The ‘Occupy’ protests are gathering momentum around the United States and around the world.
The original protest started in Wall Street, New York, the location that many see as the centre of free market economics and the negative, even disastrous, consequences that the ever-growing, ever consuming, global economy has had on people, communities and the environment.
Like many others, I look with fondness at the ideas behind the action, and embrace my seeming exclusion from “the 1%” given my lack of participation in such products of capitalist culture such as the stock exchanges.
But, have I really avoided feeding the machine? Initially, no. The culprit? The ever forgotten Superannuation Fund.
For anyone unfamiliar with Superannuation, in Australia all employers are required to contribute a set percentage on top of a worker’s wage to managed investment fund, the purpose of which is for that money to contribute to that worker’s retirement.
Like many, attaining retirement age is a long way off. Accordingly, my concern about the retirement savings in my fund is of little concern.
And for many people, a lack of attention means having an investment with a default superannuation fund, with the default investment option. The default option is usually a direction to the fund’s managers to invest in Australian and international shares.
And, alas, I was unwittingly working against the 99%, however slight the effect of my money may be.
With the changes of law regarding superannuation funds some years ago (allowing people to choose their own fund or set up their own fund), a number of organisations commented on the possibility of people using their compulsory savings to the benefit of social and environmental causes, such as The World Wildlife Fund, Eco Investor and the Australian Conservation Foundation.
And now, a number of Superannuation Funds are either entirely dedicated to, or provide investment options for, sustainable and ethical investment of their member’s Super funds.
After my quasi-epiphany, I looked at my fund and found my forced participation in stock markets were being used acquire unidentified, unlimited shares. But in the Product Disclosure Statement I found an option available that would direct the fund manager to only invest in companies with long-term environmental and social standards, and avoid those that did not.
Of course, this does not completely eliminate the risk that my savings would be invested into companies that I may be opposed to, but it is a start. And for anyone with the time to dedicate, a self managed superannuation fund would give you complete control over those employer contributions.
I, like many other people who have little concern for retirement, need to remember that the law requires an employer to make contributions to our retirement fund, which will be invested on our behalf by fund managers that know nothing of our values. Taking no interest in world financial systems may tempt us to choose to ignore these savings, but to ignore them is to allow them to contribute to the maintenance of the status quo. Even if they are invested in cash by default, this cash is invested in, and used by, banks, which may then invest it in environmentally unfriendly, socially irresponsible companies. Greenpeace has been vocal in protesting against banks who choose to lend to big polluters.
Therefore, I urge all those concerned with the actions of the big banks, the big polluters, and the control they hold over our environment, both natural and societal, to evaluate their Superannuation fund, even though it means momentarily partaking in the very system which feeds the mechanism that assists these organisations and to which we are opposed.