January 17, 2011
"Canadians have invested more than $2 billion in multinational tobacco companies," explained Cynthia Callard, PSC's executive director. "This investment helps fuel the spread of tobacco use into the developing world with disastrous consequences." According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use is the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today, responsible for the premature deaths of 5.4 million people worldwide each year.
PSC's review of tobacco holdings was based on information on institutional shareholdings produced through the Toronto Stock Exchange on the first trading day of 2011 (January 4th). Investors operating on behalf of government, like the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, the Caisse de Dépot et Placement du Quebec and the British Columbia Investment Management company held $458 million dollars in stocks in the four largest publicly-traded tobacco companies. Shareholdings of other institutional investors were $1.6 billion.
"Almost every Canadian is implicated in the ownership of Big Tobacco," said Callard. "All workers are required to contribute to the CPP or QPP, and these pension funds are among the top ten Canadian investors in tobacco. Ordinary Canadians will find it difficult to prevent their voluntary savings from being similarly invested in tobacco companies because the default on many investment funds is to not screen them for tobacco industry holdings."
PSC recommends that governments and private investors revise their investment policies to screen out tobacco companies. "These investments provide tobacco companies with the capital to expand their markets into communities where smoking rates were previously low, or to market to sectors of the community, like women, who traditionally have not smoked," said Callard.
PSC estimates that the dividends received by Canadian institutional investors from tobacco sales exceed $100 million a year, of which more than $36 million from smokers in developing countries.
"Canadians rightfully condemn the ways that tobacco companies deliberately addict the world's poorest people to a lethal drug, and then extract a lifetime of profits from their victims," said Callard. "We should be equally harsh in our condemnation of Canadian banks, public pension funds and investment companies that have not only aligned themselves with these companies, but which have become part of them."
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