Background and Context:
Australians are contributing to the tobacco epidemic by unwittingly investing in tobacco companies via their Superannuation Funds. The Australian superannuation industry is the world’s fourth largest, with approximately $1.8 trillion AUD in total assets. An estimated 0.5% of that total ($9 billion AUD) is invested in tobacco companies. This financial support of the tobacco industry stands in sharp contrast to the Australian Government’s excellent record on tobacco control, clear community awareness of the dangers of smoking, and an ongoing decline in the percentage of Australians who smoke tobacco.
In 2010 the Tobacco-Free Investment Initiative was founded, aiming to reduce investment in the tobacco industry by Australian Superannuation Funds.
Engagement with the superannuation industry was actively sought. Initially, contact was made with the two Superannuation Funds providing services for Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre employees. Over many constructive meetings, the case for tobacco divestment was presented. In July 2012, First State Super divested all tobacco stocks ($200 million AUD). In January 2013, HESTA followed suit ($35 million AUD). Attention then turned to other health industry-related Funds, government-controlled Funds, and large mainstream Funds.
Superannuation Fund investment teams, executives and board members were approached privately. Strong working relationships were fostered with superannuation industry leaders, who initiated further introductions and facilitated opportunities to present at superannuation workshops and conferences.
Outcomes / What was Learned
Since the commencement of the Initiative, 16 large Australian Superannuation Funds have divested tobacco stocks worth more than $1.2 billion AUD. Conversations are currently taking place with a further 20 Funds. Financial support of the tobacco industry must be reduced across the globe, with a view to diminishing its power and influence and thus decreasing the number of smokers worldwide. The next step for this Initiative is to expand internationally.