BLOG: Vegan pensions

A vegan man is taking landmark legal action in a tribunal which is expected to decide for the first time whether veganism should be protected by law.

As reported by the BBC this morning, Jodi Casamitjana has claimed that he was fired by the League Against Cruel Sports after highlighting that its pension scheme was investing in firms that were involved in animal testing.

He has argued that he initially drew his bosses’ attention to the investments and that after they took no action, informed colleagues, stipulating that he was fired as a result. The league meanwhile has stated that Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct rather than his vegan beliefs.

Whilst this story of course brings pensions to the fore for employers, who may do well to consider the potential reputational impact of the pension investments, it also raises a number of questions for the broader pensions industry.

ESG is the hot topic at the moment, and the idea of a vegan fund is something I’ve discussed with a number of pension experts – not a new idea then, but perhaps a new idea outside of the pensions industry bubble.

This is, after all, a brilliant example of how member engagement can happen in real life as ideas such as ESG reach more mainstream conversations. Genuine engagement is something the pensions industry has long been fighting for so surely this should be a moment of triumph… right?

On the one hand it’s great to get employees engaging with their pension, and many in the industry have been calling for passionate topics, such as climate change, to be used as a tool to drive this.

In fact, just this morning a report was released showing that over three quarters of younger people are more likely to prioritise ESG considerations over other more traditional aspects, such as past performance.

But situations such as the case of Casamitjana raise a crucial question for pension schemes and employers - once you have a member engaged with where their pension is being invested, do you have the tools or commitment to work to make their ideal, a reality?

An ESG fund, that’s one thing - but a vegetarian fund, a vegan fund, a Sharia fund, an LGBTQ+ fund, not to mention the countless other funds a scheme would need to provide to please anyone - that’s a different question.

The more topical funds that have emerged have gained strong traction, even in mainstream media and conversations, and while I’m all for making money while doing good, I can’t help but have concerns.

I worry that if people see these funds in the media, and then find that their scheme doesn’t offer a like for like option, that they may be disillusioned and become even less engaged. Or even worse, they may grow less trusting of pensions more broadly.

After all, if there is no fund option that respects your beliefs, many may think their only option is to opt-out completely.

Perhaps the dream scheme is out there and has answered all these concerns with a resounding yes. A scheme committed to providing all members with investment options that fall in line with their individual beliefs and considerations. Except, even then – its not so easy.

I like to think of myself as pretty engaged with my pension but put a hundred fund choices in front of me and I will freeze. It’s not surprising, the paradox of choice is an issue faced by different industries around the world. So then the next question becomes, how much choice is too much?

The average member may still be apathetic to their pension, and auto-enrolment has shown the power this can have when utilised in the right way, but now we need so much more.

In an increasingly diverse world with increasingly diverse priorities and goals, we need to give consumers choice and we need to empower them with the tools to make informed decisions… but first we just need to get through Veganuary.

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