FERRET INVESTIGATION: Scots financial firms invested £7 billion in nuclear weapons

Three major Scottish financial institutions — NatWest Group, Lloyds Banking Group and Standard Life Aberdeen — invested a total of £7 billion in nuclear weapons over a two year period, according to a report by Billy Briggs of The Ferret investigative journalism bureau.

Briggs reports that a new report, seen by The Ferret, also reveals two Scots universities held £2.4 million of investments in companies that undertake work related to nuclear weapons, while 11 council pension funds together had £275 million invested in 20 firms in the sector.

The study is by Don’t Bank on The Bomb Scotland, a network of organisations campaigning for banks, universities, pension funds and public bodies to divest from companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons. It says these organisations together held investments worth £7.2 billion in nuclear weapons producers between 2018 and 2020.

Don’t Bank on the Bomb is calling for divestment. It argues that organisations investing in nuclear weapon producers are “supporting activities that contravene commitments made under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”.

In reply, investors say they have robust environmental, social and ethical policies in place and some fund managers claim engagement is more effective than divestment at changing company behaviour.

Medact Scotland, Scottish CND, Pax Christi Scotland and the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre are all members of Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland.

The umbrella group says there is a heightened global nuclear risk at the moment. It points to tensions between the US, Israel and Iran over the latter’s nuclear programme, and deadly clashes between nuclear-armed nations India and China in the western Himalayas. 

In the UK, nuclear weapons are once again a major political issue following the UK government’s recent announcement it would increase the number of nuclear warheads in its stockpile [bunkered in the hills between Glen Douglas and Loch Lomond]  by up to 44 per cent, a move described by Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland as “shocking”.

Its report says that nuclear armed nations are spending “vast sums of money” maintaining and upgrading their nuclear arsenals, with many companies profiting from these modernisation programmes.

The group argues these programmes are at odds with international treaties. It claims organisations investing in nuclear weapons’ producers are “supporting activities that contravene commitments” made under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

International law on nuclear weapons was strengthened in January 2021 by the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the study says. The treaty prohibits the development, production, testing, possession, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Both Glasgow University and Strathclyde University also invest in the nuclear weapons industry. The former held shares worth £1.9m in 16 companies as of 30 September 2020. Strathclyde University owned shares worth £473,633 in two companies – BAE Systems and Thales.

Don’t Bank on the Bomb’s report says the treaty is important to note for investors because financial assistance may be viewed as unlawful under international law.

A full investigative report by Billy Briggs is on The Ferret website.

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