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‘The Vital Few’ launches to link pension funds to members over climate risk

A new social media platform to assist pension/super fund members to challenge climate risk taking and excessive short-termism in the global financial system was launched today in New York.

Supported by the head of the global trade union movement and other key civil society groups the platform, called “The Vital Few,” will allow pension fund members to drive transparency and accountability in a $60 trillion industry that has become the largest pool of investment capital in the world.

“Sitting atop the wealth chain, the pension industry has continued its fast and furious spending spree on high-carbon, high-risk investments with little accountability for their impact on the long-term financial security of both individuals and the broader economy,” said Julian Poulter Executive Director of the Asset Owner Disclosure Project (AODP).

“‘The Vital Few’ platform can be used by anybody signing up as a free member to exercise their legal rights in forcing their funds to demonstrate how they are performing their fiduciary duty in managing big systemic risks such as climate change.”

The platform has been built for the online world by the Asset Owners Disclosure Project, an investment industry NGO currently conducting the world’s first independent survey of 1,000 pension, superannuation and sovereign wealth funds. Pilot surveys in Australia and even industry led surveys have shown that there is no disclosure of portfolio emission contents, inadequate management of climate risks and a massive imbalance between high and low carbon investments.

“Through mandatory retirement fund contributions and other savings, millions of workers have become accidental investors and participants in short term and unsustainable investment decisions with global impact,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary International Trade Union Coalition and Board member of the AODP.

“This vital tool is part of a profound change in the operation of global capital. The ownership of the assets that shape our economies is no longer in the hands of the wealthy of big governments but in the pension accounts of ordinary citizens. These citizen investors can now collaborate to help make the kind of sustainable economy we need for a more prosperous future.”

Kelly Rigg, Executive Director of the Global Campaign for Climate Action, said: “With unprecedented extreme weather events, historic melting of the arctic ice cap and radically inadequate action from our governments, this new social media platform opens up a new front for millions of fund members.”

Purpose.Com (founders of GetUp and Avaaz) founder Jeremy Heimans said: “This is clearly a milestone in online movements. Never before has the online movement been able to align the financial interests of so many people with the interests of global sustainability and prosperity.”

AODP Chair Dr John Hewson said: “Asset owners like the pension and super funds appear to have learnt nothing from the mismanagement of sub-prime mortgages which triggered the Global Financial Crisis. The Vital Few is an online community where even a few pension members can lead real change. The pension industry is failing its members, and it may only take a vital few to steer it back on course.”

Stephen Davis, Senior Fellow at the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance and at the Brookings Institution and co-author of “The New Capitalists: How Citizen Investors are reshaping the Corporate Agenda,” said: “The bedrock principle behind capitalism is that it works when owners look after their property. Today, citizens saving for the long term are the ultimate providers of capital and therefore the fuel for economic growth, innovation and jobs. But much of the time their capital and ownership is outsourced to big institutional intermediaries such as mutual and pension funds.”

“Some of these are acting in the citizens’ interests. But too many focus their investments on the short term, sending signals to corporate boards to act irresponsibly on issues such as executive pay, climate risk and board composition. The Vital Few initiative, by starting with the issue of climate risk, is a milestone in helping restore genuine ownership to capitalism.”

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Published on: 28th September 2012

Filed Under: News

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