Give the current sequence on investment, it seemed a no brainer to share Gideon Haigh‘s long read from Monday’s Guardian. It is a powerful, moving and inspiring article. It proves that not every product that gives an apparently high return for your money is a good investment. At the core of the piece is this key question: ‘would you set up an industry now knowing that in the next year it would kill six million people and cost the health care system €2tn?’ Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.
When Dr Bronwyn King discovered her pension fund was investing in the cigarette companies that were killing her cancer patients, she was staggered. And she knew she had to act.
On Good Friday this year, Dr Bronwyn King and her husband were staying with her parents in the quiet coastal town of Torquay in Victoria, Australia. They started watching a movie – although King, as she often is, was only half-there, busily pecking at her laptop.
“AXA – news …” said the subject line of the email from a French insurance executive. “In confidentiality,” it read: “we have decided to divest tobacco … If you can, let’s discuss further. Thanks for your help.” King felt momentarily giddy. It was six years since she had sent the first of tens of thousands of hopeful, courteous but determined emails with such ends in mind. She had already persuaded 35 Australian superannuation funds, as Australians call their private pension funds, controlling nearly half the total funds under management to shun tobacco. AXA, the world’s second biggest insurer, was her greatest success yet. But she passed up a celebratory glass of wine: there was work to do, on the details and timing of the announcement. When her family turned in, they left King, as they often do, at her laptop.
Two months later at Geneva’s plush Beau Rivage Hotel, King looked out over a sea of faces, mostly delegates gathered for the World Health Assembly, and introduced her “new best friend”, AXA boss Thomas Buberl. AXA, he said, would forthwith sell €200m of tobacco stocks: there was applause. It would also, he added, run down €1.6bn of tobacco corporate bonds. There was a hush. Had he just said billion?
In an old war, a new front had opened. Tobacco kills six million people a year: the McKinsey Global Institute deems it humankind’s greatest self-generated social burden, ahead even of war and terrorism. Yet as an issue, observes King’s colleague Clare Payne, it has receded in public consciousness: “There’s this tendency for people to think: ‘Oh we’re done with tobacco, aren’t we? Everyone knows. It’s just a choice thing for people now.’ When we’re actually in an epidemic – history’s first epidemic of a non-communicable disease.”