This week, Ethics for USS, with support from the NUS and responsible investment charity ShareAction, presented a petition to USS – the UK’s largest private pension scheme for universities and other higher education institutions - demanding it removes its funds from controversial weapons.
USS provides pensions for over 300,000 academics and academic-related staff, and has almost £50 billion in assets. A significant proportion its funds are invested in companies and industries that member campaign group Ethics for USS deem highly unethical.
Controversial weapons, for instance, are illegal in international law under the Inhuman Weapons Convention and related Conventions, and include chemical weapons, biological weapons, cluster munitions and landmines.
Professor Tim Valentine, a leading member of Ethics for USS, says, “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.”
Robbie Young, NUS Vice-President (Society and Citizenship) said, “The tuition fees students pay make up a significant proportion of the amount paid into this scheme, for example to lecturers’ pensions. The fact that our fees are funding companies that manufacture controversial weapons is completely unacceptable. Universities are meant for the public good and, as an increasing number commit to ethical investment, it is time for USS to reflect this trend.”
ShareAction CEO Catherine Howarth says, “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.”
The Ethics for USS petition comes as part of a broader campaign for an ethical USS investment policy, informed by an annual forum event open to members of the scheme.
USS chief executive Bill Galvin and chair of trustees Professor Sir David Eastwood have agreed to speak to scheme members to discuss these concerns in early 2017.