Palestine: Is your pension invested in the occupation?

UNISON launches new guide on pension fund engagement and divestment from companies involved in the occupation of Palestine

Last year the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) launched research exposing how Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) funds in England and Wales have invested at least £3.2 billion in companies involved in the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine, and the violation of Palestinian human rights.

Although the investments are significant, the research only covers certain types of investment, so the true scale of financing is almost certainly significantly higher.

UNISON believes in the right to a decent and affordable pension. But many members are also concerned that their deferred wages are well invested in companies that don’t undermine human and workers’ rights, or damage the environment.

Palestine: Is your pension invested in the occupation? is a practical new guide to help activists to call on their pension fund to put pressure on companies to end their involvement with the violation of Palestinian human rights.

How are UK pensions connected to Palestinian rights?

The Israeli government can only maintain its occupation and grave violations of international law and Palestinian human rights because of products, equipment and services it receives from a range of companies and financial institutions.

These companies are either active in illegal Israeli settlements, or supply the infrastructure, technology and equipment that supports the military occupation.

The settlements and associated infrastructure are built on stolen Palestinian land and are illegal under international law. The Israeli government has accelerated its illegal settlement building programme in recent years, particularly during the US presidency of Donald Trump.

In 2020 alone, the Israeli government announced plans for 12,000 new settlement units and announced its intention to formally annex up to 30 percent of the West Bank.

Many major companies support the settlements through their business operations, contributing to an illegal situation and the violation of Palestinian human rights. These companies are often funded through investments, including by pension funds like the LGPS.

What can activists do about it? 

In February 2020 the UN Human Rights Council published a database listing some of the business enterprises involved in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

UNISON is calling on pension funds to begin the process of divesting from these companies as an important first step. The union is also calling for pension funds to engage with other investee companies involved in the settlements and the violation of Palestinian human rights, to demand that they cease these operations or risk divestment.

Pensions should be invested in scheme members’ interests, so pension funds have a responsibility to consider members’ ethical, social and governance concerns. However, despite human rights concerns and international law, the UK government are keen to restrict the ability of pension funds to divest from companies involved in the settlements.

In 2016 the government introduced guidance prohibiting divestment policies affecting foreign nations, except where government or other sanctions applied.

In April 2020 the Palestine Solidarity Campaign challenged this in the Supreme Court and won. However, in the 2019 Queen’s Speech the government announced its intention to introduce new restrictions affecting investment, purchasing and procurement decisions related to UK foreign policy.

‘Palestine: Is your pension invested in the occupation?’ is a practical guide providing activists with the background and tools to persuade pension funds to engage or divest from the companies involved in the occupation and violation of Palestinian rights.

It explains the occupation and international law, how the LGPS works, the steps to a successful campaign and includes model letters and other tools to help your campaign.

Information is also available on PSC’s LGPS Divest website, which is supported by UNISON. The site includes a search function to see which councils are investing in which companies associated with the occupation.

UNISON’s head of international relations Nick Crook said “UNISON has consistently campaigned against the occupation of Palestine.

“This important resource will help activists use the financial influence of their pension to put pressure on the companies that support the illegal settlements, which undermine peace and the prospects of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.”