Comic Relief invested millions in companies contrary to its mission, TV report alleges

The BBC's Panorama programme, to be broadcast this evening, claims that the charity invested in alcohol, tobacco and arms companies

Comic Relief
Comic Relief

Comic Relief invested millions of pounds in companies whose activities ran directly contrary to its mission, including alcohol, tobacco and arms companies, a BBC Panorama programme to be broadcast this evening will claim.

Comic Relief holds a large amount of money it has committed to spend, which it invests through managed funds. Much of that money is invested in the stock market. Between 2007 and 2009 some of that money was invested in the alcohol company Diageo, the weapons firm BAE Systems and a number of tobacco companies, the programme will say.

The programme will claim that £630,000 was invested in BAE, £300,000 in Diageo and a further £3m in tobacco companies.

Comic Relief said in a statement that it was required to maximise its returns and could not do this while investing ethically.

"Because the range of issues we support is so broad, ethical screening would significantly limit our ability to invest as well as seriously increase financial risk," the charity said. 

"Ethical screening would have left us unable to meet both our legal and moral obligation to maximise returns and look after the money in our care with an appropriate level of risk. Instead, we put the money into large managed funds, like many other leading charities and pension funds. We do not invest directly in any individual company. We believe this approach has delivered the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people."

Comic Relief said its approach had delivered "strong returns at a lower risk than any other charity assessed" and that this "would not have been achievable through ethical funds".

Raj Singh, a programme director at Uksif, a membership organisation that campaigns for responsible investment, said that while a substantial number of charities focused on ensuring their investment policy was ethical, there were many that did not.

He said that unless a charity focused on developing an ethical investment policy, there was a substantial risk that it would end up investing in a company whose activities ran directly counter to the charity’s objects.

- The story was corrected on 10 December 2013. It originally said that Uksif is a charity, which it is not

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