8 Oct 2015

Divestment should be last resort - Super Fund

11:34 am on 8 October 2015

The latest annual report from the New Zealand Superannuation Fund shows it is taking a hard line with political activists trying to tell it where to spend its money.

Oil rig

Activists have been calling on the fund to divest from fossil fuel companies. Photo: 123rf

The fund has been asked by activists repeatedly this year to pull its cash out of companies investing in the Middle East or making fossil fuels.

But it has bowed to few of their demands and makes clear it will not do so unless there is a robust case for divestment on ethical grounds.

So far, about 200 companies have been explicitly blocked from Super Fund investments - the vast majority of them tobacco firms.

The next biggest group are companies involved in cluster munitions, nuclear bombs and anti-personnel mines.

In its annual report, the fund said it was lobbied this year by activists wanting to add fossil fuel companies to this list because of their contribution to climate change.

But the fund has not divested from fossil fuel companies yet and, in a formal statement, it said there were many tools available to respond to climate change risk, and divestment was only one.

However, it said it was still considering all options to combat climate change.

One of these options is to invest in clean energy schemes, and this includes a new but still unconfirmed plan to invest $US350 million in an American project targeting clean energy over the next five years.

About 300 people marched up Auckland's Queen Street as part of a global protest urging more action on climate change.

About 300 people march up Auckland's Queen Street as part of a global protest urging more action on climate change in 2014. Photo: RNZ / Olivia Allison

Another option is to monitor companies via international schemes such as the British-based Carbon Disclosure Project, which keeps tabs on thousands of corporations worldwide.

In addition to the Carbon Disclosure Project, the fund is seeking answers from 133 companies on a range of ethical issues.

Fourteen of these involve direct inquiries from company managers and they cover sectors like oil and gas, mining, food production and private prisons.

The other inquiries are being carried out in conjunction with other international agencies.

Decisions on Middle East

The fund is also being repeatedly asked to divest from companies involved in the Middle East.

But its policy is to take action in the Middle East based on United Nations resolutions, or laws passed by the New Zealand government, not on the arguments put forward by activists.

It said five companies have been blacklisted so far, mainly for work on Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Another cause for exclusion was involvement in the construction of a barrier between Israel and the West Bank.

The fund said the settlements were illegal under international law and the separation barrier had been condemned by the United Nations.

But it said neither the United Nations nor the New Zealand government have called for an embargo on the supply of arms to either side in the conflict.

It said, if this changed, it would review its investments.

Protest against speech by Israeli soldiers at Victoria University

A protest against a speech by two Israeli soldiers at Victoria University in Wellington in September 2015. Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

The Superannuation Fund has produced another good financial result.

It achieved a 14.64 percent return on investments before tax in its last financial year.

While this was a reduction on the 16.85 percent average of the last five years, analysts believe it is a high figure for tight economic conditions.

The size of the fund stands at $29.54 billion.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs