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KiwiSaver crawls towards its nuclear-free moment

Mon March 28th 2022

Written by Rob Stock, originally appearing on Stuff.

KiwiSaver crawls towards its nuclear-free moment

    OPINION: Prime minister David Lange famously told a questioner at a debate at Oxford University on nuclear weapons: “I can smell the uranium on (your breath) as you lean towards me.”

    Well, there’s still a whiff of uranium on the breath of some KiwiSaver funds, new research from ethical research charity Mindful Money suggests, but not for much longer.

    It says in September 2019, there was still about $100 million of investments by KiwiSaver funds in companies involved with nuclear weapons, which fell to $52m in September 2020, and $14m in September 2021.

    That's now fallen to just under $13m, and by the end of the month, it could be as low as $4.8m, as some of the last KiwiSaver funds are “disinvesting” the last of their nuclear weapons exposure.

    Lange was of the opinion that there was no such thing as a winnable nuclear war, and the vast majority of KiwiSaver members feel the same.

    The nukes in KiwiSaver issue became a media story between 2015 and 2018, and in 2020, the government effectively banned “default” Kiwisaver schemes from investing in companies involved with certain kinds of weapons, namely nukes, cluster bombs and anti-personnel mines.

    Job done, it seemed, except nukes are back in the news with the threats of Russian President Vladamir Putin, and Mindful Money founder Barry Coates says some KiwiSaver funds still have investments with the nuclear arms-makers.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons to discourage any of Ukraine’s allies from coming to its aid.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons to discourage any of Ukraine’s allies from coming to its aid.

    Russia's aggression led to more critical KiwiSaver headlines, and large funds including ASB, Westpac, Bank of New Zealand and ANZ selling their investments in Russian companies close to the Kremlin.

    Once again, many KiwiSavers were surprised, and dismayed to find out where some of their money was invested.

    KiwiSaver’s ethical journey continues, but KiwiSaver providers are responding faster these days to public sentiment, which is progress, if you believe KiwiSaver should reflect mainstream public morals.

    Why are there still traces of uranium in KiwiSaver when we are a nuclear-free country?

    A lot of it is the result of how the West does defence, how KiwiSaver funds work, and the age of our nuclear-free laws.

    The “military-industrial complex” is the public-private partnership in which large private companies provide weapons and services to the West's military machines.

    These companies are all involved in non-nuke activities, often critical activities to maintaining our way of life, such as keeping our planes aloft (Boeing, Rolls Royce and Safran) or making conventional weapons.

    Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, for example, make the Javelin missiles Ukraine’s defenders are using to fight Russian tanks. They are also both involved in nukes.

    Denying these companies capital from pension funds is not something to be done lightly.

    A destroyed Russian tank is seen after battles on a main road near Brovary, north of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 10, 2022.
    A destroyed Russian tank is seen after battles on a main road near Brovary, north of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 10, 2022.

    Many defence companies are listed on sharemarkets, and pension funds like KiwiSaver can invest in them.

    Pension funds often invest through indexes, lists of shares put together by international research companies. Companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin are in those indexes. Until recently, weapons-free indexes were not available.

    We have the 1987 New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act, which theoretically prevents people here aiding and abetting nuclear armament, but its language is aged, vague, and the law is not enforced. It’s a poor example of the will of a democratic people being enacted through law.

    Coates argues it’s time to update that law, including clearly banning KiwiSaver schemes from investing in companies involved in providing componentry for nuclear weapons, not just the warhead itself.

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    I can’t really see it happening. The Government didn't bother during the height of the KiwiSaver nuke furore, and the trace smell of uranium on KiwiSaver's breath is growing fainter by the year.

    Coates says the last two major KiwiSaver schemes with trace exposure are Superlife and Booster, are talking to their fund providers about excluding nuclear weapons.

    Coates hopes very soon New Zealand will have another nuclear-free moment, when KiwiSaver can be declared nuke-free.


    • Find a KiwiSaver scheme that matches your morals
    • Learn what your KiwiSaver fund is invested in
    • Check out your fund on the Mindful Money website

    Want to learn more about Nuclear weapon divestment? You can watch our latest seminar with Alyn Ware, Nuclear disarmament expert. 

    Watch Seminar