Bank of England to consult over ethical concerns concerning polymer notes
The Bank of England has launched a public consultation over how it manufactures new £20 polymer notes after coming under fire for using animal fat in the production of the new £5 and £10 notes.
The Bank has held off signing supply contracts for the £20 polymer note, which is due to be released in 2020, in order to better understand "the range of public opinion" surrounding the use of tallow in banknote production and explore potential plant-based substitutes like palm and coconut oil.
"The Bank recognises the concerns raised about the discovery that traces of animal-derived additives were used in the production of its £5 polymer notes.
"It respects those concerns and is treating them with the utmost seriousness," the central bank said in the preamble to the consultation on its website.
The central bank confirmed last month an "extremely small amount" of tallow was used to produce polymer pellets to make the plastic notes, but said it would keep the £5 in circulation and issue the £10 as planned in September.
Alternative options, like destroying or reprinting the £5 note and delaying the issue of the £10 note set for September, were considered, but the Bank said it would be costly and compromise new anti-counterfeit measures.
The Bank has already spent £24 million on printing 275 million new £10 polymer notes since production began in August, on top of the £46 million spent on printing the £5 note.
Reprinting those notes using new materials would mean incurring those costs again, while the destruction of those notes would cost a further £50,000, the Bank said.
As part of the consultation, the Bank has included a report highlighting the "potential environmental and social impacts" of additives like coconut oil and palm oil, which have been floated as potential substitutes for the tallow pellets.
Activists and religious groups have been pushing for sustainable, plant-based alternatives and accused the central bank of forcing unethical products on the public.
Doug Maw, a 48-year-old from Keswick in Cumbria who collected over 134,000 signatures calling for the recall of new £5 notes in November, wants the Bank to stop using animal derivatives in note production, remove notes containing tallow from circulation.
He also wants the bank to avoid non-sustainable substitutes.
"During my meeting with the chief cashier (of the Bank of England) I pointed out that, of the numerous plant-based alternatives available, palm oil or coconut oil from not sustainable sources are also unacceptable for ethical reasons," Mr Maw said.
"Palm production has brought the orangutan to the brink of extinction and coconuts are often harvested in a very exploitative way."
Bank staff met with both Mr Maw and Satish K Sharma, the general secretary of the National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHT), earlier this year to discuss their concerns.
But having failed to halt the production of the tallow-laced notes, Mr Maw and the NCHT have teamed up to explore legal action.
"I want them to consider ethical issues in all decision making processes to avoid this kind of thing recurring," Mr Maw said.
The consultation will run until May 12.