A major charitable trust has disposed of a ¬£2 million shareholding in the company Reed Elsevier, because of its concerns over the company's involvement in promoting arms sales, reports Quaker Peace and Social Witness - part of the Society of Friends in the UK.
The Quaker-founded Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is a significant investor in voluntary work and social enterprise, both among the churches and in cooperation with respected NGOs.
Reed Elsevier, which is widely known for its professional publications, organises arms exhibitions through its subsidiary companies, Reed Exhibitions and Spearhead Exhibitions.
The military shows include the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi), the world's largest arms fair, held every two years in London.
Susan Seymour, chair of the Trust's Investment Committee, explained: "We decided to invest in Reed Elsevier based on ethical research. It has since become apparent that the company not only has interests in the arms trade, which is deeply unethical and irredeemably corrupt, but that these are rapidly expanding."
She continued: "We've spent three years trying to persuade Reed Elsevier that for moral or reputational reasons they should abandon their arms trade interests. We have been unsuccessful and are extremely disappointed that despite subscribing to the United Nations' Global Compact which commits them to uphold human rights, they continually deny their ethical responsibilities by stating that their work is legal."
"The Trust aims to ensure, as far as possible, that its income is compatible with the Quaker values upon which it was founded. It is a measure of our significant concern that we have taken the unusual step of going public on this matter."
Reed Elsevier has recently expanded its involvement in arms fairs, which it organises all over the world. The company has now acquired the IDEX exhibition, which is the focal point for arms sales in the Middle East, Gulf and Asia.
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) which gives grants to a number of groups concerned with peace and human rights, operates an ethical investment policy, aiming to avoid companies materially involved in armaments.
The JRCT report that this policy has no adverse effect on its performance. In the year to 31 December 2006 the return on the Trust's main portfolio was 20.0 per cent against its benchmark (the FTSE ASI) of 16.8 per cent.