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Group calls for Western Union boycott

A demonstration was held in San Francisco Wednesday outside Western Union
at 24th and Folsom streets to call for an international boycott of the company for its price gouging practices.
Photos by John Han

By John Han

December 20, 2007

Members of the Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action (TIGRA) called for an international boycott of Western Union Wednesday until the money transfer company adopts fair remittance practices for immigrant communities.

The group says Western Union, the largest money transfer company in the world, "extracts resources" from immigrant communities who need to send money to support families in their home countries, charging as much as $15.00 to $25.00 per transaction - 30 percent higher than industry standards.

In 2006 over $60 billion was wired to Latin American countries with as much as 75 percent wired from US workers.

TIGRA Executive Director Francis Calpotura said the group announced the boycott campaign last September, with over 200 immigrant organizations signing on.

Francis Calpotura

In addition to charging exhorbitent commissions, Western Union also uses low currency exchange rates, according to TIGRA. The group is calling for lower commissions, fair market exchange rates, and a commitment from Western Union to create a "transnational community benefit fund," which would be funded by a one-dollar per transaction fee.

Calpotura says other money transfer companies have been open to the idea of the transnational fund, which would provide childcare, transportation, job development and other programs under negotiation with the group.

"The only question is, is Western Union going to change?" Calpotura said, adding Western Union has so far ignored their demands.

Western Union spokesman Dan Diaz said TIGRA "has completely disregarded - and has no interest in learning - what we, as a corporation, are doing."

Diaz said that since 2001 Western Union has granted nearly $40 million to non-profit organizations worldwide in more than 70 countries and territories to support humanitarian projects including disaster relief, health and human services programs, and education.

Also, Diaz said, Western Union announced last September its "Our World, Our Family," program - a $50 million, five-year initiative aimed at empowering migrant families through education and "economic opportunity programs."

Diaz said he hopes the program will promote education by offering scholarships to migrant families and creating entrepreneurs by providing mentors for small businesses.

But Youssef Sawan, TIGRA's regional coordinator for the Bay Area, says the program works with governments rather than communities, leaving communities with little voice on how investment funds can best be used.

"We believe that communities ultimately know better than anyone what types of developments, and what types of assistance they need, rather than governments or corporations," Sawan stated.

Sawan said Western Union's plan to invest less than 50-cents per $100 of profits back into communities is much less than WalMart which invests $2.30 per $100 into similar community fund programs.

TIGRA noted that Christina Gold, Western Union's CEO, received $16 million in bonuses in 2006.

"As a predatory financial institution, we're asking that they own up to their responsibility," Sawan said.

Youssef Sawan

Similar boycotts have been launched in at least a dozen cities nationwide, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Oakland, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Providence, New Brunswick and New York.





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