IPS: Is Canada's Pension Fund Violating Landmine Treaty?

Posted on Monday, December 22 at 15:57 by sthompson
A report released by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) says the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), a 64-billion-dollar fund to which workers and employers contribute, invests in 15 of the world's top 20 weapons contractors.

Three of those firms, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Electric, are listed in a report by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW) as having been involved in the making of anti-personnel landmines.

Lockheed Martin, the world's highest-ranking arms maker, still produces components for CBU-89 "Gator" landmines, says COAT Co-ordinator Richard Sanders.

By investing in these companies, Canada is breaking the spirit, if not the letter, of the highly acclaimed global Mine Ban Treaty, which is now part of Canadian law, Sanders told IPS. "It's incredibly hypocritical," he added.

By law, a portion of every Canadian's earnings, along with matching contributions from employers, is channelled into the CPP. While monthly pension checks are issued at age 65, most of the money in the plan is invested in stocks and real estate by an independent agency called the CPP Investment Board.

"I'm not sure there's proof of any breach but we would want to make sure Canada would be consistent with the spirit and letter of the treaty," said Paul Hannon, executive director of Mines Action Canada (MAC), one of six NGOs that began the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) coalition in 1992. ICBL won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

Canada led the diplomatic effort to create the treaty and was the first to sign on in Ottawa in 1997. Today, 141 states from every region of the world have ratified the convention, making it the most successful international agreement in recent decades, according to the ICBL.

While the treaty bans states from producing, stockpiling or transferring landmines, it also prohibits any action "to assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party under this convention".

"We're trying to create a new international norm that says the use of these weapons is repugnant," Hannon told IPS.

Investing in companies that make mines or their components should be similarly stigmatised as repugnant he says -- "we shouldn't invest in them".

Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Electric remain on HRW's list as past and potential future suppliers of mines and mine components, confirmed Mary Wareham, a senior advocate with HRW, also a partner in ICBL.

However, the U.S. government has not awarded any mine-production contracts since 1997, Wareham says. Washington has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty, and has not renounced the weapons' use. The U.S. military currently has some 10 million antipersonnel landmines in stock.

Even the appearance of a violation bothers Hannon.

Canada's investment practices should not call into question the country's leadership role in the convention, he says. "It could be used as a way to discredit the treaty." Hannon says it should not be difficult for the CPP board to screen potential investments, nor would doing that jeopardise the fund's earnings potential.

But the three companies in question are respected and successful, counters John Cappelletti, manager of communications and stakeholders at the CPP Investment Board.

The CPP invests in legal, publicly traded companies in an effort to maximize financial return, he added, basing those decisions solely on financial information.

The legislation controlling the board prevents it from screening companies on an ethical or moral basis, Cappelletti said.

In any case, such screens -- generally termed "socially responsible investing" (SRI) -- would not be feasible because the plan represents millions of Canadians with widely diverging viewpoints, he added.

When asked about potential violations of international agreements like the Mine Ban Treaty, Cappelletti said he would have to look into the matter.

Screening weapons contractors from investments is quite easy to do, according to Robert Walker, vice president of Ethical Funds, a Canadian mutual fund company that manages 1.5 billion dollars in assets.

"It's a complete red herring to say you couldn't get a consensus on which companies to exclude," Walker told IPS. Some U.S. states are already doing it, and all pension funds in the United Kingdom must reveal their SRI policies and criteria, he added.

"There's no reason CPP investments couldn't be consistent with Canada's public policy," according to Walker.

Canadians would object if they knew how their pension monies are being invested, he added.

The COAT report found investments of 2.5 billion dollars in at least 170 domestic and foreign military corporations.

CPP also invests in Altria, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco Inc., the top three tobacco firms in the world.

(END/2003)
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copyright IPS--posted here for fair use only
[couldn't find link]
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The story above was forwarded by the Inter Press News Service to 100 countries via 1,200 outlets (Dec.20-21,2003). Perhaps this will finally result in some mainstream, corporate media coverage.

For more info and to join the 2000 who've signed COAT's webpetition to "Stop CPP War Investments":
http://coat.openconcept.ca

To see the signers names and read their comments:
http://coat.openconcept.ca/signed.php3#namelist

-Richard Sanders, COAT

Note: http://coat.openconcept.ca http://coat.openconcept...

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