Organisation - June 10, 2020

Do we want retirement funds that invest in oil drilling?

Text:
Tessa Louwerens

WUR employee Jarno Gieteling was shocked to discover that ‘his’ retirement fund ABP invests in oil drilling on the North Pole. He started a poll.

Gieteling, a research employee at Food Process and Technology, found the information in the honest retirement guide (eerlijke pensioenwijzer). He decided to poll the position of WUR colleagues and asked them: Do these colleagues wish to be part of a retirement fund that invests in oil drilling on the North Pole?

The ‘honest retirement guide’ is edited annually by different parties such as Amnesty International and Milieudefensie (Dutch for Environmental defence) and shows where retirement funds invest their money. Gieteling was concerned over the fact that the General Civic Pension Fund (ABP), of which all WUR employees are obligatory members, invests in gas and oil drilling on the North Pole. ‘In light of the current climate crisis, I consider this a particularly bad idea. I don’t want to be part of a pension fund that invests in this way, and I don’t consider this fitting for an organisation such as WUR, which works to promote sustainability. We must move away from fossil fuels, rather than invest in them.’

I don’t consider this fitting for an organisation such as WUR, which works to promote sustainability.
Jarno Gieteling, research employee at Food Process and Technology

Obligatory
Gieteling addressed this issue previously with the HR department. ‘When my contract was renewed, I posed the question. But, apparently, we have no choice in the matter.’ WUR legal expert, Marleen de Vries, whose portfolio includes legal status and working conditions, confirms this: ‘Membership of ABP is part of the collective labour agreement of the Dutch Universities and all university staff participates in this fund. WUR employees do not have a choice.’ According to De Vries, the ABP has an accountability council consisting of 48 members representing employees, employers and retirees, that advises the fund on policy, and assesses after the fact.

If this position is supported broadly within the organisation, we may be able to contact ABP on behalf of the organisation as a whole.

Poll
Gieteling did not back down. He launched a poll in his own research group on the intranet and received over eighty supportive reactions. He also contacted the retirement fund. In a written reply, the fund states: ‘ABP is aware that drilling for oil and gas in the polar region entails certain risks […] We have discussed what preemptive measures and strategies the companies that are active in the polar region have taken to prevent environmental damages. The companies have provided proof that they operate within the regulations that apply to this region.’ For further information, they refer to the ABP’s Sustainable and Responsible Investment Policy.

Moreover, the ABP states that a survey was carried out among its participants in 2019, on opinions regarding sustainable and responsible investments. However, the survey did not specifically ask about oil and gas drilling on the North Pole. Gieteling hopes that, when more participants indicate they disagree with this approach, the fund will reconsider. ‘Therefore, I will continue to address this issue, with this poll, for example. If this position is supported broadly within the organisation, we may be able to contact ABP on behalf of the organisation as a whole.’

Best in climate
The Honest Retirement Guide shows that the ABP scores highest in the field of climate policy among the ten tested retirement funds, with an overall score of 4 (out of 10). The entire report can be found here.

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