The €140bn healthcare pension fund PFZW plans to stick with its SRI policy in the wake of the furore caused by its divestment from five Israeli banks, but it said it would adjust its communication process in future.
PFZW’s divestment decision led a demonstration in front of the offices of its asset manager PGGM, as well as emotional responses from a number of Jewish organisations. The Israeli government also called the Dutch ambassador to account.
Explaining the outcome of an internal investigation into the divestment process, Peter Borgdorff, the scheme’s director, stressed that the pension fund would “keep involving judgements of the international community in its investment policy”.
“This is not up for discussion,” he said.
However, he said the scheme had concluded that its communication respecting the divestment could have been better.
“We should have taken the initiative, rather than adopt a passive position, with questions and answers on the Internet,” he said. “A proactive approach would have enabled us to steer the developments.”
He added: “In the event of another potentially sensitive exclusion, we will do more to gauge the opinion of our stakeholders and ask ourselves twice whether we have consulted everybody about the issue.
“The outcome should guide us in how we communicate a decision. However, this will not make any difference to our policy.”
He also referred to Jewish organisations that, unlike several pro-Palestinian lobbying groups, had not met with PFZW in the run-up to the decision to provide their views on the issue.
Borgdorff said a more proactive approach by the healthcare scheme could possibly have prevented the divestment’s being seen as a boycott of Israel.
“Our earlier exclusion of Walmart did not mean we also excluded the US from our investment universe,” he said.
“After five years of fruitless engagement with the Israeli banks, we had to take a decision.”
The fact that part of the communication process had been handled by PGGM further clouded the picture, he conceded.
“In the specific case, the divestment was also the decision of the pension fund, and we should have emphasised this,” he said.
Commenting on the role of the scheme’s advisory board on responsible investment, Borgdorff said the evaluation had shown that the whole committee had acted “extremely meticulously”.
One of the members of the board is Cees Flinterman, also a member of the UN Human Rights Committee, who is known for his pro-Palestinian views.
According to the director, as part of the internal investigation, the minutes of all committee meetings over the past five years were screened.
“But next time, we will consult all our stakeholders even more thoroughly,” he said.
PFZW said it also pinpointed the difference in its interpretation of the situation with that of the €300bn civil service scheme ABP.
“We followed international law that countries should not export their citizens to territories they have occupied,” Borgdorff said.
“As a consequence, we don’t want to profit from banks that facilitate these developments.”
For its part, ABP concluded that the Israeli banks it has invested in did not violate international legislation, and that there were no judicial judgements that should lead to their exclusion.
According to ABP, not even the clauses of the UN Global Compact cited by PFZW are reason to initiate an engagement process.