Dutch pension funds lax on human rights reveals new study from Dutch Fair Pension Guide

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Dutch pension funds are not taking sufficient action when the mining, oil and gas companies in which they invest are involved in serious human rights violations. This is apparent from a new survey of the ten largest Dutch pension funds conducted by the Fair Pension Guide, the findings of which are released today.

The funds do not comply with “the United Nations Guidelines on Business and Human Rights” (UNGPs), which require large investors to take action on violations to which they are linked. They must also demonstrate what they are doing to prevent or resolve those violations. The pension funds endorse the guidelines on paper, but do not follow them up sufficiently in practice, according to the survey by the Fair Pension Guide.

Nine out of ten pension funds collectively invest at least 3.8 billion euros in ten gas, oil and mining companies which have been involved in structural human rights violations for a long time. These are large multinationals such as Glencore, Shell, TotalEnergies and Rio Tinto. The violations range from very unsafe working conditions and serious pollution of the habitat of local residents, to complicity in war crimes. The Fair Pension Guide asked the nine pension funds to indicate what actions they have taken in this regard. Eight of them did so but even then only very vaguely.

War victims

One of the companies in which the funds invest is the Swedish oil company Lundin Energy, which was active between 1997 and 2003 in what is now South Sudan. The CEO of Lundin is currently being prosecuted in Sweden for complicity in serious war crimes during that period. Nevertheless, six funds, including ABP and PFZW, invest in Lundin and recently supported the sale of the company, thus depriving victims of war crimes of their right to reparation.

Titus Bolten of the Fair Pension Guide: 'Every company in this study created victims. People who were expelled from their land or lost relatives. The pension funds know what is going on but only Pensioenfonds Horeca & Catering no longer invests in these ten companies. The other nine funds do. They can at least be expected to demonstrate that they hold the companies accountable for the violations and set conditions for the continuation of the relationship. Transparency is an important pillar in the UN Guidelines, yet the funds do not, or hardly ever, account for themselves; not publicly nor if you ask them. That lack of communication raises the question of whether there is anything to report.”

Scores

The nine funds that invest in some or more of the companies described above all receive an unsatisfactory score. Of all the funds Pensioenfonds Detailhandel was clearest in showing how it is taking action to improve the situation of the victims, and partly because of this it obtained the highest score (5 out of 10), followed by StiPP which received a 4.

ABP, which invests the most money with € 1.8 billion in seven of the ten selected companies, comes out with a 3,  as do bpfBOUW and BPL Pensioen. Pensioenfonds Vervoer and PMT received a score of 2. The lowest scores were received by PME and PFZW which both obtained a 1. PFZW invests €900 million in seven of the ten companies, and in no way demonstrates that it is responding to human rights violations. Like BPL Pensioen, PFZW did not cooperate in the investigation. "Partly as a result of this disturbing lack of openness, PFZW has fallen below the lower limit in all parts of the investigation," said Bolten.

Legislation for financial institutions is desperately needed

The UN Guidelines, which state that companies must respect human rights, are not legally binding. That is why many countries and the European Union are now working on legislation in this realm. This raises the question of whether less far-reaching obligations should apply to financial institutions than to other companies. Speaking on the matter Bolten says: 'It is precisely robust legal obligations for financial institutions that are needed to put them in the right action and accountability mode. This will protect people better against the negative consequences of business activities that are financed by pension funds and other large investors.”

Read the report in full here.

 

Background

- The ten largest Dutch pension funds examined by the Fair Pension Guide are ABP, bpfBOUW, BPL Pensioen, Pensioenfonds Detailhandel, Pensioenfonds Horeca & Catering, Pensioenfonds Vervoer, PFZW, PME, PMT and StiPP.

- The Fair Pension Guide is part of the Fair Money Guide, a partnership between Amnesty International, Milieudefensie, Oxfam Novib, PAX and World Animal Protection.

- The research was carried out by Profundo.

- At https://eerlijkegeldwijzer.nl/pensioenwijzer/ everyone can see and compare the assessment and scores of the pension funds for their investment policy and investment practice. Participants can also write to their fund on the website, and send it a complaint or compliment, for example.

 

Note to the editor

For more information, please contact Ruud Bosgraaf, tel. 06-2334 1533 or r.bosgraaf@amnesty.nl. Titus Bolten is available for further information on behalf of the Fair Pension Guide.

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