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