Revealed: Manchester pensions invested in world’s most unethical companies

Pensions worth millions from all 10 Greater Manchester Councils are being invested in companies accused of war crimes, racial discrimination, and massive environmental ruin. 

The companies are listed as the world’s most ethically corrupt by Swiss research firm, Covalence, and are financed in part by the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF).

The fund invests public sector pensions into the businesses, which include Barrick Gold, Freeport-McMoRan, Halliburton and Chevron – and all are under fire for various ethical violations.

DESTRUCTIVE METHODS: ShareAction believe GMPF should use their power to improve the behaviour of companies they fund (courtesy of CIFOR, with thanks)

Their unethical practice has driven many organisations to urge GMPF and other shareholders to pressure the companies into halting destructive methods.

ShareAction, a charity promoting responsible investment by pension funds, said: “Investors should take into account the environmental and social impacts of companies in which they invest.

“It’s vital they take a proactive approach to deal with these issues and use their shareholder powers to improve the company’s behaviour.”

Rio Tinto, a mining company facing worldwide criticism for dozens of deaths and environmental abuses, receives £170,000,000 worth of pensions investments from GMPF.

A staggering 38 people have died in the last 18 months at a Rio Tinto-operated mine in Indonesia – owned with US Company Freeport – inciting a month long strike in November.

TRAGIC TRUTH: 38 people have died in the last 18 months at a Rio Tinto-operated mine in Indonesia (courtesy of IndustriAll, with thanks)

In December 2013, two massive uranium leaks severely threatened indigenous communities and the surrounding areas at Rio Tinto-owned mines in Australia and Namibia.

Global trade union IndustriAll said: “It’s time for Rio Tinto to own up to its failures and speak openly about what the company will do to ensure these disasters never happen again.”

Poor relationships with local communities have sparked numerous lawsuits. Two native Canadian tribes are suing the Rio Tinto-owned Iron Ore Company of Canada for $900million (Canadian).

A tribe chief accuses the company of racial discrimination, expelling women, children and elders from homes, and ripping apart their lands for billions in profits.

According to IndustriAll, Rio Tinto refuse to listen to unions or workers – shareholder action is the best option to halt the abuse of human rights and the environment.

MORAL DUTY: GMPF have not acted over ethical or environmental breaches as it would be ‘inconsistent’ with their legal duties (courtesy of CIFOR, with thanks)

As a significant shareholder they urge GMPF to pressure Rio Tinto to amend its behaviour.

“They have a big stake so they have some real voice,” said campaigns director Adam Lee.

Rio Tinto is already under pressure by large shareholders – ‘poor environmental practices’ forced Norway’s government pension fund to dump £500million of shares in 2008.

Norway’s fund also blacklisted Rio Tinto and dozens of other companies for breaches in ethical guidelines spanning from abuse of human rights to production of weaponry.

Yet action is unlikely to be taken by GMPF. The fund does vote to influence company behaviour but ethical factors are only considered if member interests are met.

TIME TO OWN UP: IndustriAll says Rio Tinto must speak openly about what it will do to prevent further disasters (courtesy of IndustriAll, with thanks)

“In our view, applying ethical or environmental policy to investments would be inconsistent with our legal duties and responsibilities,” they said.

However, ShareAction argues that pension funds have a social responsibility that extends far beyond legal responsibilities to their members.

The charity think a focus on profit must be balanced with social and environmental responsibility for the wellbeing of our planet and sustainable long-term returns.

GMPF’s adherence to its legal responsibilities ensures unimpeded investments in Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold and the other companies listed by Covalence, regardless of controversy.

Barrick Gold faces heavy criticism for police brutality, gang rape and forced evictions at its mine in Papa New Guinea after reports by various human right organisations.

ACCOUNTABLE: As shareholders GMPF should scrutinise the human rights records of companies, according to Amnesty International (courtesy of CIFOR, with thanks)

Amnesty International urged immediate interference by GMPF to put and end to companies operating outside of a moral code and at the expense of people worldwide.

“GMPF should scrutinise the human rights records of companies in which they invest,” economic director Peter Frankental told MM.

“They should hold them to account to improve their record if they continue to make investments in these companies.”

Main image courtesy of CIFOR, with thanks.

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