Comic Relief money invested in arms and tobacco shares

 

Extracts from Panorama - All in a Good Cause

Millions of pounds donated to Comic Relief have been invested in funds with shares in tobacco, alcohol and arms firms, BBC Panorama has learned.

The BBC has also seen evidence which suggests Save the Children censored criticism of energy firms, to avoid upsetting corporate partners.

Comic Relief said it used its funds to "deliver the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people".

Save the Children said its campaigns were unaffected by any partnerships.

Comic Relief

Comic Relief has raised nearly £1bn for worthwhile causes in the UK and abroad.

It pays out the money it receives to other charities, sometimes over several years.

That means Comic Relief holds tens of millions of pounds at any one time.

The charity uses a number of managed funds which invests that money on the charity's behalf, including in the stock market.

Panorama has learnt that between 2007 and 2009, some of these investments, amounting to millions of pounds, appear to contradict several of its core aims.

Despite its mission statement claiming it is committed to helping "people affected by conflict", in 2009 the charity had £630,000 invested in shares in weapons firm BAE Systems.

Comic Relief also had more than £300,000 invested in shares in the alcohol industry despite its mission statement saying it is "working to reduce alcohol misuse and minimise alcohol related harm".

The majority was invested in Diageo, which manufactures dozens of alcoholic drinks and was criticised by the Health Select Committee in 2009 for exploiting weaknesses in the regulation of alcohol advertising.

Comic Relief also appeals for money to fight tuberculosis and has given over £300,000 to a charity called Target Tuberculosis.

Target TB believes that smoking may be responsible for over 20% of TB cases worldwide.

While raising funds in 2009, nearly £3m of Comic Relief money was invested in shares in tobacco companies.

'Risking their reputation'

During that time, entrepreneur and Dragon's Den star Duncan Bannatyne was a full trustee of Comic Relief.

In 2008 he made a BBC documentary attacking a tobacco company for targeting African children.

He told Panorama he "wouldn't put donors' money into tobacco companies" and said charities should invest ethically.

Bannatyne Duncan Bannatyne, a trustee of Comic Relief in 2009, says he would not invest in tobacco firms

Ethical fund manager Helen Wildsmith looks after the cash of thousands of charities.

She said she was surprised that a charity as high profile as Comic Relief would risk its reputation and future donations.

"If people who've been giving them money, after watching the television, next year think twice and don't give that money, because they're concerned about their investment policy, then that could be argued to be a breach of fiduciary duty."

Comic Relief has now changed the way it presents its accounts and it is currently impossible for the public to tell which funds the charity currently invests in.

It declined to comment on whether any money invested since 2009 is in shares in alcohol, arms, or tobacco companies.

Comic Relief said its approach is within regulatory guidelines.

"We put the money into large managed funds, as many other leading charities and pension funds do," they said.

"On balance, we believe this is the approach that will deliver the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people."

Panorama: Find out more

BBC Panorama logo
  • Declan Lawn presents Panorama - All in a Good Cause
  • BBC One, Tuesday 10 December at 22:35 BST

And Comic Relief co-founder and former chair of trustees Peter Bennett-Jones told the Guardian the investments were made according to legal guidelines stating that they must yield the best possible financial return.

The Charity Commission, he said, made it clear that trustees "should only adopt an ethical investment approach with specific justification and not on the grounds of individual moral views".

Sam Younger, Charity Commission chief executive, said: "If a charity says 'we need to invest for the maximum financial return' that is right,"

"If they go on to say 'we therefore can't have an ethical investment policy', that's wrong," he said.

Save the Children

Panorama has also seen evidence to suggest that Save the Children censored its criticism of the energy industry to avoid upsetting potential and existing corporate partners.

Its 10 year relationship with British Gas ended in November 2012 having yielded £1.5m.

Dominic Nutt, its former head of news from 2007 to 2009, told the BBC that he was keen to campaign on the issue of rising energy prices when he worked at the charity but was stopped from doing so.

"Every year I would prepare a line on that, to go to the media, to criticise British Gas. Every year, it would be quashed," he said.

"It was a clear, 'We can't do that, because we take money from British Gas...' - that would have come down from on high."

Save the Children ran a fuel poverty campaign in January 2012 which criticised the Big Six Energy suppliers but it singled out British Gas as doing the most to help poorer families.

Justin Forsyth, current CEO of Save the Children, said: "We would never decide not to campaign on something because of a corporate partnership."

"And we're quite explicit when we go into these corporate partnerships that we won't muzzle our voice," he said.

Panorama has also seen internal emails from the Save the Children's Corporate Partnerships team, who were pitching to become EDF's charity partner - a deal which could have earned Save the Children £600,000 over three years.

The emails raised concerns about risking a potential partnership with EDF by running a fuel poverty campaign.

Justin Forsyth said: "With this specific case we were never going to launch a campaign on energy prices."

 

Comments

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 362.

