USS members campaign against cluster bomb investments

Members of the UK’s largest occupational pension fund, Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and the National Union of Students (NUS) have demanded an end to investments which breach the UN’s Controversial Weapons Convention, such as cluster munitions and landmines. The petition, signed by over 3,000 scheme members, was coordinated by Ethics for USS with support from ShareAction and the NUS. It calls on USS to phase out investments in companies involved with weapons banned under the UN convention, as part of a request for a wider ethical policy which also asks for members to be surveyed and an annual forum event open to members of the scheme.

Professor Tim Valentine, a leading member of Ethics for USS, said:  USS needs to understand that controversial weapons make controversial pensions. Two years ago scheme members called on USS to adopt an ethical investment policy based on members’ views. Yet in 2016 USS still invests our money in cluster bombs and other controversial weapons. Today we are renewing our call. The law allows USS to take our views into account. It is time to give us a pension to be proud of.

Professor Valentine spoke with the scheme’s chief executive Bill Galvin and chair of trustees Professor Sir David Eastwood, who agreed to meet with scheme members to discuss the issues raised in the petition in early 2017.

In a statement, USS said it was invested in the debt of Textron, a Diversified manufacturer with interests in aircraft, industrial and automotive products. In August 2016, Textron announced that it would discontinue production of sensor-fused weapons.

USS provides pensions for over 300,000 academics and academic-related staff in the higher education sector. It is the UK’s largest occupational pension scheme, with almost £50bn in assets under management. Trust-based pension schemes such as USS are legally bound to act in the best interests of their members ShareAction said.

Responsible investment charity ShareAction, which supported USS scheme members with the petition, is encouraging increased member engagement within all pension funds. Chief executive Catherine oHowarth said:  “Like members of many schemes in the UK, USS members care deeply about where their retirement fund invests. We hope the trustees will do what they can, within the law, to engage with those deeply held views.”

USS has an active responsible investment and governance investment approach based on engagement, voting and integration of environmental, social and governance factors in investment decisions. The pension funds was recently placed by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in its tier one of asset owners in respect of its application of the FRC’s stewardship code.

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