We Can No Longer Be Silently Complicit
19 August, 2016
Yesterday’s news that Kiwisaver providers are invested in cluster bombs is absolutely abhorrent. It jars our identity as New Zealanders, and it seems to have come as a shock to many that our money could be contributing to such horrors. While I’m outraged, the news comes to me as no great surprise. As someone who has been campaigning for institutions to ditch their fossil fuel investments because of their impact on the climate, I’ve seen the disconnect between values and investment in New Zealand. It seems that we can acknowledge that some things are just unethical, and detrimental to society, but putting our money where our mouth is is another matter.
For example, Auckland City Council was recently criticised for their investments in tobacco, sugary drinks and junk food, held while they actively campaigned against smoking and obesity. It seems reasonable to think that public institutions should not be profiting from the very industries that are harming our communities. These investments violated the Council’s own investment policy. Council said that they slipped through at an operational not a policy level. Perhaps a classic case of one hand not talking to the other. But is this good enough?
Could the same be true for the Superfund? I am aware of at least one report that has been presented to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund highlighting their lack of substantial policy on ethical investments. They have been aware of the possibility of these munitions investments long before today. Surely they didn’t think it was acceptable to knowingly continue to invest in industries with such unsavoury operations. Maybe the Super Fund thought New Zealanders wouldn’t be too concerned as long as they continued to churn out financial returns. But surely not.
Yesterday our government announced that it will ratify the Paris climate change agreement by the end of the year. The science is conclusive – we’re facing a climate crisis. World leaders have agreed that immediate and drastic action is necessary to avoid catastrophe. We need large-scale human effort to tackle climate change, and fossil fuels are Enemy Number One.
All of the four major banks operating in Aotearoa have been applauded for taking the ‘2 degree climate pledge’. However, despite having the issue raised through many channels, and despite growing public pressure, none of these banks have so far been willing to move their billions of dollars invested in the fossil fuel industry.
Auckland City Council, KiwiSaver, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, the banks, and Auckland University, all invest in the fossil fuel industry. These investments send a clear message that our institutions still think it’s ok to destroy our planet. Or, they haven’t managed to address the matter yet.
We recognise that there are things that are good and bad for society. A decent society doesn’t want to kill people. A smart society doesn’t want to wreck the stability of the climate. But when it comes to corporations, institutions where profit-maximisation trumps all, it’s a different kettle of fish. There are many corporations that will happily profit from death and destruction for as long as they can get away with it. So it’s up to our institutions and us as individuals to be discerning about where and how our money is invested.
A tactic we can use is divestment campaigning. Divestment is the opposite of investment. It involves removing money from an industry or fund on ethical grounds. Divestment removes the social licence of an industry to operate, and has historically been a key tactic in creating social change.
Through a snowballing grassroots movement lead by 350.org, in the last four years over $3.4 trillion USD has been divested from the fossil fuel industry globally. Institutions including The Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, The City of Berlin, Oxford University, and the World Council of Churches have divested from fossil fuels. Here in NZ institutions including Victoria University, the Anglican and Presbyterian Churches and Dunedin City Council have created policies to exclude fossil fuels from their investment portfolios. 350 Aotearoa has ongoing campaigns for Fossil Free banking options in New Zealand, and for the Auckland City Council to divest from fossil fuels.
It’s people power that has created this shift, and it’s people who are going to hold our institutions accountable.
By allowing our money to be invested in cluster bombs and fossil fuels, we are silently complicit in giving these industries social licence to continue their damage. But we need alternative choices to be offered by our financial institutions.
I think we can all agree that investing in cluster bombs is just not ok. Investing in the very industry that is making our planet unlivable shouldn’t be either. We need to clean up our act in the ethical investment space as a nation. It’s time for our leaders and financial institutions to grasp that where our money is matters. But I bet your bottom dollar that they won’t shape up until we, the public, make them.