I even made some of my own calls to put the pressure on the banks.

“Hello Hello.” Moshi Moshi.

At 350 Japan, we’ve just wrapped up a new call-in campaign targeting our country’s three biggest commercial banks: MUFG (Mitsubushi Financial Group), Mizhuo, and SMBC (Sumitomo Banking Corp). Our goal? Get these banks to cut down their coal financing, and stop more development of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel.

From 2017 to 2019, these banks were the three biggest lenders to coal developers worldwide. Public pressure has pushed them to review their coal policies – but none of them have gone far enough to curb coal finance.

Take the case of Vung-Ang 2, a coal-fired power plant under development in Vietnam. UK-based bank HSBC pulled out of the project in January, thanks to pressure from us and many other activists around the world. But Japan’s banks and the public funder, JBIC, were thinking about moving in, putting up more investment and securing a bigger piece of the pie. That’s where our Moshi Moshi campaign comes in. 

We knew it was a critical time to influence the banks’ decision-making, especially as many eyes are on their coal policy in general.  It was February, and we reasoned that we had to get their attention by the end of March, before they made their final funding decisions on the project. So we came up with a new, low-budget, and relatively simple plan to put into action.

In the corporate world, if a call center receives enough calls on one issue in a month, they have to report it to Risk Management committees and top executives. That was our goal: make sure management heard customers’ concerns about their bank’s coal financing.

We created and circulated beautiful flyers and a blog page to get people to participate. We also hosted a finance campaigning training, and workshops on organizing both online and in-person.

We encouraged our supporters and volunteers to call in to the 3 mega banks to ask them to stop financing any new coal fired power plants. We also encouraged volunteers to encourage others, too, by hosting follow-up online meetings.

And guess what? The people called. They moshi-moshi-ed away!

In total, 90 people across Japan reported back to us that they’d called these 3 banks over the campaign period.  We assume that not everyone reported back, so it’s possible even more people participated.

Overall, we made 70 calls to Mizuho, 75 to MUFG and 68 to SMBC. Most of the time, the calls were received with impeccable politeness: but by the end of the month, it was clear that call center representatives were getting tired of the passionate callers of all ages from everywhere. Mobilizations in Japan are rare, and so a relatively small mobilization can have a big impact. We’re very happy with our turnout of 90 people – and it’s clear the banks took notice.

So how did the banks react?

According to our internal sources, the Moshi Moshi campaign was very well recognized. Mizuho postponed their meeting with us, saying “This is not the time for us to have a constructive conversation while you carry out something like this Moshi Moshi campaign.”  MUFG had to revise their call script, stating that they had already introduced a divestment policy. So we re-published our information to point out the many loopholes that divestment policy has.

The Nikkei, Japan’s big financial newspaper, even reported on March 1 that there was a grievance program by which progressive companies could improve their operations by analyzing complaints from their supply chains and NGOs. The Moshi-Moshi campaign must be in line with this trend.

In March, we had meetings with all 3 banks, and each one said they passed on those voices from the customers to top management. SMBC and Mizuho also repeatedly said to us that they were going to revise their current coal policies.

So what comes next?

Time is ticking and we are on to planning another action. The next one will be a full collaboration with our 350 volunteers and Fridays for Future Japan, most likely targeting Mizuho. We might even ask you to help back it, from wherever you are in the world, to build even more global pressure.

Stay tuned: I hope you will join us!