Quakers in Britain 'disappointed and concerned' on overturning of divestment ruling

By agency reporter
June 8, 2018

Quakers in Britain have expressed disappointment and concern following a UK appeal court ruling this week affirming the government's right to restrict local councils from divesting from companies whose activities they regard as unethical. This includes firms profiting from the UK defence industry, fossil fuel extraction or the military occupation of Palestine.

Quakers in Britain submitted a witness statement in December 2016 in support of a judicial review brought by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) against new government rules limiting the ability of councils to make ethical decisions regarding their pension investments.

In June 2017, the High Court found in favour of the PSC's case, declaring the government had acted improperly by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and defence policy.

Following an appeal by the government, the Court of Appeal has now overturned the original ruling, stating the government's action "fell within the powers conferred by the legislation."

Jamie Potter of Bindmans LLP, who is representing PSC along with Ben Gaston, said: "The outcome of the Court of Appeal hearing is disappointing and has potentially far-reaching consequences. In particular, it could allow the government of the day to impose their own political agenda on Local Government Pension Schemes, even where that agenda is contrary to the wishes of the members of the Scheme whose money is being invested. Accordingly this affects not only those that do not wish to see their money invested in companies working in the Occupied Territories in Palestine or those that form part of the UK defence industry, but also those members that feel strongly about the environment or other social issues such as pay day lenders."

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain, said: "The government's rules are an unprecedented intervention in the legal and moral right of local councils to take decisions that reflect the views and opinions of their own pension scheme members.

"As Quakers, we seek to live out our faith through everyday actions, including the choices we make about where to put our money. We believe strongly in the power of legitimate, nonviolent, democratic tools such as divestment from unethical trades to realise positive change in our world. That's why we were the first Christian denomination in the UK to divest from fossil fuel companies.

"This ruling means that pension holders will now be forced into investing in companies that are complicit in human rights abuses, contrary to their conscience and beliefs."

The government's rules were issued despite a public consultation indicating that 98 per cent of respondents were against the proposals.

* More about Quakers' concerns here

*  Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends. Around 23,000 people attend 478 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.

* Quakers in Britain http://www.quaker.org.uk/

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