Prince William charity uses bank that is one of world’s biggest fossil fuel backers

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Toby Melville/AP</span>
Photograph: Toby Melville/AP

The charity founded by the Duke of Cambridge, who launched the Earthshot prize, keeps its investments in a bank that is one of the world’s biggest backers of fossil fuels, according to an investigation.

The Royal Foundation, the charity set up by the Cambridges, also places more than half of its investments in a fund – advertised as green – that owns shares in large food companies. Some of these firms buy palm oil from companies linked to deforestation, the investigation by the Associated Press (AP) claimed.

Prince William, a keen environmentalist, is quoted on the websites of the Earthshot prize and Royal Foundation as saying: “The Earth is at a tipping point and we face a stark choice.”

Yet in 2021 the charity kept more than £1.1m with JP Morgan Chase, according to the most recent filings, and still invests with the corporation, AP reported. The foundation also held £1.7m in a fund run by the British firm Cazenove Capital, according to the 2021 filing, the agency said.

As with JP Morgan, it still keeps funds with Cazenove, which in May had securities allegedly linked to deforestation through the use of palm oil. The foundation invested similar amounts in both funds in 2020, its older filings show. As of December 2021, the charity also held more than £10m in cash, it was reported.

The investments, which are not disputed by the foundation, come as scientists repeatedly warn the world must shift away from fossil fuels to reduce emissions and avoid more and increasingly intense extreme weather events.

Contacted by the Guardian, a Kensington Palace spokesperson said: “The Royal Foundation has followed the Church of England guidelines on ethical investment since 2015, and goes beyond these to prohibit investment in fossil fuel companies. We take our investment policies extremely seriously and review them regularly.”

The foundation stressed Cazenove was instructed to operate within its strict investment policy that follows the C of E investment guidance, and additionally its exclusions on fossil fuel companies.

A small management fee is paid on its investment to JP Morgan Asset Management and Cazenove Charity Responsible Multi-Asset Fund. The trustees take overall responsibility for the charity and its work, the foundation said.

Compared with some other charities, the Royal Foundation’s investments are said to be small, with little impact on the climate crisis. But they are not in line with the ethos of the foundation, which lists conservation and mental health as main points of emphasis, or William’s public statements, AP reported.

The Earthshot prize, a “global search for solutions to save our planet”, awards grants of up £1m each year to projects confronting environmental challenges. In July the Royal Foundation announced the prize had become an independent charity and William would be its president.

JP Morgan Asset Management declined to comment on questions about charities investing in its products despite its record of financing fossil fuels, AP said.

Bloomberg datashows JP Morgan has underwritten more bonds and loans for the fossil fuel industry and earned greater fees than its competitors in the five years up to 2021, it said.

The environmental NGO Rainforest Action Network looked at direct loans and stock ownership along with bonds and estimated that between 2016 and 2021, JP Morgan’s banking arm financed fossil fuel companies with $382bn (£320bn). This was more than any other bank, AP reported.

While the Cazenove fund is marketed as “sustainable”, as of 31 May the fund held almost $6m of shares in Nestlé, and shares worth $8.1m in Reckitt Benckiser, according to Morningstar Direct data, AP reported. Nestlé and Reckitt Benckiser have faced claims over palm oil supplies from Papua New Guinea, the NGO said.

Kate Rogers, the head of sustainability at Cazenove Capital, told AP the company had engaged with Nestlé and Reckitt, and had seen progress on deforestation.