Comic Relief, a UK-based charity which has raised almost GBP 1 billion for international causes, has stated it uses its funds to “deliver the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people.”
Yet the BBC’s Panorama has found out that millions of pounds worth of donations have been invested in funds supporting alcohol, firearm and tobacco companies – directly contravening its mission statement.
Comic Relief pays out the public’s donations to other charities over a timescale which can last several years.
This means at any one time the charity has tens of millions of pounds in investible cash.
The charity uses this money to run a number of managed funds, which in turn invests in assets like the stock market on the charity’s behalf.
Yet between 2007 and 2009, Panorama learnt some of these investments appear to contradict the charity’s primary aims:
- In 2009, the charity had GBP 630,000 invested in BAE Systems, a weapons firm; whilst its mission statement claimed its commitment to helping those “affected by conflict.”
- Comic Relief also invested GBP 300,000 worth of shares in Diageo, an alcoholic drink manufacturer, despite its claim to “reduce alcohol misuse and minimise alcohol related harm.”
- In 2009, nearly GBP 3 million was invested in tobacco company shares – despite bestowing money on Target Tuberculosis, a company which estimates over 20% of TB cases around the world are caused by smoking.
‘Doing the right thing’
Kevin Cahill, Comic Relief’s chief executive, has stated the charity will carry out a “full review” in light of the claims.
He admitted “a small percentage” of the funds had, through “managed funds,” been invested in the above kinds of businesses.
He told World at One on BBC Radio 4: “We listen to the public and we will do the right thing.”
The difficulties of green investing
Socially responsible investing – or ethical or “green” investing – seeks to consider not only financial return, but moral good.
Socially responsible investors can either encourage and promote consumer protection, diversity, environmental friendliness and human rights, or avoid businesses which with interests in alcohol, gambling, pornography, tobacco and weapons.
In June 2011, the UK had invested GBP 11.3 billion in ethical investment funds.
Yet there is scrutiny over the practice, with many campaigners claiming it is simply ‘emotive’ marketing.
Such campaigners state there are too many variables when deciding whether an investment is morally sound – with Investors Chronicle recently establishing only one in ten UK ‘ethical’ funds could be called ethical in countries such as Belgium.
Issues include negligence pushing ethical progress and subsequent investments into non-ethical funds – something exposed this July when it was revealed the Church of England had unwittingly invested GBP 75,000 in Wonga – a payday lender – which the Archbishop of Canterbury had publically campaigned against.