Companies can profit from making our world a better place, like working to solve global challenges from clean water availability to climate change. Companies can also profit from creating environmental harm and even human misery. This is a sad reality of our world.
Ukraine is suffering as its democracy is threatened, families fear for their future and, tragically, lives are lost. The anguish in Ukraine is a reality check - do you want investments, like your KiwiSaver, to include Russian companies and, more broadly, weapons of war? Earlier this week Mindful Money released details of holdings in Russian companies by the likes of the NZ Super Fund and KiwiSaver providers.
From both an ethical and purely financial perspective, investing in Russian companies like Gazprom or Russian government bonds makes no sense. The question of investing in weapons is more complex. Military weapons include both controversial weapons like land mines and cluster bombs, and conventional weapons like tanks and guns.
In 2016 there was an uproar when news broke that KiwiSaver funds had exposure to controversial weapons. The world has since moved forward, with KiwiSaver providers reducing investments in military weapons manufacture. Mindful Money identifies between one and five weapons companies in the growth funds of each of the ten largest KiwiSaver providers. This is significantly less than even two years ago, and now none include the likes of Raytheon, Boeing or Lockheed Martin.
The question is more difficult in relation to conventional weapons than controversial weapons, and there’s no single right answer. We want a stable and safe world where countries respect each other and learn to resolve (or live with) national differences.
A world without military weapons would be a perfect world but if we want democracies to flourish, the reality is they need to maintain a strong deterrence and be able to defend themselves. On this basis you may see investing in conventional military weapons as not only justifiable, but necessary.
Crucially, in KiwiSaver it isn’t possible to differentiate between investing in the makers of offensive and defensive weapons. The fighter jet that defends a nation’s territory could equally be used in a war on the other side of the world.
For this reason our KiwiSaver, like a number of others, has chosen to avoid weapons manufacturers.
Military weapons are not just about the physical guns, tanks and ammunition, but also about weapons software, communications systems, specialised military clothing and even rescue vehicles.
A nuclear weapon requires not only a warhead to function, but also the missile delivery system, fuel and cloud computing services. It quickly becomes an endless list, touching companies you may not think of as having a connection with the military.
Extending further, there are also banks funding weapons manufacturers. Even the likes of Google, Amazon and Microsoft have had involvement in military contracts and, at times, that has been very controversial with their staff. Software developers, for example, may not want their technical expertise to help develop artificial intelligence for military applications.
Some, but far from all, KiwiSaver providers don’t want to invest in manufacturers of weapons of war. For a useful resource to check weapons in your KiwiSaver go to at mindfulmoney.co.nz.
International weapons companies will always get funding. As the co-founder – and member – of a KiwiSaver, I don’t want that funding to come from me.
Originally published in Stuff 3/3/2022
John is committed to making ethical investment accessible to all NZ investors. Before co-founding Pathfinder in 2009 John worked in law firms and investment banks in Auckland, London and Sydney. He has a BCom/LLB(Hons) from Auckland University and is a board member of Men’s Health Trust.