Last week the Wellcome Trust, one of the two largest health charities in the world and a prolific investor in the fossil fuel industry, refused to make the ‘grand gesture’ of divesting from fossil fuels. Speaking as the Trust comes under concerted pressure to divest from The Guardian newspaper’s keep it in the ground campaign, Wellcome Director Jeremy Farrar argued that his charity can better tackle the problem of climate change by keeping its vast investments and its seat at the table with the world’s biggest oil and mining corporations.
South African ecological justice activist Sheila Berry disagrees. What follows here is her response…
The Wellcome Trust’s defensive position and rationalisation in response to the Guardian’s call for responsible investors to divest from their fossil fuel stocks is both disappointing and expected. Why divest when you can rake in huge profits and then use some of the funds to alleviate the lot of affected communities and their contaminated environment. It seems like a case of having one’s cake and eating it, while people living at the coal face have to be satisfied with burnt offerings.
We are interested to know more about Wellcome Trust’s fossil fuel investment portfolio. What are the names of the companies the Trust supports and the extent of its investments? Regarding the engagement at shareholder meetings, what questions do their representatives ask and what precisely do they require from the companies they support in order for them to comply with the standards that Wellcome Trust considers acceptable? What are the names of the companies where Wellcome Trust has withdrawn its funds because these villains have not cleaned up their game as required? What did these companies do that resulted in this response from Wellcome?
Without these details to substantiate Wellcome Trust’s claim of being a watchdog for environmental and social rights within the fossil fuel industry, the argument it puts forward to justify its continued support for this polluting industry remains just that – a justification. This is a long way from justice.
Come on Wellcome! Do the right thing and divest at least 50% from the companies you support. Do you really need to invest billions in these companies in order to influence them? Progressive divestment is likely to achieve far more than any amount of behind closed door discussions with an industry that is notorious for breaking the law and has no intention of cleaning up its filthy act.
The Guardian’s call for more responsible investment requires courage and foresight as investors and indeed our entire society wakes up to the imperative to move away from doing business as usual. Currently the environment and rural communities are the one’s paying the real costs for our subsidised fossil fuels. Rapidly, through climate change, water and air pollution, we are all affected. Ultimately, the bill will be paid by future generations – our grandchildren! We need to work together to become the change our planet demands at this critical time.
Representing the Global Environmental Trust, Save Our Wilderness and the Community and Wilderness Alliance.
Sheila Berry is a South African spearheading opposition to Ibutho Coal’s proposed Fuleni open cast mine on the boundary of the drought-striken iMfolozi Wilderness area, the original home and sanctuary of the Southern White Rhino, an area rich in heritage for the Zulu people and home to 4000 rural Zulu people whose lives and well-being will be destroyed by the mine.