fans over the bank providing financial services to defence companies supplying Israel.

The bank signed a five-year sponsorship deal with Live Nation in 2023. It is understood that the suspension does not apply to the entire contract.

A spokesperson for Live Nation said: “Following discussion with artists, we have agreed with Barclays that they will step back from sponsorship of our festivals.”

A spokesperson for Barclays told the Guardian: “Barclays was asked and has agreed to suspend participation in the remaining Live Nation festivals in 2024. Barclays customers who hold tickets to these festivals are not affected and their tickets remain valid. The protesters’ agenda is to have Barclays debank defence companies which is a sector we remain committed to as an essential part of keeping this country and our allies safe.

“They have resorted to intimidating our staff, repeated vandalism of our branches and online harassment. The only thing that this small group of activists will achieve is to weaken essential support for cultural events enjoyed by millions. It is time that leaders across politics, business, academia and the arts stand united against this.”

The protest group Bands Boycott Barclays said: “This is a victory for the Palestinian-led global BDS movement. As musicians, we were horrified that our music festivals were partnered with Barclays, who are complicit in the genocide in Gaza through investment, loans and underwriting of arms companies supplying the Israeli military. Hundreds of artists have taken action this summer to make it clear that this is morally reprehensible, and we are glad we have been heard.

“Our demand to Barclays is simple: divest from the genocide, or face further boycotts. Boycotting Barclays, also Europe’s primary funder of fossil fuels, is the minimum we can do to call for change.”

Areeba Hamid, co-executive director for Greenpeace UK, also welcomed the suspension. “Live Nation have done the right thing by stepping away from their Barclays sponsorship. It’s time for Barclays to stop hiding behind the music and face it instead. This bank is the biggest fossil fuel funder in Europe, bankrolling oil and gas to the tune of billions of pounds, and has now been linked to arms companies involved in the conflict in Gaza. By putting an end to the greenwashing, festival organisers are sending a clear signal to Barclays that it’s time they took responsibility for the destructive industries they fund.”

A number of bands had already withdrawn from this weekend’s Download festival, which gets underway on Friday in Donington Park, as a result of the sponsorship. Among them were Leeds band Pest Control, who said: “We cannot sacrifice the principles held by this band and by the scene we come from and represent, just for personal gain.”

The bands Speed, Scowl, Zulu and Ithaca also joined the boycott. The latter said: “Once we were made aware of Barclays’ involvement in Download we knew we could no longer participate. This moment of solidarity is an opportunity for festival organisers to reflect carefully on who they take money from and see that the younger generation of bands will no longer be silent.”

The boycott came after more than 100 acts pulled out of playing the Barclaycard-sponsored Great Escape festival in Brighton in May.

The actions of the UK music community echo wider protests against Barclays by pro-Palestine campaigners. This week members of activist group Palestine Action vandalised about 20 of the bank’s branches across the UK, including smashing windows and daubing them with red paint; in Edinburgh, rocks inscribed with the names of dead Palestinians were thrown at a bank branch.

The UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign has called for a general boycott of the bank over its “grave complicity in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians”, alleging that Barclays “now holds over £2bn in shares, and provides £6.1bn in loans and underwriting” to companies providing weapons systems to Israel.

It is also one of the “divestment and exclusion” targets named by the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Barclays addressed the criticism in a statement posted online. “We have been asked why we invest in nine defence companies supplying Israel, but this mistakes what we do,” the company wrote. “We trade in shares of listed companies in response to client instruction or demand and that may result in us holding shares. Whilst we provide financial services to these companies, we are not making investments for Barclays and Barclays is not a ‘shareholder’ or ‘investor’ in that sense in relation to these companies.”

In relation to Israeli defence company Elbit, Barclays stated: “We may hold shares in relation to client driven transactions, which is why we appear on the share register, but we are not investors.”

In an opinion piece for the Guardian, the bank’s chief executive, CS Venkatakrishnan, criticised the attacks on its branches and said: “It is important that we restore reason and discourse to our dealings with each other.”

He added: “The UK’s creative and cultural life is world-renowned and respected. Our literary and music festivals are the warp and weft of our cultural life and an important source of sales and exposure for artists. Rejecting funding only hurts their livelihood and our broader culture. Nobody benefits from reduced funding for the arts.”

When contacted by the Guardian for comment earlier in the week, Barclays said it had supported the UK music and arts sector with £112m over the past 20 years.