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Comic Relief accused of unethical investment in tobacco and weapons



Comic Relief has come under fire after it emerged that it has been investing in funds that support tobacco, chemicals and arms firms.

The charity, which raises millions every year, is at the centre of controversy after the Sunday People shed light on its not-so-ethical investment portfolio.

Comic Relief’s investments are managed by Invesco Perpetual, and it was revealed that the company had been managing funds which inject cash into firms such as British American Tobacco (BAT), BAE Systems and GlaxoSmithKline.

BAT was criticised by multi-millionaire Comic Relief honorary trustee Duncan Bannatyne in 2008 for targeting developing countries with limited means of healthcare and education provisions.

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Meanwhile, BAE Systems was once at the centre of a scandal over cash bribes in return for contracts. The firm, which designs, develops and distributes arms around the world, made profits in excess of £17 billion in 2012, through trading arms with various governments and organisations.

A spokesperson from Comic Relief said, “Along with many other charities, Comic Relief’s approach is to invest in blue-chip fund managers. This approach has delivered an excellent return over the last five years even taking into account the recent period of financial turbulence, and is significantly higher than the sector average.”

The charity justified its investment approach by saying that the returns generated “contribute significantly to the running costs of the organisation”. The spokesperson added that public donations help “the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups here in the UK and around the world” and don’t in fact go towards keeping the charity afloat.

The news follows revelations about the Church of England’s investment strategy, which allowed it to invest indirectly in payday lender Wonga – the firm that the archbishop of Canterbury said he would try to “compete out of existence”.

UPDATE: This article was amended to make it clear that Comic Relief’s investment returns go primarily towards running costs, and its public donations go towards its charitable activities. 

Further reading:

Charities move to defend ‘disproportionate salaries’ for bosses

Essex council admits hypocrisy in tobacco investment

Pension fund drops tobacco investment after poor results

For a church, fiduciary responsibility should not trump social responsibility

The Guide to Philanthropy & Giving 2013