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Cancer Research UK widely criticised over scientist pensions invested in tobacco

Cancer Research UK has been the subject of critical articles in a number of newspapers after the pension schemes of scientists they fund were found to be heavily invested in the tobacco industry.

The latest accounts of the UK’s leading provider of academic pensions, the Universities Superannuation Scheme, show that more than £200m was invested by USS in British American Tobacco (BAT) in the year to March 2015.

However while CRUK provides money to fund scientists’ salaries, including pensions, it cannot control where universities invest those pensions.

One anonymous scientist working for CRUK said she was “horrified” to learn that her money was invested in an industry that was causing the disease she was trying to cure.

“This means that, even if only indirectly through our time and labour, Cancer Research UK money is being invested in growing and supporting the tobacco industry,” she told the Guardian.

“The idea that we all have our pension invested in British American Tobacco is outrageous.

“All the work of this institute is done under the guidance of Cancer Research UK, and we are, quite rightly, regularly reviewed to ensure that [charity] 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?”

Yesterday, Alison Cox, director of cancer prevention for CRUK, told Civil Society News the charity was making efforts to encourage pension schemes to end investment in tobacco.

“Tobacco is responsible for one in four cancer deaths. To help make it easier for organisations’ pension schemes to opt out of tobacco shares, we’re now funding the UK arm of Tobacco Free Portfolios to encourage investment funds to end investment in tobacco. AXA’s move earlier this week to withdraw billions in investment from the tobacco industry shows what can be done,” she said.

“Pensions are complex and what we want to see is a clearer choice for people, no matter where they are employed, to have easy options of not investing in tobacco.”

This morning, USS told Civil Society News it was an “active and responsible shareowner” – an approach its “trustees believe will protect and enhance the long-tern value of the fund”.

“In order to ensure appropriate diversification we invest in a wide range of companies and assets,” a spokeswoman for the organisation said.

“We have a significant in-house Responsible Investment team and work with the companies in which we invest to improve ethical, environmental and governance standards, in the best financial interest of our members and beneficiaries.

“In recent times, this has included engaging with tobacco companies on marketing approaches and regulations around e-cigarettes. The trustees keep the approach under review,” she said.

Cigarette brands owned by British American Tobacco include Lucky Strike, Pall Mall and Benson & Hedges.

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