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UK's USS to meet with members on controversial weapon petition

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The UK’s Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is being petitioned to phase out investments in companies involved with controversial weapons, and in a response has noted that an industrial conglomerate it is invested in has recently announced plans that mean it will no longer be producing cluster munitions.

Members of the £49.8bn (€63.4bn) scheme and the National Union of Students (NUS) presented the petition to USS on Thursday.

It calls on the pension scheme to phase out investments in companies involved with weapons banned under the Controversial Weapons Convention, and to adopt an ethical policy that would be informed by a member survey and an annual open forum event.

The petition was signed by more than 3,000 scheme members.

USS has more than 370,000 members from almost 400 institutions in the higher education sector.

The petition is co-ordinated by an Ethics for USS campaign with support from ShareAction, a responsible investment campaign group, and the NUS.

Similar demands were made two years ago, when USS was called on to adopt an ethical investment policy.

Tim Valentine, an academic and a leading member of the Ethics for USS campaign, said: “USS still invests our money in cluster bombs and other controversial weapons. Today, we are renewing our call. The law allows USS to take our views into account. It is time to give us a pension to be proud of.”

According to a statement from the campaign initiative, USS chief executive Bill Galvin and chair of trustees David Eastwood have agreed to meet with scheme members “to discuss the issues raised in the petition in early 2017”. 

In a statement, USS said it was invested in the debt of Textron, a company it described as having “interests in aircraft, industrial and automotive products”. 

It said the company had recently announced plans to discontinue production of sensor-fused weapons, “meaning it will no longer be producing cluster munitions”.

USS said the scheme trustee’s “primary duty is to ensure there is enough money to pay the pensions of our 375,000 members”. 

It added: “[We are] an active and responsible investor, and we engage with the companies we are invested in on a range of matters, when we believe doing so is in the financial interests of our members.”

It said it did not rule out investment in any sector on purely ethical grounds. 

It said it “takes its members’ views very seriously” and would carefully consider feedback from a recent survey of members on a broad range of issues, including their views on ethical and responsible investment.  

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