By JOHN ROBERTSON
SHETLAND Charitable Trust has come under attack again for profiting from the activities of arms manufacturers, tobacco sellers and companies accused of violating human rights and causing environmental damage.
Three councillors who sit as trustees have repeatedly voiced their revulsion about some of the stock market investments made by the trust’s fund managers to earn as much cash for Shetland as possible.
Rick Nickerson has previously called for a report examining the performance of so-called ethical investment policies to help trustees decide whether or not the charity should adopt one and steer clear of morally questionable money-making ventures.
The matter has been raised time and again over the past 20 years by many different councillors but to little avail. On Wednesday Mr Nickerson was given an assurance that the issue would be looked at in the coming months once some of the trust’s funds have been moved from a caretaker fund manager to a new fund manager. Chairman Bill Manson said: “We will unquestionably open this subject again.”
Mr Nickerson said if ethical investment policies did have to mean smaller profits for the trust that was a choice trustees should deliberate over.
Jonathan Wills has been lobbying fellow trustees on the issue too, referring them to the Norwegian government’s ethical investment policy for its pension fund which has seen the expulsion of Wal-Mart de Mexico for alleged human rights violations and the mining company Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold for alleged severe pollution of rivers in Indonesia.
Dr Wills also highlighted the charitable trust’s profit-making from investing in weapons companies BAe Systems and United Technologies Corp, which could be construed as inappropriate behaviour for a nuclear-free local authority like the SIC. BAe is Europe’s biggest defence contractor and makes nuclear submarines.
Investing in companies which make cigarettes is a bugbear of Gussie Angus’ but he was late arriving at the meeting and his point was borrowed by Dr Wills who said the charitable trust had recently increased its help for the industry by buying up more shares. “We’ve been piling in to Imperial Tobacco since May this year,” he complained, at a time when even the Russian government has turned against encouraging tobacco-makers.
Dr Wills said he would be preparing his own report on ethical investments for a future trust meeting.
Trustee Iris Hawkins was fed up hearing the subject being raised time and again by her colleagues when they had already lost previous debates and she called for the trust’s rules to be enforced which prevent such potentially irksome behaviour.
However, the trust chairman can indulge his colleagues if he wishes and Mr Manson said he was aware of the strong feelings some of them had on the issue.
Allison Duncan was more aggressive in his opposition, saying he totally opposed what Mr Nickerson and Dr Wills were saying and wanted the trust’s financiers to be left to get on with the job of investing the funds because Shetland needed every penny it could get. He said people could smoke if they wanted to and he thanked god that the trust had shares in BAe Systems because its arms were maybe helping keep the peace and avoiding more wars.