UK
10/12/2013 06:20 GMT

Comic Relief Defends Its Policy As BBC Panorama Reveals It Invested In Arms Trade

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BBC programme claims charity invested in alcohol and arms trade

Comic Relief has defended its investment policy after claims in a BBC Panorama documentary that it could have generated more cash from "ethical" funds.

The charity, which generates huge publicity for its activities with star-studded programmes on BBC1, has avoided a policy of ethical screening for its investments because it says it does not want to limit the amount of money it raises.

The programme - to be screened tonight - says the charity has invested in tobacco, alcohol and weapons manufacturing firms in the past, but researchers said they have identified "several" funds which had fared better financially by avoiding such industries.

Panorama's probe into Comic Relief, on BBC1 tonight, has already caused some controversy after claims that the corporation had shelved the programme - following a postponement - which led to director-general Tony Hall reassuring MPs in October that he hoped the programme would go ahead.

The BBC said the documentary shows that Comic Relief's mission statement says it has a commitment to help "people affected by conflict", but in 2009 it had £630,00 in shares in BAE Systems, a leading weapons manufacturer.

The charity has also given money to help the fight against tuberculosis but had £3 million of its money wrapped up in tobacco companies in the same year, despite smoking being a contributory factor in many TB cases.

And although it aims to reduce alcohol misuse and its spin-off effects, it had £300,000 invested in the drinks industry in 2009.

Panorama said Comic Relief refused to reveal its current investments

Programme-makers say they have found several ethical funds which have outperformed Comic Relief's portfolio for the past three years for which figures are available, and said many well-known charities had policies which aimed to avoid conflict between their investments and their aims.

But Comic Relief said it avoided filtering out investments in order to bring in more money, although it kept the situation under review.

In a statement, it said: "To fulfil our legal obligation, Charity Commission guidelines are clear that charities are required to maximise returns on money in their care. For Comic Relief, 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.

"Therefore 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.

"This policy has achieved strong returns over the years, which have helped Comic Relief cover its running costs, without having to use any of the money donated directly by the public. This is a complex area, with many important considerations, and we keep it under constant review."

Save the Children has denied allegations that it self-censored criticism of the Big Six energy suppliers for fear of damaging relations with existing or potential corporate donors.

~The charity allegedly suppressed press releases criticising British Gas price rises to avoid damaging its corporate partnership with the company, according to The Independent.

It is also accused of dropping a potential campaign on the effects of fuel poverty on children while it was under consideration for funding from EDF.

Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, said: "It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest our silence can be bought. We will continue to campaign on all the areas we think matter most to saving children's lives both at home and abroad.

"We are a very ambitious organisation that is working in some of the toughest places in the world to dramatically cut the number of children dying from preventable illnesses. By harnessing the power of the private sector in a revolutionary way we can have more impact than we've ever had before.

"At just eight per cent of our budget, working with partnerships in such an innovative way is not about the money - it's about utilising research and development, along with ground-breaking know-how, to do good.

"Save the Children would never put in jeopardy our values and our cause by pulling our punches on a campaign for money from a corporate partnership."