New Analysis: Most Major Australian Superannuation Funds Invest in Nuclear Weapons Despite United Nations Treaty

New research from the Australia Institute and Quit Nukes reveals most major Australian superannuation funds have holdings in nuclear weapons companies, such as Airbus, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. While many exclude so-called ‘controversial weapons’, they do not include nuclear weapons in the definition and continue to invest in nuclear weapons companies.

Nearly one year into the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entering into force (January 2021), which made nuclear weapons illegal under international law (joining chemical weapons, biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions as undeniably ‘controversial weapons’) Australian super funds have had ample time to divest from nuclear weapons investments, and revise their definitions of controversial weapons to include nuclear weapons in line with the United Nations.

Key findings:

  • Australian Super, the largest fund in Australia by both membership and funds under management (FUM), have almost $1.5 billion in nuclear weapons companies.
  • Most major Australian superannuation funds invest in nuclear weapons, but do not disclose these investments to current or potential members. Details of holdings are often only available in shareholder proxy-voting records, which are often difficult to find.
  • A number of superannuation fund websites state that they exclude controversial weapons, but do not include nuclear weapons as controversial despite also being banned by an international treaty. Seven in ten (69%) Australians would expect nuclear weapons to be included in ‘controversial weapons.’ Only 10% would expect them to not be included.
  • Six Australian superannuation funds are leading the way and have already divested from all companies that derive revenue from nuclear weapons: Active Super, Australian Ethical, Christian Super, Crescent Wealth, Future Super and Verve Super.
  • While most funds have principled statements on their websites, the reality of their investments are revealing:
    • Two funds say they exclude nuclear weapons, when in reality the PDS’ fine print indicates percentage materiality considerations and thresholds that allow considerable financing.
    • Nine funds highlight their exclusion of controversial weapons, but do not include nuclear weapons in the definition, so continue to invest in nuclear weapons companies.
    • Three funds exclude nuclear weapons from their “socially or environmentally responsible” options only.
    • Two funds claim to be nuclear weapons-free, but closer inspection reveals they allow producers in countries that are signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), five of which are nuclear-armed states, therefore excluding just a few of the smaller manufacturers.
  • Seven in ten (69%) Australians agree that their super fund should not invest in companies that are involved in nuclear weapons production.
  • 78% of Australians agree that their super fund should clearly state whether they invest in companies that are involved in nuclear weapons production.

“With just over two dozen companies involved in nuclear weapons production, Australian superannuation funds can make a meaningful contribution to the stigmatisation and elimination of nuclear weapons by excluding them. Nuclear weapons are now illegal under international law and abhorred by fund members,” said Dr Margaret Beavis, Quit Nukes Co-Director.

“While there is big money invested in nuclear weapons companies, these investments are usually a tiny percentage of the whole funds under management. There is no evidence to suggest that divestment will negatively impact returns. Some funds are making change, including Hostplus, which recently decided to divest all nuclear weapons holdings by end of January 2022,” Dr Beavis said.

“This report should act as a wake up call to all superannuation funds still investing in nuclear weapons companies. Australians do not want their money invested in weapons of mass destruction,” said Bill Browne, Senior Researcher at The Australia Institute’s Democracy and Accountability Program.

“Australians have the right to know exactly how their money is being invested, but most major super funds do not tell their members about their investments.

“Superannuation is one of the great Australian projects, guaranteeing retirement income for millions of workers. Most Australians would have no idea that their retirement money is being used to finance nuclear weapons. It is incumbent upon all funds to invest in the future of Australians – and that future does not include nuclear weapons,” Mr Browne said.

Quit Nukes is a joint project of the Medical Association for Prevention of War and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Nobel Peace Prize 2017) Australia.

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