Report: UN Pension Invests in Firms Accused of Abuses

Guardian alleges UNJSPF has $1 billion in ethically questionable investments.

The United Nations’ $64 billion staff pension fund has been accused of investing approximately $1 billion in companies involved in bribery and major environmental abuses, according to a report from the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

The United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF) has nearly $1.5 billion invested in 24 publicly traded companies, according to the report, which said that many of those companies have been implicated in human rights abuses, or in environmental catastrophes, while some are being prosecuted or have already been prosecuted for corrupt practices.

The report says that the fund’s largest investment is a $210 million stake in oil company Shell, which, according to the UN’s own 2011 report cited by the Guardian, was found to be partially responsible for environmental damage from oil spills in Nigeria. It also said the fund holds a combined $244 million in banks HSBC and Barclays, which the Guardian said have been accused of handling covert financial transactions, and have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines or settlements.

“These investments clearly undermine the credibility of a well-respected organization,” Thomas Küchenmeister, managing director of watchdog Facing Finance, told the Guardian. “How can I promote sustainable development and the protection of human rights and simultaneously benefit from violations of these?”

Additionally, the report cited an analysis of the fund’s 10 largest shareholdings by environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings agency Sustainalytics, which categorized the investments as either of “significant controversy” or “high controversy.”

However, in response to the accusations, a UN spokesman told CIO that “Sustainalytics does not have access to the details on any of the holdings of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund and did not perform the analysis that is referenced in the article.”

The spokesman added that “Sustainalytics has informed us that it was not contacted by the journalist who wrote the article that appeared in the Guardian to provide a statement or verify any of the information that was included.”

The UN spokesman also said that the UNJSPF doesn’t comment on specific investments, but pointed out that its investment strategy includes ESG considerations.

According to the UNJSPF’s website, the criteria for its investments are set by the UN General Assembly, which has placed restrictions on investments in tobacco and armaments securities, but does not mention fossil fuel investments.

Peter Frankental, director of Amnesty’s UK’s business and human rights program, told the Guardian that there should be a full review of the UNJSPF’s investments.

“These revelations are troubling, because the UN cannot distance itself morally from the activities of its staff pension scheme to which it contributes financially, even if this is an independent body run at arm’s length,” he said. “The secretary general should initiate a full review of the joint staff pension fund to examine how its holdings can become compatible with the United Nations’ vital humanitarian and human rights work.”

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