23 Mar 2017

Four KiwiSaver schemes yet to ditch weapons investments

7:36 am on 23 March 2017

Some KiwiSaver funds are still investing in banned weapons despite making promises to get rid of the holdings.

Sign for Westpac Bank.

Westpac bank will not complete its withdrawal from weapons companies until the end of the year. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Some of the biggest banks and funds pledged to ditch their investments after investigations by RNZ News and The New Zealand Herald found millions of dollars were invested in companies that made cluster bombs, anti-personnel mines and nuclear weapons.

All nine government-appointed default KiwiSaver providers had either direct or indirect investments in the banned weapons.

While providers had since dumped all direct investments, four default providers - ANZ, Kiwibank, Westpac and Mercer - still had passive investments in such companies through global index funds.

ANZ never had direct holdings in cluster munitions companies. The bank got rid of direct investments in other controversial weapons in September.

The bank said its default KiwiSaver fund still had some exposure to these companies through a passive index tracking fund. It hoped to exit this and launch its own ethical fund soon.


ANZ bank said it hoped to launch its own ethical fund soon. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Kiwibank's Kiwi Wealth KiwiSaver scheme still invested in a passive fund run by Vanguard International, which held shares in companies that made mines, nuclear weapon and cluster bombs.

Kiwibank did not sign up to Vanguard's new ethical fund, set up last year, because it was too expensive. It was in the process of creating its own ethical fund, but had yet to get it off the ground, a spokesperson said.

Westpac would not complete its withdrawal from weapons companies, which included cluster bomb makers General Dynamics and Textron, until the end of the year.

Mercer was still reviewing its passive investments, it said.

A New Zealand Herald analysis found KiwiSaver provider Aon had holdings in the cluster bomb company General Dynamics, as well as four nuclear weapons manufacturers.

Aon no longer had any exposure to General Dynamics, but it still had holdings in nuclear weapons companies Lockheed Martin and Honeywell International, a spokesperson said.

Call for government to step in

Amnesty International executive director Grant Bayldon said it was disappointing some funds were slow to act. He believed it was time for the government to step in.

"Some of the banks have effectively done it overnight, so I don't believe there's any excuse.

"There's an onus on the government, especially now six months on, that the KiwiSaver funds themselves haven't made good on promises to completely divest."

Documents obtained by the Green Party, seen by RNZ, show the select committee considering the 2009 Cluster Munitions Prohibition Act intended to make owning shares in cluster bomb companies, either directly or indirectly, an offence.

Funds that had not already disposed of their investments in cluster bomb companies should be given a deadline by the government to do so, Green Party co-leader James Shaw said.

"They should actually lay it down because it's pretty clear there are some companies that will simply let it slide and slide and slide."

Government's 'expectation' clear - Minister

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Jacqui Dean, who sat on the 2009 committee, said she expected KiwiSaver funds to withdraw from cluster munitions and other banned weapons "as soon as practically possible".

There was no need for the government to take any action yet, she said.

"I've sent a very clear message to the KiwiSaver providers, as have the public of New Zealand and interested observers, that there are some investments which are contrary to the Cluster Munitions Prohibition Act and they should quit those funds as soon and as expeditiously as possible.

"I hope they are doing that and that is my expectation of them," she said.

Advice would be sought from officials if divestment was not happening fast enough, Ms Dean said.

It was up to the police to prosecute those in breach of the law, she said.

Of the government-appointed default KiwiSaver providers, ASB, BNZ, AMP, Fisher Funds and Booster (formerly Grosvenor) were now weapons-free.

Earlier this week, BNZ got rid of all its tobacco investments. AMP promised do the same within the next 12 months.

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