Asylum seeker abuses sees HESTA out of detention centres

HESTA, the industry super fund for health and community services workers, has had enough.

The growing pile of evidence that asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru are being subjected to human rights violation and insufficient medical care has prompted the fund to sell its stake in Transfield Services, the company that operates the federal government’s detention centres.

News of sexual assaults, abuse of children, and other human rights violations have been emerging from the centres despite the government’s efforts to crack down on workers reporting incidences of abuse.

In February 2014, tensions between asylum seekers inside the Manus Island detention centre and PNG locals reached boiling point, and an outbreak of violence left many injured and one man, Reza Berati, a 23-year old asylum seeker from Iran, dead after a blow to the head.

HESTA’s decision came about after Australian Services Union members — many of whom work in the health and community sector — raised concerns with Transfield’s operations in offshore detention centres last year.

With a resolution of the ASU’s National Executive in hand, National Secretary David Smith has been in ongoing discussions with the fund on behalf of the ASU, advising HESTA of union members’ serious concerns.

This week the ASU applauded HESTA’s action and commended its due diligence on this matter. In a statement the ASU said the union “recognised that divestment from any company is a major decision that cannot be taken lightly.”

HESTA sold its 3 per cent stake in the company, valued in excess of $18 million, last week citing concerns over human rights violations occurring in the offshore detention centres.

“After careful consideration, and following an extensive period of consultation with relevant stakeholders and engagement with the company, the HESTA Board determined to divest from Transfield Services,” HESTA said in a statement.

HESTA said its investments are regularly reviewed on the basis of environmental, social and governance principles, and “if a company is identified as not complying, directly or indirectly, with international laws, standards or guidelines, we may consider divestment of any such companies.”

A number of “independent non-government organisations have found that the mandatory, prolonged, indefinite … detention at asylum seeker processing centres breaches the fundamental principles of international human rights law,” HESTA said.

HESTA members not impressed with Border Force Act

The $32 billion fund said the risks associated with Transfield Services, the $597 million company that operates the federal government’s detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, were too high.

The industry super fund for health and community services workers and the sixth largest superannuation manager in Australia, HESTA has more than 800,000 members.

Many doctors, nurses, and other workers in the sector covered by HESTA have protested against the Border Force Act, which came into effect on 1 July. The Act makes it illegal for healthcare professionals to report child sexual abuse in offshore detention centres.

Super fund activism

Many super funds offer members the choice of putting their money in “ethical” or “socially responsible” investments. Super funds have an overall duty to deliver good returns on investments to members, but high profile decisions to pull out of investments with companies on ethical grounds, such as this latest one by HESTA, seem to be a growing trend.

NZ super fund pulls out of Papua mine

In 2012 the New Zealand Superannuation Fund ended investment in the Freeport-McMoRan mine in Indonesia’s Papua province because of human rights breaches. The breaches were primarily not even by the mine company itself, but by government security forces at the mine.

Tobacco investment snuffed out

According to a recent report by the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) 30 super funds have dumped tobacco from their stock portfolios.

BHP Bowen Basin coal mine - supplied by BHP

Noway pension fund burns off coal investment

In June Norway’s $US890 billion ($1.17 billion) government pension fund, considered the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, announced it will pull out of investments related to coal.

Which super funds are the most ethical?

The Climate Institute ranks super funds for their investments in carbon responsible companies — check out their findings here.