UNISON joins attack on housing minister over fossil fuel divestment

Open letter condemns suggestion that pension funds engage in ‘constructive engagement’ with fossil fuel companies

UNISON has added its voice to an open letter signed by more than 70 civil society leaders this week, condemning the government for encouraging investors to practice “constructive engagement” with fossil fuel companies.

Writing on the government website GovUK, pensions minister Guy Opperman acknowledged that the best way of pension fund trustees “seizing sustainable opportunities” was through financing green tech and energy revolution.

But at the same time, the minister argued that funds should hold onto their stocks in oil and gas companies, in order to “nudge, cajole or vote firms towards lower-carbon business practices.”

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea and deputy Scottish convenor Stephen Smellie joined MPs, NGO directors, faith leaders and local councillors in accusing the minister of ignoring the “clear moral, scientific and financial arguments for fossil fuel divestment.”

Their open letter states: “Mr Opperman’s assertion that collaboration through investor engagement can turn fossil fuel majors into low-carbon companies is not borne out by evidence.

“Investor pressure has never reshaped any company’s core business and cannot transform an entire sector of powerful multinationals.”

The signatories, who also include the Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance, note that at least 10 local authority pension funds are redirecting their investments away from fossil fuels and into clean energy solutions.

The Parliamentary Pension Fund has also began to reduce its fossil fuel holdings, after calls from 360 cross-party MPs.

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