Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lewisham Council Pension Fund has £12m invested in Burma 'dirty list'

I have just found out that Lewisham Council has nearly £12m of its pension fund invested in companies named on the Burma Campaign's 'dirty list', including Total Oil. That includes £11,697,000 in the pension fund plus £171,000 in procurement activity last year.

Anyone who has seen or read about the brutal oppression that has taken place in Burma will surely be horrified to hear that Lewisham Council has so much money invested in companies who do business with the Burmese military junta. It makes a complete mockery of the council’s so-called socially responsible investment policy.

Burma's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi has called for a boycott of all foreign investment in the country and business with the military regime as the quickest way of bringing it down, yet companies such as TOTAL Oil continue to fuel the oppression. For that reason, a small number of us, including some Burmese campaigners, will be staging a short protest on Saturday at 11am outside the TOTAL Petrol Station on Whitefoot Lane, Catford, SE6 1TP.

In November, all members of the Lewisham Council Pension Fund will be sent a survey asking for their views on ethical investment issues. The survey will ask how importantly members rate a company’s record on employment conditions, human rights, corporate governance and environment and whether there are any specific sectors, such as tobacco or the arms industry, that they would prefer the pension fund not to invest in. This presents an ideal opportunity for members to send a clear message to the fund managers that investing in companies that prop up dodgy regimes is not acceptable.

Since being appointed to the Pension Fund Committee last year I've been questioning fund managers on how their investment choices meet our socially responsible investment policy (SRI), but it always comes down to the fact that profit is placed before any ethical concern. It's incredibly frustrating. Pension fund trustees have a duty to act in the best financial interest of members, but we should also take into account their moral concerns. If enough council employees return their survey asking us to strengthen our SRI policy, the committee will have a duty to at least consider this.

Even if you put aside the moral arguments, there are sound financial reasons to engage in fair trade, respect human rights and act to prevent climate change.

2 comments:

Sven Griesenbeck said...

As much as I support your views on Burma and the 'fight' against the military rule there, demonstrating in front of the TOTAL petrol station defeats the object - as it is again hitting the wrong person. The owner of this petrol stationis most probably TOTAL, but the person who is running it for TOTAL is dependend on those who are buying petrol from him. It is on the same level as you would shout at the people working on railway stations because the train is late: these people are employed by bigger, impersonal companies and won't have any influence on the companies they are employed by. You are barking at the wrong tree -it would be better to co-ordinate on a broader, wider and higher level. Remember Shell a couple of years ago, which wanted to dump an oil plattform (Brent Spar) in the middle of the North Sea?

Best regards

Sven Griesenbeck

Sue Luxton said...

Hi Sven,
This is just one small demo in a global campaign against TOTAL, and organising a peaceful protest outside TOTAL on Whitefoot Lane is a valuable way of raising the issue in the local media and to Lewisham residents.
See: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/total.html
and http://www.totaloutofburma.blogspot.com/
for more info on this.

It is also one more attempt on my part to highlight how meaningless the Council Pension Fund's socially responsible investment policy is as it stands. If it prompts just one more employee to send their survey back completed and asking for a stronger SRI policy that I think it is worthwhile.

Finally, haranguing the employees of the petrol station isn't on my agenda - it's more about the cumulative effect of bad PR for TOTAL prompting them to withdraw from Burma.