The entering into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) gifts anti-nuclear and peace campaigners with the force of international law. One of the tools in our activist repertoire, for which the TPNW offers a significant boost, is divestment. Across the country and the region, banks, pension funds and universities have financial ties to nuclear weapons manufacture. In this brief fact-sheet, Yorkshire CND outlines these connections, their scale, and what campaigners can do about them. It is our opinion, that by targeting the pockets of those who create weapons of mass destruction, we might substantially bolster the cause of peace. The Government’s Integrated Review, and its commitment to increasing the nuclear stockpile by 40%, only increases the urgency of action for peace.
Investment in nuclear weapons manufacture:
- The global private sector invests $748 billion annually in companies with an involvement in nuclear weapons, an increase of 42% since 2018.
- As of 2019, the UK was home to 26 financial institutions with investments in nuclear weapons manufacture, amounting to over 31 billion USD.
- The government’s current process of replacing their current nuclear submarine arsenal with a new Dreadnought class, is heavily partnered with private companies such as BAE, Rolls Royce, and Babcock International. According to BAE, 85% of the supply chain for these weapons is based in the UK.
- The Atomic Weapons Establishment, responsible for the design, manufacture and maintenance of the Trident warheads, has its base in Aldermaston and is composed of Lockheed Martin, Jacobs Engineering and the UK-based Serco Group.
Banks and pension funds
- Banks such as HSBC, RBS, Lloyds Bank, Standard Chartered and Barclays all finance and/or have investments, via loans and bonds, in companies involved in nuclear weapons manufacture.
- Whilst some, such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, purport to limit their involvement in these firms through curtailed investment or relocating finance. All of course, pay lip service to some form of ethical investment.
- Among pension providers, a policy on restricting investment in nuclear weapons is frequently limited to ethical funds only, including Legal and General, Nest, Quilter, Royal London and Standard Life Aberdeen. These funds typically cover only a small proportion of the firm’s investments. While limited in overall value, this does mean that the pension provider will have had to think through how to define nuclear weapons and related activities, and how to go about screening companies to ensure compliance with its policy.
- On the one hand, banks, which tend to concentrate on business banking services, providing companies with strategic loans and underwriting or purchasing company bonds, can point out that the confidentiality of the banker-client relationship places limitations on transparency. On the other hand, pension providers, that concentrate on the purchase of shares, bonds or other financial instruments, are far more liable and accountable to their pension members on where funds are invested and their dialogue with companies in which they invest. Despite this, it might be feasible for a bank to publish detailed policies and to explain in general terms how policy enters into a bank’s dialogue with clients.
What leverage does the TPNW give us?
- The TPNW contains language regarding ‘assistance’ similar to that contained in the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which many countries have interpreted as prohibiting acts that cover financing, and includes the conduct of individuals and companies. This will have legal implications for investments in nuclear weapon producers in countries that join the TPNW. Companies with a global profile, many of whom do not discriminate by jurisdiction but rather have blanket policies, are likely to face pressure to change their investment activities in all countries, including the United Kingdom.
- Two of the largest pension funds in the world have divested from nuclear weapons: the Norwegian Sovereign Fund and the ABP pension fund of the Netherlands. As has the KBC pension fund in Belgium. Deutsche Bank of Germany and Resona Holdings of Japan have also divested. All of these have noted the TPNW as an underlying reason behind their disinvestment.
- In the UK NEST, one of the largest pension providers, is currently undertaking a review of nuclear weapons policy in light of the TPNW, including a consultation with members.
Learning from other movements:
- Campaign Against Arms Trade’s (CAAT) Clean Investment Campaign demands universities don’t invest in arms companies. They do this through a range of activities, such as: Freedom of Information requests; company research; meetings with university staff; spreading the word; info nights; and looking through investment portfolios. One victory in Yorkshire was the vote at Leeds University to kick BAE off campus.
- Climate campaigners, as part of a UK-wide week of action, took over billboards and bus stops with spoof HSBC ads. The ads accused HSBC of “climate colonialism” because of their bankrolling of significant human rights abuses through its fossil fuel investments. HSBC has invested over £67 billion in fossil fuels since the 2016 Paris Climate accord.
- South Yorkshire Pension Authority committed to a net zero carbon target by 2030 thanks to the work of campaigns such as the Sheffield Climate Alliance.
Divesting in Yorkshire
Yorkshire CND has started a divestment working group in the spirit of stretching the range of our peace activism and putting the maximum possible pressure on the British government. At our first meeting we were joined by Arthur West from Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland who introduced us to the incredible work they do and gave us advice on how to best move forward. Since then, we have decided to devise a tool kit for members; work out a number of targets to prioritise, rese arch and campaign against; and call a regional day of action in early June against Barclays and NatWest Group following the lead of the Scottish civil society. If you want to get involved in the working group, take up divestment in your town or city, or join the upcoming day of action, please get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Much of the data and information in this report has been collated from three reports: a) ‘Banks, pensions and nuclear weapons: Invest for Change’ by the Nuclear Weapons Financing Research Group; b) ‘Shorting our security – Financing the companies that make nuclear weapons’ by Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland; and c) ‘Stop funding the end of the world: working to eliminate nuclear weapons through divestment (a guide to Scotland)’ by Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland.