Greenwashing Privatization of Public Utilities

Greenwashing the privatization of public utilities has become the fashion when it comes to self-serving and unethical pay-the-rich schemes by governments and their agencies, including government-run financial institutions and investment companies. A good example is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board's (CPPIB) greenwashing of its privatization of Rio de Janeiro's public water system, presented as supporting "sustainable projects and clean tech solutions in Brazil."

The Senior Vice President of Infrastructure & Renewable Resources of the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), which collaborated with the CPPIB in the privatization, said the investment management company was "excited" with the outcome of the auction and "for the opportunity to invest further in the business alongside like-minded partners to increase the service levels in water distribution and sanitation in the State of Rio de Janeiro." He called the acquisition, via its holdings in the private water and sewage company Iguá Saneamento, "an excellent addition to our infrastructure portfolio that is well-aligned to meeting our clients' investment objectives."

Does anyone believe that Alberta public sector workers, presumably the clients being referred to, would have as an investment objective for their pension fund the privatization of public services in Brazil or anywhere else?

The Latin America director of the CPPIB, who enthused in a press release about the "new legal framework" established to facilitate the auctioning off of Rio's public water system, was similarly excited about the acquisition which he said would be followed by many more. According to him, the private sanitation sector with its captive market offers the prospect of a consistent and stable payback, and is "perfectly compatible with our expectations, as long-term investors." He added that Iguá was well positioned to be a powerful competitor in most or all future auctions as nearly a thousand Brazilian municipalities were expected to privatize, or seek concessionaires, in the next few years.

Scooping up public utilities as fast as neo-liberal governments in Brazil, Canada and elsewhere put them up for sale is but one of many anti-social projects Canadian workers' pension funds have been used to finance. Investment managers of the funds do their "fiduciary duty" of investing workers' money where prospects of amassing maximum capitalist profit are highest no matter the consequences. Everything can be justified in the name of high ideals and this must change.

It is high time that working people themselves decide where their pension funds should be invested. The direction of the economy should be set by working people, not financial markets, financial institutions and financial elites. Pension funds come from the social wealth that workers produce but do not control. It is this lack of control by the workers, who are the producers, over what is produced and how it is produced that is at the heart of the problem.

The social wealth produced by workers must be reinvested in a socially responsible manner to build a diverse economy at home that has an internal self-reliant strength and trades with others for mutual benefit and development. Such an economy must have the aim to guarantee the rights and well-being of all, and humanize the social and natural environment.

This article was published in

September 17, 2021 - No. 84

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