Cancer scientists discover their pension fund is invested in tobacco

Scientists funded by Cancer Research UK who spend their lives hunting for cures for the disease are among thousands of academics whose pensions are invested in the tobacco industry, the Guardian can reveal.

The latest annual report for the university staff’s pension fund shows it had £211 million invested in British American Tobacco in the year to 31 March 2015 – its fifth biggest listed equities holding.

The Universities Superannuation Scheme – the official name for the fund for university academics and staff – was worth £49 billion in 2015. The BAT holding is not the only controversial investment; its biggest holding was £344 million in Royal Dutch Shell.

But the tobacco investment will come as a shock to many researchers, academics and staff. One scientist, who is employed by a leading university but whose post is funded by CRUK, was horrified to learn that her money was being invested in this way…

“All the work of this institute is done under the guidance of CRUK, and we are, quite rightly, regularly reviewed to ensure that CRUK money is being spent effectively and efficiently in the global fight against cancer. How can this possibly be in line with the fact that most of us will retire comfortably on money earned from tobacco investments?”

Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors and principals, said USS was…blah, blah, blah.

If you’re principled in the fight for better public health, you don’t allow your pension to be invested in a major source of ill health. Simple as that. Either you exert appropriate control over investments made in your name – or you change providers for those investments.

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