On 28 May UK grantmaker Comic Relief made a commitment not to make investments in arms, alcohol and tobacco companies as part of a new investment policy ‘in line with the ethos of the charity’.
Comic Relief, which has an investment portfolio of £138 million, was criticized in a BBC TV Panorama programme last year for investing millions of pounds in companies that make most of their money in these areas, which run directly contrary to its mission. The charity announced a review of its policy the day after the programme aired. It has now published the review panel conclusions, all five of which it has agreed to accept.
The panel recommended Comic Relief have ‘only a small number of absolute prohibitions’ in its portfolios, in order to ‘avoid an excessive reduction in the universe available for investment’. But the panel said the charity should engage with companies it invests in to improve their behaviour.
The charity has already removed the excluded stocks from its portfolio. It has also promised to sign up to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, to build stronger links between its investment committee and its trustees, and to allocate a proportion of its portfolio to social investment.
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At the same time, according to British newspaper The Telegraph, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has sold down part of his stake in UK-based security services company G4S, held through Cascade Investment, his private vehicle, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Pro-Palestinian activists have called on major investors and institutions to divest from G4S, which has contracts with Israeli prisons in the Palestinian territories and supplies surveillance equipment for West Bank checkpoints.
According to a recent stock exchange filing, the holding has been sold down to less than 3 per cent, the lowest threshold at which investors must declare stakes. The filing does not say how many, if any, G4S shares Mr Gates still holds, although it is thought that the stake has not been sold entirely and has been taken to just below the 3pc level.