The NZ Super Fund should immediately dump its shareholding in a company producing a notorious chemical that has been used as a weapon, says an outraged Labour defence spokesman David Shearer.
White phosphorus, which leaves its victims with major chemical burns, has allegedly been used in modern conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Yemen. Amnesty International reported in 2009 the Israeli army had used white phosphorus as a smokescreen in Gaza City.
Among the NZ Super Fund's $26 billion portfolio is a shareholding in Israel Chemicals. A United States government purchase order from 2013 shows it bought white phosphorus for shells from Israel Chemicals' subsidiary ICL Performance Products.
Shearer, who worked for the UN in some of those conflict zones where white phosphorus was allegedly used, said: "We should be divesting from that [shareholding] immediately. New Zealand should not be investing in any type of munitions that can be used in the way Israel is using them at the moment.
"It is absolutely unacceptable and I think most New Zealanders would agree. I don't believe it is right. There are plenty of good investments in the world without having to invest in armaments."
White phosphorus is used for smokescreens, but ignites on contact with oxygen and burns human bodies down to the bone. The UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons bans the use of incendiary weapons against civilian populations or in air attacks against enemy forces in civilian areas, but allows them if their incendiary effects are "incidental" to their function as illuminants, tracers, smoke or signalling systems, an out clause which has allowed the continued use of white phosphorus.
Super Fund spokeswoman Catherine Etheredge said: "Any breach of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (or other conventions) would be a matter of concern, and would be investigated by us in relation to our portfolio holdings, eg, Israel Chemicals."
The Amnesty report also detailed a missile strike in Gaza City which killed two paramedics and a 12-year-old boy. The missile was an AGM 114 Hellfire, usually launched from Apache helicopters. The sole supplier of Hellfire missiles is US company Hellfire LLC, originally a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, another company in which the Super Fund owns shares. While now wholly owned by Lockheed Martin, Boeing reportedly continues to receive a royalty on every missile sold.
"In the case of the NZ Super Fund, a small number of companies (eg Lockheed Martin) are excluded from the Fund on the basis of their involvement in the manufacture of nuclear explosive devices and/or cluster munitions. We do not categorically exclude companies involved in the manufacture or supply of other types of armaments," said Etheredge.
Etheredge said the Fund had researched the Israel-Palestine conflict and excluded companies including Lockheed Martin and Elbit Systems, which helped build the illegal Separation Barrier in Palestine and unmanned drone aircraft. But the Fund still held investments in other firms involved in military manufacture. "At this stage, we have not excluded investment in military equipment companies based on which governments they supply their equipment to."
Rodger Spiller, the director of ethical investment firm Money Matters, said the investment raised the issue of how much knowledge Kiwis had of where their money was invested, including their KiwiSaver funds.
There was no fixed definition of ethical investment and some funds had a stricter definition: "It's really a question of do you want your values reflected in your investments, or don't you? When I explain this to most people they scratch their heads and say, ‘Why wouldn't you want to do it?'."
August 11 update: Adrian Orr from the NZ Super Fund has provided an op-ed column responding to this article.
- Sunday Star Times