For the first time ever investors were directly represented at a conference of parties to a humanitarian disarmament treaty. The Italian asset manager Etica Funds, on behalf of a group of 37 investors presented a group statement to the first meeting of states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
The statement called for states to apply the prohibition on assistance to all forms of financial assistance- including those made by the private sector operating within their jurisdiction. The reason to do this is to make it harder for the companies that make nuclear weapons (and their specifically designed key components) to borrow money. When there is a clear reason they are excluded from loans, these companies (even the biggest weapons producers on the planet) start rethinking whether the nuclear weapon contracts are really worth the trouble they are causing.
When a similar tactic was applied with cluster bombs, the biggest arms manufacturers on the planet changed course. They stopped making the bombs.
Nuclear weapons contracts are significant, but they are by no means the only types of contracts that the major producing companies have. For example, Boeing’s nuclear weapons related turnover in 2021 was $300 million, while overall revenue for the company was more than $62 billion. General Dynamics, another nuclear weapon producing company, generated $1.7 billion from nuclear weapon contracts in 2021, a fraction of the $38 billion annual revenue. Companies involved in the production or development of nuclear weapons are diverse enough to stop making weapons of mass destruction and still provide value to shareholders.
Pressure from the financial sector can help encourage companies to make strategic shifts, and can help put an end to weapons of mass destruction. This can take the shape of announced divestment, policy statements, and shareholder action. However, financial pressure alone will not put an end to nuclear weapons, and that’s why the joint statement delivered to the recent Ban Treaty meeting was so important.
It showed that there is a willingness to work together as stakeholders commonly invested in protecting the environment and society from the consequences of nuclear weapons. While financial sector actors have taken part in other efforts for sustainability and human rights- this is the first time investors came to a weapons related treaty and stood alongside impacted communities and concerned governments to condemn nuclear threats and commit to action.
As the first major UN conference specifically focused on nuclear weapons since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the meeting condemned “unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances”.
Further, states parties agreed that the precedent set by Russia to shield a conventional war by intimidating other countries with nuclear threats showcases the fallacy of nuclear deterrence theory: Nuclear weapons do not preserve peace, security or stability. This strong multilateral condemnation of Russia's nuclear threats pressured the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to defend its nuclear deterrence policy.
83 countries participated in the meeting including non-state parties such as Belgium, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Australia. The meeting focused on the implementation of the TPNW, resulting in a Political Declaration as well as the Vienna Action Plan.
In seeking to promote the underlying rationale of the total elimination of nuclear weapons, the action plan agrees to “encourage and support the involvement and active cooperation of all relevant partners”. This provides an opportunity for further action from stakeholders, including investors and financiers.
The Vienna Declaration ended with a firm commitment and recognition that the path towards a nuclear weapons free world will not be without challenges and obstacles, nevertheless countries committed to “not rest until the last state has joined the Treaty, the last warhead has been dismantled and destroyed and nuclear weapons have been totally eliminated from the Earth.”