Yesterday, the Council of Canadians met with representatives of the Ontario Teachers Federation and then the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan in Toronto to discuss their investments in private, for-profit Chilean water utilities.
Maude Barlow attended the Ontario Teachers Federation meeting and made the argument that water is a public trust and should be viewed as a human right. She said that it was wrong for the pension plan for public school teachers to be investing in (and thereby promoting) corporations that see water as a commodity.
The OTF argued that Chile has a democratic government and that the investments are legal and therefore they see no problem – only pride – in them.
Maude asked if they would invest in a privatized education system and their answer – if it was legal and done by a democratic government – was remarkably ‘yes’.
The meeting with the OTPP highlighted the different information they and we have on the situation in Chile.
They argued that they had done extensive research on their investments in Chilean water utilities and had heard only about increased jobs, good labour relations, and a high rate of connections to the water systems there.
They viewed the position that the right to water could only be ensured by the public sector as ‘ideological’. Nor did they accept our information that privatized utilities employ fewer people than needed (to keep profits higher), that the Chilean water workers said labour relations were bad, and that connections is not the same as access to water.
They also argued that the rates were regulated by the government and that subsidies were made available to the poor who could not afford the water otherwise. In other words, water welfare is an acceptable alternative to water justice.
Most disconcerting was their absence of ethical screens for investments and ‘human rights’ at best being a factor or a consideration. They stated their responsibility by law is the best returns and the pension security of teachers.
The absence of democratic mechanisms in the governance of the pension plan was also evident. Both the OTF and the OTPP say they receive a call or letter a week expressing concern about one of their investments. Both organizations said since there are so many points of view, consensus on any investment would never be possible.
An OTF representative illustrated the complication of investing in a company that manufactures both cars and weapons, like tanks. Since you can’t possibly differentiate these operations within a company, they argue its appropriate to invest in the company, even though it’s still a weapons manufacturer. They repeatedly said they could not be the ‘moral compass’ of teachers. That was not their role, that was not their responsibility.
We believe it is their responsibility to be more considered in their investments, and to respect fundamental human rights, including the right to water.
We have launched a campaign to demand that the OTPP divest its shares in private water utilities. You can read more about this campaign at http://canadians.org/OTPP.