Activists have successfully forced Mastercard to hold a vote by shareholders on a proposal which, if passed, could see the company monitoring payments to global far-right political leaders and white supremacist groups. The proposal aims to see Mastercard establish an internal “human rights committee” that would stop designated white supremacist groups and anti-Islam activists, such as Tommy Robinson, from getting access to money sent from donors using the company’s card payment services. It’s been conceived by US-based political activists SumOfUs, who want to escalate the battle against white supremacists and far-right groups from tech platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Patreon, and PayPal to one of the biggest companies in world finance, in an attempt to choke off donations.
The proposal aims to see Mastercard establish an internal “human rights committee” that would stop designated white supremacist groups and anti-Islam activists, such as Tommy Robinson, from getting access to money sent from donors using the company’s card payment services.
It’s been conceived by US-based political activists SumOfUs, who want to escalate the battle against white supremacists and far-right groups from tech platforms like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Patreon, and PayPal to one of the biggest companies in world finance, in an attempt to choke off donations.
Robinson and several other leading figures in the global far right have been forced in recent months to solicit donations directly on their websites via Mastercard, Visa, and American Express after PayPal banned payments to them. Facebook also disabled the donation function on Robinson’s fan page before deleting it completely.
“Spreading hate involves spending money,” Eoin Dubsky, from SumOfUs, told BuzzFeed News. “Whether it’s paying for online advertising or organising violent rallies, white supremacist groups need financial services from companies like Mastercard.”
Tommy Robinson launches his EU election campaign in Wythenshawe, England. Over several months, SumOfUs has been locked in a battle with Mastercard executives behind the scenes in order to get the new committee proposal put to the shareholders ahead of the company’s June annual general meeting. It would see the formation of a “human rights committee” at the board level, which would monitor financial transactions with designated hate groups. Documents seen by BuzzFeed News reveal that the US Securities and Exchange Commission has given the green light for shareholders to get the chance to vote on the formation of the committee, despite staunch opposition from the Mastercard board and executives.
In the material to be sent to shareholders, the activists refer to a website called Blood Money, which tracks online payments to white supremacist groups from the likes of Mastercard, American Express, and Stripe. The website currently claims that Mastercard services are being used by groups like Counter-Currents Publishing, Covenant People’s Ministry, the United West, Sultan Knish, and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.SumOfUs has also pointed to the activity of Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. The former English Defence League founder is running as an independent in May’s European election. In November 2018, PayPal banned donations to the anti-Islam activist, with the online payment company saying that its services wouldn’t “be used to promote hate, violence, or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory”. More recently, Robinson has been calling on his global network of supporters to donate to his election campaign through his website, which allows payments from Mastercard.
“Having a Mastercard logo on their website also gives these groups a veneer of legitimacy, and allows those who want to donate to do so quickly and quietly,” Dubsky told BuzzFeed News. “Mastercard also benefits, pocketing a transaction fee for each purchase or donation.” Mastercard declined requests for comment, pointing instead to the board’s position laid out in the information sent to shareholders ahead of the general meeting. “Mastercard is committed to treating all people fairly and with dignity, and our interest in human rights extends to all areas in which our business is involved and where we have particular expertise,” it reads. “The Board does not believe that establishing a separate human rights committee is necessary to properly exercise its oversight of this important area.”
It’s unclear whether the proposal stands a chance of succeeding at June’s meeting. But the move to confront such a big, mainstream company like Mastercard over issues like the funding of white supremacy and the far right comes after action from smaller, online financial platforms like PayPal and Patreon in the area. PayPal has banned payments to Robinson, US far-right group Proud Boys, and Canadian anti-Islam activist Laura Loomer. It also acted against several US anti-fascist groups because the company had no tolerance for groups that promoted “hate” and “violence”. Last year, Patreon banned YouTuber Sargon of Akkad over a 2015 video that featured the Gamergate leader repeatedly saying the n-word in a Google Hangout with the alt-right. According to the New York Times, Sargon of Akkad, whose real name is Carl Benjamin, had 3,000 subscribers and was being paid $12,000 a month on Patreon when he was removed from the site.
In a recent YouTube video, Benjamin and Robinson talked about being de-platformed by social media companies. But Robinson also suggested that he has long-term fears beyond the big tech companies.
“I am being completely un-personed,” Robinson said. “What’s next—my mobile-phone contract?”
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London. Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.