We talked to Will Attenborough, who set up the 'Pension to be Proud of' campaign with Leila Mimmack. Are you a member of Equity? Find out how you can move your pension into a more ethical fund.
You have power and agency, and the right to demand that your money is used not to keep the world burning, but to make it a safer place - Will Attenborough
What is the campaign?
The campaign is called Pension to be Proud of. Our aim is for Equity, the union for performers and stage managers, to divest its £110m pension fund of high-carbon stocks and move its money instead into clean energy.
I started the campaign with my friend and fellow actor Leila Mimmack, along with a group of young Equity members who shared our terror(!) and determination to take action on the climate emergency.
Leila and I had been profoundly inspired by the accomplishments of the Global Divestment Movement, and became active members of Divest London – a grassroots organisation campaigning for London City Hall’s behemoth pension fund, the £5.2bn LPFA, to divest from fossil fuels.
Why is it important?
I was particularly inspired by Desmond Tutu’s conception of climate injustice – the notion that those who have done the least to cause the problem, often black and brown people in the Global South, are suffering the worst effects of climate breakdown. Meanwhile, those with the capacity to tackle the crisis are dithering. ‘Just as we argued,’ Tutu wrote ‘that those who conducted business with Apartheid South Africa were aiding an immoral system, so too can we say that nobody should profit from the human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels’.
What have the highlights been?
Making the moral case to City Hall, along with the financial and security arguments for a low-carbon, responsible investment policy, Divest London had huge success. Working with Sadiq Khan, Divest London has made City Hall a powerful voice on the global stage, leading the way on fossil fuel divestment.
Leila and I decided to take this energy and momentum to our own union, Equity. We were given HUGE support by a charity called ShareAction – an extraordinary organisation whose accomplishments far outweigh its small size.
They helped us organise an event at the Young Vic Theatre and reach out to ‘notable’ performers to endorse our campaign. (In other words, celebs…). We received a great number of endorsements, most notable perhaps being Mark Rylance, as well as Zoe Wanamaker, David Harewood, Maxine Peake, Mike Bartlett, and others. Our press release was picked up by the Financial Times and our campaign made quite a stir!
We passed motions at our local Equity branches calling on the union’s pension fund to decarbonise. Our campaign was warmly welcomed by the union leadership and our aims were quickly made official union policy.
What have the lowlights been?
Not just yet though… we met with Aviva, our pension providers, who argued that our demand for a low-carbon, fossil-free, or sustainable default pension fund was impossible within the legal and financial parameters of our situation.
We contest this, of course, and have since been in negotiation with them, challenging what we see as a basic lack of will to lead on this issue.
What can people do to get involved?
It is possible, however, for individual Equity members to change their pension fund.
When you sign up to a pension scheme, you are automatically enrolled into the ‘default fund’. When you pay money into your pension, the default fund will invest it in companies across the economy – including those that drill for oil, sell cigarettes, and make weapons.
However! You can move your money into an ‘ethical fund’ - which will invest more in companies that have positive impacts, less in those with a negative one, and avoid certain industries altogether. One example is the Lionstrust Sustainable Future series, which avoids investing in fossil-fuel extractors and carbon-intensive businesses. We’ve seen a massive increase in the members choosing the ethical option since the launch of our campaign.
If you have a pension, you can contact your provider and ask about your ethical options.
If you’re a member of Equity, you can contact your pension provider here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Switching is easy, quick, and there’s no fee. For a step-by-step guide, check out this guide from ShareAction.
If you’re a member of a workplace pension scheme, a union, or even if you just have a bank account – find out where your money is going. Chances are it’s being invested by people you’ve never met into funds you know nothing about – which almost always means big polluters.
You have power and agency, and the right to demand that your money is used not to keep the world burning, but to make it a safer place.