This is a special, post just for readers who have their superannuation funds with the Australian fund ‘Unisuper’.
If you do not have an account, please don’t waste your time reading on. If you are in the fund, I’d appreciate a couple of minutes of your time to consider a proposition.
You might not be aware that UniSuper is investing in companies that undermine action on climate change. Science has shown us that climate change is being caused, in large part, by humans burning fossil fuels. If you haven’t signed the open letter already, here’s some background on UniSuper and their attitude.
I’ve had my money in UniSuper for over 20 years because, well – I have to. Academia has a strong union culture and UniSuper is the union industry fund. I can’t switch away, even if I wanted to. This hasn’t bothered me in the past. I am proudly union, and until recently I thought UniSuper was the right choice. The fund has always done very well.
Like many people working in academia, I am hyper aware of climate change research and researchers. As soon as UniSuper offered an ethical stream, I moved my money over and thought very little about it. Like most of us I am more concerned with today than what happens in 30 years time. Recently, however, it’s came to my attention that the UniSuper ethical stream – not so Green. And the rest of the fund? Frankly, it’s record on climate friendly investing is terrible. Here’s a snapshot of their investment:
Have a look at the whole page of comparisons if you want to see other funds that are doing much better. In addition to this, UniSuper has never once supported any share holder activism around climate change in any of the companies it owns (read this article in the Sydney morning Herald, from a week or so ago, if you want more detail).
Appalled, I immediately signed the open letter. About a week later I got a form letter-email from Donald at UniSuper saying they were ‘engaging’ with companies rather than divesting. Donald claimed this engagement strategy was a better way to tackle the problem because if they sold out of these companies, others would just buy in. Those unspecified ‘others’ wouldn’t have the same moral purpose (Donald didn’t say ‘moral purpose’, but that’s what he meant).
This sounded like bullshit to me, but I wrote back politely to ask what outcomes they had from the engagement strategy so far. Sarah from UniSuper wrote back to me claiming, amongst other things, that their divestment in Aurizon (over a decision to support the Adani coal pipeline) was evidence of how strong a stance they take on fossil fuel supporters.
Now I was confused. Divestment was not a good strategy to tackle fossil fuel emitters, until it was? What the hell?
I tried ringing Sarah for clarification, but the switchboard refused to put me through. Laura promised to ring back in 24 hours, but of course she didn’t. I wasn’t giving up so easily, I wanted to speak to a human. I wanted to know if the people investing my money – which I couldn’t take away from them – had a conscience about what they were doing.
So I sat on hold for 30 minutes the next day, in the car on the way to an appointment, while I watched the huge cloud of smoke from the Namagi bushfire threatening the south of Canberra. After some wrangling, I managed to get through to Dave. I want to give Dave at UniSuper a big shout out for being a decent human trapped in a shitty job. His job was to be a human shield to stop the members of UniSuper from actively engaging with anyone on the investment team. I failed to talk to anyone about what they were actually doing with my money. I told him I had a blog with quite a few followers who might want to know how UniSuper condescended to their members and didn’t want to engage with genuine concerns.
I guess someone at UniSuper looked me up because they have tried to call me a few times. Each time I couldn’t take the call and when I try to call back, I end up on hold for 30 minutes each time and the person on the other end is confused. I still haven’t managed to talk to an investor.
I think UniSuper is underestimating its members, don’t you? I think we should have the right to tell them what we think in person. I don’t think they should use our money to essentially build a set of human shields to avoid talking to members about their genuine concerns.
But it’s worse than that. The world is like a person with type 2 diabetes right now. We know we have to change, we need to go on a diet, but diets are hard. UniSuper knows it has to go on a diet, but it doesn’t want to. My experience of hours on the phone to them is that the Market Forces Open Letter is your best chance to be heard. If you feel the way I do, please consider signing it. It only takes a minute.
We’ve had a terrible summer in Australia. Canberra, where I live, has been hit very hard. There has been terrfiying fire, damaging hail and days and days of choking smoke. It is estimated that 1 billion animals died. While the Australian bush regenerates, some of the forests that went in these fires are not designed to burn like this. They will grow back, but with more flammable material. Although rains have come, this horror isn’t over. Next summer we will burn, and burn some more – then the summer after that we will burn again. Now we are seeing land erosion as the rains come and wash away the top soil, which is no longer anchored by forest.
This is the start of climate collapse in Australia. If drastic action is not taken, we will look back on this summer as a time we thought we only thought we had problems. If we keep supporting fossil fuels we will have bigger problems soon – problems no amount of money will solve.
Unisuper should divest from the fossil fuel industry. Not tomorrow perhaps, but they should at least have a PLAN. If they don’t make a plan, we need to pressure our unions to divest from UniSuper.
Please help us get to 10,000 signatures by sharing this post – that’s only about 3000 more! Let’s send them a message they have to hear!