THE chair of Cornwall Council’s pensions fund has said the local authority has led the way in responsible investment after it was criticised for “irresponsible investment” in companies based in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) of Gaza and the West Bank as well as in Israel.

During public questions at the first meeting of the full council this year, Kate Thomas, of Falmouth – who described herself as a Cornwall Council pensioner – said: “Cornwall pensions are being invested in companies that profit from the slaughter and persecution of civilians in illegally occupied Palestine, including clear human rights abuses and extensively documented war crimes committed by Israel. This is irresponsible investment. When will Cornwall Council disinvest from such companies as they did with Russia?”

Cllr Jayne Kirkham, who chairs the council’s pension fund, responded that the fund is highly regulated and investment decisions are based on an assessment of the financial consequence of a number of matters, including environmental, social and governance factors.

“As chair I’m proud of the way this pension fund has recently taken huge steps and led the way on responsible investment policy in the last few years with strong, industry leading responsible investment policies and local investment in renewables and housing to benefit Cornwall,” said Cllr Kirkham, who is leader of the Labour Party group at the council.

She pointed out that Cornwall Council had to become a member of a pensions pool of ten pension funds, the Brunel Pension Partnership, due to a government directive. Brunel uses the services of external fund managers who are responsible for selecting the companies Cornwall Council invests in.

Cllr Kirkham added: “Brunel recently conducted a full analysis of all of their portfolios, to assess exposure to companies operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. To do this, research was used from two reports, one published by the United Nations and the other by a Non-Governmental Organisation (DanWatch).”

The Cornwall Pension Fund equity investments through Brunel in companies which operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are:

Siemens: a German multinational technology conglomerate

Booking Holdings Inc: An American multinational travel technology company.

The council also has the following equity investments through Brunel in Israeli companies:

SolarEdge: A smart energy technology company

Maytronics: Produces robotic swimming pool cleaners and pool safety products

Inmode: A medical/cosmetic company

Nova: A semi-conductor manufacture support company.

“We pride ourselves on our transparency of the companies which we hold, we therefore publish detailed holding lists online,” said Cllr Kirkham.

Ms Thomas responded she’d carried out her own research “and I’ve come up with sheets and sheets of weapons companies and investments in occupied Palestine”. She asked that Cornwall Council divested from investing in weapons but was told that the authority does not invest in “controversial weapons” but does invest in “aerospace and defence” companies.

Cllr Kirkham explained: “As part of the Brunel Pension Partnership, we do not invest in controversial weapons and we expect all of our fund managers to invest in line with the United Nations Global Compact. We also insist that companies comply with all legal requirements and the duty to respect all internationally recognised human rights, including the obligations of the Modern Slavery Act in the UK and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business Human Rights.

“We use GICS (Global Industry Classification Standard) reporting to identify the sector and sub-sector of the companies in which we invest, ‘arms/weapons’ is not an industry classification. Companies who sell weapons can appear under a number of different classifications.”

She added: “An analysis has been done, based on the detailed holdings lists we publish online, of all the pension fund’s investments under the ‘aerospace & defence’ industry classification, which also picks up companies that build aircraft and the associated propulsion units as well as defence-related industries.”

The fund’s holdings in this sector equates to 0.16% of its holdings and the companies it invests in are:

Safran SA: A French multinational company and the world’s second largest aircraft equipment manufacturer

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd: An Indian-based design and development company servicing a wide range of products including aircraft, helicopters, aero-engines, avionics, accessories and aerospace structures

MTU Aero Engines AG: A German aircraft engine supplier

Axon Enterprise Inc: A US company which was founded with the mission of making bullets obsolete. It manufactures tasers as an alternative to guns/bullets, bodycams and cloud-based digital evidence management for law enforcement agencies.