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Comic Relief to review investments

Comic Relief is to conduct a "full review" of its investment policy after criticisms were levelled at its dealings with the tobacco and arms industries.

A BBC Panorama programme to be screened tonight highlights the money that the charity has tied up in some areas which appear to run counter to its aims because it does not exercise any sort of ethical screening on its investments.

But chief executive Kevin Cahill said that it will look again at where it puts its funds in order to do "the right thing".

BBC1's documentary claims Comic Relief could have generated more cash from shrewd investments in "ethical" funds.

The charity, which generates huge publicity for its activities with star-studded programmes screened by the BBC, has avoided a policy of ethical screening for its investments because it says it does not want to limit the amount of money it raises.

The documentary highlights that Comic Relief had £630,000 in shares in BAE Systems, a leading weapons manufacturer, in 2009 despite having a mission statement which talks of a commitment to help "people affected by conflict".

The charity has also given money to help the fight against tuberculosis but had £3 million of its money wrapped up in tobacco companies in the same year, even though smoking is said to be a contributory factor in many TB cases.

And although it aims to reduce alcohol misuse and its spin-off effects, the charity had £300,000 invested in the drinks industry in 2009. Panorama said Comic Relief refused to reveal its current investments.

Mr Cahill, speaking on BBC Radio 4's World At One, accepted that Comic Relief had a "small percentage" of cash in areas such as tobacco and arms firms through managed funds.

"There's no more than 5% of our funds in those particular areas," he said.

After being told ethical funds had outperformed FTSE 100 companies index over recent periods, he said: "Our trustees were acting in good faith in what they were doing. It's very good to hear that, in fact, the potential exists within ethical funds to match the return because Comic Relief would clearly choose to be in those if the return was equal or better to where we currently are so it's a no brainer for us to be in those funds."

Mr Cahill said the charity had "never had a blemish" during its existence but will "do a full review" of its investment policy.

"We listen to the public and we will do the right thing," he added.

Panorama's probe has already caused some controversy after claims that the corporation had shelved the programme - following a postponement - which led to director-general Tony Hall reassuring MPs in October that he hoped the programme would go ahead.

Another charity, Save the Children, has denied allegations in the programme that it self-censored criticism of the Big Six energy suppliers for fear of damaging relations with existing or potential corporate donors.

Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, said: "It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest our silence can be bought. We will continue to campaign on all the areas we think matter most to saving children's lives both at home and abroad."


From Belfast Telegraph