New campaign calls on USS to stop controversial weapons investments

Petition at £49bn academics’ fund attracts more than 3,000 signatures

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the £49bn (€57.6bn) scheme for UK academics, has been urged to cease its investments in controversial weapons as a new campaign calling on the pension fund to adopt a new ethical policy to sit alongside its responsible investment policy has been signed by over 3,000 scheme members.

The petition by the ‘Ethics for USS’ organisation, asking the pension scheme to divest from companies involved in the manufacture of cluster munitions, land mines and other controversial weapons, as of today (December 8) has attracted 3,271 signatures.

Ethics for USS is a campaign group urging the pension scheme to adopt a more ethical investment policy. It is backed by campaign group ShareAction.

In 2014, over 3,000 members signed a petition calling on the pension scheme to stop investments in companies that manufacture weapons banned under the controversial weapons convention.

Tim Valentine, chairman of the steering group at Ethics for USS, told RI: “Essentially, this new petition builds on the previous petition. We want to keep up the pressure on USS, because this is something that members really want.”

He added: “It is important to note that USS members are teachers, researchers and academics whose vocation is to improve life through learning, teaching and research. So to have their pensions working against the aims of researchers and their institutions is a big contradiction.”

The petition also calls on USS to adopt an “explicit policy” not to hold investments in companies that have any involvement with weapons banned under the Controversial Weapons Convention.

In a letter, Ethics for USS said: “We were told the ‘board was listening’ but that conciliatory phrase was never matched with action: despite two years’ engagement in good faith, the scheme have not listened to members, and continue to invest in controversial weapons.“When we challenged scheme CEO Bill Galvin recently, he stated that stepping away from these patently unethical investments was impossible, as they were ‘financially significant’ to the scheme. That begs the question, do you really want a ‘significant’ portion of your pension funding weapons capable of maiming civilians?”

“USS haven’t listened, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop asking,” it added.

The petition is also calling on USS to establish an annual forum event open to members of the scheme, including retired and deferred members, to be webcast and posted as a video on the scheme’s website.

Valentine said it was important for members to be given the opportunity to engage directly with the fund.

Controversial weapons are weapons banned or regulated in international law under the Inhumane Weapons Convention, and weapons covered by standalone Conventions such as those prohibiting chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions.

USS said in a statement to Responsible Investor that the trustee’s primary duty is to ensure there is enough money to pay pensions for its 375,000 members and that it takes its members’ views “very seriously”.

“USS is an active and responsible investor, we engage with the companies we are invested in on a range of matters, when we believe doing so is in the financial interests of our members. We do not rule out investment in any sector on purely ethical grounds.

“USS has invested in the debt of Textron, a diversified manufacturer with interests in aircraft, industrial and automotive products. Textron has recently announced plans to discontinue production of sensor-fused weapons meaning it will no longer be producing cluster munitions.” Link