Campaigners call for council divestment in 'occupied Palestinian territories'
Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: PA
Campaigners are keeping the pressure on Hackney Council’s pension fund to ditch stocks in companies operating in the "occupied Palestinian territories".
Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) wants the fund, whose responsible investment policies are currently being reviewed by the council pensions committee, to divest from firms that they say "support Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land”.
The group will stage a protest today (30 September) at 6pm outside Hackney Town Hall.
It follows a demo back in June which saw the campaign hand in a petition with 58,000 signatories that called on the council to divest from 39 companies it says are associated with the conflict in the Palestinian territories which include the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The protesters say Hackney has invested £22.5m in 39 firms through its pensions portfolio.
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The council’s pension scheme for its 7,011 members is worth £1.8 billion, according to a report from fund managers.
It was showing a surplus of £123m overall at the end of June, “largely due to strong investment performance”, a council report states.
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Hackney PSC co-secretary Sussan Rassoulie said: “We are asking them to upgrade their investment strategy. ”
She said campaigners are concerned about investment in “companies whose products are used in surveillance and oppression of Palestinian people or those whose products are used in demolition of Palestinian homes and infrastructure or the building of illegal settlements”.
She added that divestment from companies might not happen overnight.
PSC has been invited to address the pensions committee tomorrow about its concerns.
Ben Jamal, the director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK, is due to speak at the protest, along with Divest Hackney, which wants the council to end its investment in fossil fuels, and trade unionists.
The council held its first workshop this month to start the review of its responsible investment policies. It looked at United Nations “principles and related issues, its approach to climate change and the future development of a refreshed target and impact on its investment strategy”.
No decisions are expected until next year.
According to a report going before the committee, the fund “has looked to increase the level of engagement with the underlying companies in which it invests”, including “taking a more proactive role in encouraging managers to take into consideration the voting recommendations of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum”.
These concerns include human rights and climate change issues.
In June, committee chair Robert Chapman explained: “The forum is actively engaging with companies cited by the UN as being involved in certain specified activities related to the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
He said: “Hackney Council does not directly invest council taxpayers’ money in companies. The pension fund’s assets are managed by external managers, with oversight from the council’s pensions committee.”
Hackney’s staff pension fund is part of the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum.
Cllr Chapman added: “The forum is actively engaging with companies cited by the UN as being involved in certain specified activities related to the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
He added: “The investments are a small part of a very large pooled investments and the fund has no direct holdings in any company through its equity portfolios.
“However, we have been advised that the transition costs that the fund would be exposed to in moving away from these particular investments would be significant and therefore likely to conflict with our overarching fiduciary duty.”
Cllr Chapman said the pensions committee could not divest from any particular holding in the investment fund without ditching the whole fund, which could incur costs and fees up to £1.5m.