Trustees still let money go up in smoke
By NEIL RIDDELL
A RENEWED call for Shetland Charitable Trust to cease investing in tobacco companies was rejected by trustees this week.
For the third time councillor-trustee Gussie Angus called for the trust to move away from any financial involvement in the tobacco industry, which he has described as “trading in death” with one Shetlander a week dying from smoking-related causes.
Mr Angus said there was “no good news” to the tobacco story and asked fellow trustees: “Why are we killing our beneficiaries?”
He was backed by NHS Shetland chairwoman and councillor-trustee Betty Fullerton, who said she had to support him because “as trustees we should be doing everything we can to make Shetland smoke free”.
Interim general manager of the trust Jeff Goddard told trustees at a meeting in the Town Hall on Wednesday that they were free to choose to have an ethical investment policy so long as it was in the interests of the beneficiaries but that would have to be balanced against any potential losses.
But councillor-trustee Gary Robinson said that trustees could start picking on any number of things which they should not invest in on ethical grounds but they would struggle to reach any consensus.
He asked whether companies with high carbon footprints, for instance, would be deemed unethical and said such guidelines for investment would almost certainly rule out major electronics firms manufacturing goods in China.
As far as councillor-trustee Allison “Flea” Duncan was concerned, fund managers were put in place to invest money wherever the highest returns could be found. You can speak about alcohol and tobacco, he said, but “at the end of the day it’s people’s choice” whether they drink or smoke.
Mr Angus was also supported by councillor-trustees Sandy Cluness and Andrew Hughson but lost the vote 11-4.
Trustees did, however, unanimously back a suggestion from councillor-trustee Rick Nickerson for a report to be compiled on the performance of ethical investment portfolios, such as the Co-operative Investment Bank, which he noted was performing much better than Northern Rock.
Mr Nickerson said he was sure there were plenty of ethical portfolios performing well and that a package “might guide us, rather than cherry-picking one [issue] or another”.
There have been several attempts in the past two decades to move the trust away from buying shares in companies involved in harmful activities, including during the Apartheid era in South Africa, but the trust’s fund managers’ various portfolios currently include shares in mining company BHP Billiton and controversial arms manufacturer BAE Systems.