Concern over Waltham Council pension fund investments in companies ‘complicit’ with Israel during conflict

Waltham Forest Council’s pension team has expressed concern over investments being made into companies with “interests in Israel,” in light of the ongoing war in the region.

The pension committee has said it is “concerned about any exposure the fund has to companies accused of human rights violations anywhere in the world as well in relation to the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

Waltham Forest is a member of the London Collective Investment Vehicle (LCIV), a pooled fund which manages the pension funds for all 32 London boroughs.

A Freedom of Information request revealed in March that at least £6.63million was being passively invested, by the LCIV, into companies that send weapons to Israel or were linked to illegal settlements.

The pension board – separate from the committee – discussed the investments in such companies for the first time during a meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Janet Walker, a board member, said the prospect of being “complicit” was “troubling” and could not think of a comparable time when so many people were concerned about an international issue.

Board chairman Chris Buss said the council did not need to consider ethics in its investments, but felt the board should reflect its concerns about “all human rights abuses” to the committee.

Israel has been at war with Hamas, the militant governing body of Gaza, since the state was attacked on 7th October 2023.

The attack, which left 1,200 dead, prompted a strong response from Israel that has resulted in the deaths of more than 37,000 Gazans.

The council says it has contacted the LCIV to “share its concerns” and is currently “investigating its options” within the Local Government Pension Scheme, which provides for public sector workers.

Rob Manning, the strategic director of resources, added that any divestment must not financially harm the council.

The companies in question were not listed in the report.

The LCIV says it has “assessed” and “disclosed” its involvement with companies that were said to “facilitate” human rights abuses in Israel, following a Human Rights Watch report that detailed “crimes of apartheid and persecution” by the Israeli authorities.

In a general statement, a spokesperson said: “We will continue to monitor all relevant lists and identify emerging issues to ensure our funds are not complicit in any violations of human rights or international law anywhere in the world.”

It has also “engaged with” companies accused of benefiting from the forced labour of Uighurs, supplying arms used to commit war crimes in Yemen, or maintaining business relationships with the military-affiliated Mytel and Viettel in Myanmar. The LCIV says it makes such assessments every three months.

Pro-Palestine protestors have targeted the council over its investments, with more than 100 activists gathering outside the town hall in March.

They called on the authority to divest its funds from and boycott Israel, while likening the Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the apartheid in South Africa.

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council previously said the LCIV handles its equity investments and that none of the funds it directly managed were “invested with companies accused of complicity”.

He said: “Our investors must consider a range of environmental, social, and human rights issues when making investment decisions and these can have an impact on the future performance of the pension fund.”

He added: “In considering the fund performance we also cannot ignore the fact that some companies linked to human rights violations are the target of worldwide boycotts and are likely to become risky investments, and we must therefore act to safeguard our investments for the people who rely on the pension fund.”

A petition by Waltham Forest for a Free Palestine, which accuses the council of backing companies that support Israel, will be debated by members next month.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter