Dutch health insurers, pension funds invest billions in fast food chains
Despite the Dutch government's attempts to curb the arrival of new fast-food chains and "socially responsible investing," Dutch health insurers and pension funds are investing billions in companies like McDonald's, KFC, and Burger King. Pension funds have 1.7 billion euros invested in fast food, and health insurers 7.6 million euros, Leeuwarder Courant and Dagblad van het Noorden reported based on their own investigation.
Pension funds and health insurers are increasingly focused on "socially responsible investing." Many have stopped investing in things like weapons banned by international treaties and tobacco. ABP and PME, among others, also announced that they're selling their investments in fossil fuels. They often cite health and well-being as important conditions for their investments. But healthy eating doesn't seem to form part of that yet, according to the newspapers.
In reports on their engagement, pension funds and health insurers explain what topics they discuss with the companies they invest in. In its 2020 report, ABP said it was talking with McDonald's about working conditions and good governance. No mention of nutrition. VGZ said its talks with Yum! Brands (KFC and Pizza Hut) were about deforestation with the goal "to contribute to a healthy, green, and equal world." The health insurer did not mention fast food's harmful effects on public health.
Daan Spaargaren of pension fund PME agrees that fast food is bad for public health, "but health is not yet a topic of discussion. When we have a discussion with fast-food chains, it is about deforestation due to meat consumption, animal welfare, and antibiotic use." He compared it with the tobacco industry. "There, too, the discussions focused on other topics like child labor on the tobacco plantations." Smoking was seen as a personal choice, he said. "Now we think differently about that."
Menzis spokesperson Annet Les said the health insurer discussed public health with McDonald's, resulting in Menzis selling its McDonald's corporate bond in 2022.
Doctors and health experts are critical of these investments. Doctor Elise Buiting, chair of the Umbrella Association of Doctors of Society and Health, called it strange that health insurers, in particular, invest in fast food. "These investors manage large pockets of money and invest where it is the most profitable. But you can't do that separately from your objectives as an organization," she said.
"Investors are really sending the wrong signal with this," said Liesbeth van Rossum, internist-endocrinologist and professor of obesity at Erasmus MC. "We are now treating obesity-related complaints day in and day out. The bath is full, and the tap is still open. Investing in fast food does not help to turn off that wide-open tap. And in healthcare, we keep mopping with the tap open."
The national and local governments are also working to limit fast food. State Secretary Maarten van Ooijen (Public Health) is working on ways to reduce the proliferation of fast-food chains. And the CDA's scientific institute even called for a minimum age to be implemented for fast food.