    If you want to give to charity you are better off contacting your favourite charity and setting up a standing order. You have no control over where the funds for things like Comic Relief end up. For the price of a London pint and a packet of crisps a £5 monthly standing order to something you care about will provide your chosen charity with a predictable income allowing them to plan effectively.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 361.

    So Panorama thinks it can score cheap points by making it sound as if Comic Relief has delberately sought out arms and tobacco firms to invest their money in? Shame on you BBC. Almost anyone with a pension fund has a similar portfolio

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 360.

    Supply and demand;

    CR Supplies the weapons to the very countries that demand our help, it appears to be a case of CR ensuring the need for their organisation is ongoing.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 359.

    When I see stories like this I am always suspicious of right-wing dirty tricks groups seeking to undermine organisations which are raising public awareness of the rapacious corruption of high finance as we have seen in banking. As soon as the Archbishop of Canterbury began promoting ethical actions we had the story of unsuitable CofE investments. Essentially the tactic is to smear and weaken.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 358.

    have to wonder about the BBC's agenda here. They must of known that once the plebs got hold of this non story it will adversely effect donations next year. Is it now their mandate to ruin charitable work?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 357.

    Its a case of Transparency to avoid the intent to mislead or direct your efforts to mislead.

    The facts in this matter is one where "practice what you preach" appears not to be adhered too.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 356.

    @ 349.Paul M

    "Only a small percentage ever gets to the people that need it."

    That's the excuse that selfish people make for never donating to charity. Times have changed - it's not the 1980's any longer and organisations are a lot more transparent.

    Comic Relief are going to have to do an awful lot to fix this one.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 355.

    let's all agree that the UK is a mess and that we need to have a revolution. instea of voting, take to the streets and make your voices heard.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 354.

    I dont give to charity for these exact reasons. They are all con artist/ rip off merchants pulling on peoples heartstrings.
    Their chief exes earn huge salaries and very little money or aid gets to were it should to poor dying people.
    Most of it goes to the greedy governments who cause most of the problems.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 353.

    Could someone re-post my 320 comment - the truth has to get out - eventually - despite the actions of an organisation that's on a par with the KGB

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 352.

    Tuesday, December 10, Human Rights Day 2013. Thank you, BBC Panorama. You let us see the truth. Those journalists are under a great deal of pressure. We salute you.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 351.

    "restructered their accounts to prevent transparency".

    A friend & I once road a bicycle from New York to Los Angeles in support of Comic Relief in the foolhardy belief that £'s raised would go directly to those in need.

    I regret every single penny raised & given to those who,

    "restructered their accounts to prevent transparency".

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 350.

    48.Realist
    'I always thought it was handed straight to the good causes, not invested'

    122.Mr C
    'For me personally I'm a bit surprised the money is 'invested' at all? '

    Comic Relief cannot commit to a cause before raising the money. The cause cannot commit to spend until assured of the grant and will need funds over several years. Where is the money in the interim?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 349.

    Is this really a surprise to anyone? That money donated DOESN'T get to the people intended? The same has been true for countless years. Only a small percentage ever gets to the people that need it.
    That is largely true when donating abroad, where it passes through so many hands it's gets eaten away. If you want to be charitable, be charitable at home. Far more likely your money will do some good.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 348.

    @307.
    family guy
    Just now

    "They state that to choose Ethical funds would reduce their earning potential. "

    But investing in higher earning funds that will cost them substantially more to alleviate the damage is totally wrong. And even if the difference did make financial sense even preventing ONE innocent collateral damage death by not investing is worth more than money!

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 347.

    Funny that Unicef finds UK the West’s worse for children.
    One reason is the huge influence of big business interests on Government, media.
    And on agencies meant to protect children (or all of us) from their excess.
    Now we find even Save the Children censor criticism of big business donors.
    Childrens’ charities in other countries see exposing corporate meddling as their duty.

  • rate this
    +15

    Comment number 346.

    Many of these posts are missing the point. The fact that Comic Relief and other charities invest money makes complete sense. They make commitments to projects over several years and it would be irresponsible to do this without having the necessary funds in hand to meet these commitments. It is the type of investments they are making that are in question.

  • Comment number 345.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 344.

    326.fullcontact
    2 Minutes ago
    If CR want to invest, why don't they invest in new businesses in the UK?

    ++
    So, how is that more moral?
    UK supports drone strikes, UK sells weapons, UK imprisons/restricts people without judicial conviction, much of UK population accepts paying $1 a day wages so they can have cheap goods/food.

    Get real, we live in imoral world & we are all part of it

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 343.

    Fundamentally wrong is how we have been constantly told that "every penny" of our donation goes straight to help those who need it. Well, no, it hasn't. Not if it has been re-distributed to those very profitable institutions - household name charities - whose CEO's take home 6 figure salaries and who lose money in admin.

    This is the betrayal of trust & deceit that most angers me.

 

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