As part of National Ethical Investment week, Matthew Butcher from FairPensions discusses how people saving for a pension can help change the world for the better
Over the next few years, millions of workers will be automatically enrolled into pension schemes by their private sector employers.
Many people don’t realise that their pension savings aren’t just left in a giant bank account until they retire. Instead pension pots are managed to increase their value. This means pension fund managers – appointed by the employer – will be used to buy shares in all sorts of companies, government bonds and state-owned assets, such as forests.
With National Ethical Investment Week (11-20 Oct) in full swing, more people are asking themselves where their pension savings are going. A minority of people do choose an ethical pension fund – this means the fund manager “screens out” investments in what many people would see as highly unethical companies in industries such as tobacco, alcohol, pornography, oil or arms (however, the nature of how these funds work unfortunately means than a small portion of these pensions could still be invested in the aforementioned industries, even with ‘ethical’ pension funds).
There are now a growing number of ways that pension funds could be invested in companies which are actively seeking to create positive change. But, while companies are still using fund managers who invest more conventionally, we also urge people to put pressure on their employers, and their pension fund managers to invest their pension money more responsibly.
We call this responsible investing and we urge you to write to your fund managers – who are shareholders in companies because of the investments they make with your money – so that they can represent your views on the way a company acts. Shareholders have rights, including the right to vote at shareholder meetings and to engage company senior management when environmental, social or human rights concerns have been identified. Responsible investors should take action to improve corporate behaviour and, at the same time, protect shareholder value.
At FairPensions we run the campaign for responsible investment in the UK. We have mobilised shareholders to demand greater transparency over risks in the Canadian tar sands and got major shareholders to push a pharmaceutical company to stop blocking generic drugs from entering the Indian market. This year, we also ran a prominent campaign on excessive executive pay. Using a tool on our website, thousands of supporters emailed their pension funds telling them to vote down unreasonable pay packets. We became part of the so-called shareholder spring which saw the resignations of a number of high profile chief executives over their pay packet.
FairPensions are running a free training day on 17 November for those wanting more information on how to make their pension a more ethical one