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  • Writer's pictureHannah Duncan

The double lives of tech companies: Where’s our pension money really going?

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook. The top holdings in one of the world's most popular Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) funds, the ESG Aware MSCI USA ETF.

chart showing the iShares ESG Aware MSCI USA ETF investment holdings Hannah Duncan Investment Content

So they must be pretty good for the planet, right?

They should be among the best of the best ... That's what we're paying for! After all they are selected because of their excellent environmental, societal and governance credentials.

In return for being good to the planet, they get a BIG financial boost from the ESG funds (aka: our money). For example, from this one fund I’ve listed above, you can see that Apple rakes in an eye-popping $1.29 billion. Microsoft isn’t far behind with a cool $1.192 billion. There are loads of ethical funds just like this. More than 100 have been created in 2021 alone. And experts predict that in total, there are over 1000 and counting. And these five tech giants, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook appear on most of them.... they are MINTING IT. 🤑🤑🤑

A lot of this money is coming from our pensions. And what better way to invest your hard-earned savings than in a sustainable future? But … What if these tech companies are not entirely who they claim to be?

Here are five very un-ESG things these tech giants probably don’t want you to know.

Man holding a mask with smoke Hannah Duncan Investment Content
Original image by Sammy Williams

1. They are part of anti-climate legislation lobby groups 😳

All five of these tech companies have made very public carbon-neutral pledges. Here is a brief snapshot of some of the green publicity they've been producing 👇


Microsoft carbon neutral pledge in highlight Hannah Duncan Investment Content


Facebook carbon neutral pledge Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Alphabet / Google:

Alphabet carbon neutral pledge Hannah Duncan Investment Content


Amazon carbon neutral pledge Hannah Duncan Investment Content


Apple carbon neutral pledge Hannah Duncan Investment Content

This is a tiny snapshot, they are all RAVING about their carbon-neutral pledges... After all, that's kind of how they get the ESG investment money. These pledges mean that our ethical pension money lands in their accounts. 💰

But in private …? It gets weird. Super shady. Because these tech companies are part of lobby groups, who’s aim is to screw up Biden’s Climate Legislation plans. I'm not joking. That's their aim. 😳

Here's what I could dig out:

Facebook, Amazon and Apple CEOs are members of Business Roundtable, one of the groups lobbying to kill the climate bill. And they’re quietly funnelling money through the group to pay for a huge smear campaign. TV ads, radio commercials, in-person lobbying … you name it, they’re doing it. Facebook is doubling-up efforts, by posting more than $150,000 worth of ‘kill the climate bill’ ads in purple-state areas. Great.

Business Roundtable smear campaign newspaper cut out Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Source: The Atlantic

The Business Roundtable issued this statement about the proposed climate legislation:

Make no mistake, these policies are a step backward for the U.S. economy that will harm all Americans—not just corporations and the wealthy. We urge the members of the Ways and Means Committee and the broader House of Representatives to stand up for American businesses and workers and reject these anti-competitive tax policies.”

Newspaper cut out showing the Business Roundtable quote on carbon law Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Facebook carbon neutral pledge greenwash Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Amazon climate pledge greenwash Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Apple carbon pledge greenwash Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Microsoft is also part of an anti-climate legislation group, the US Chamber of Commerce. The group members really don’t like the bill either. In their words, they will “do everything we can to prevent this tax raising, job killing reconciliation Bill from becoming law.”

Woah. Someone got so angry they forgot to use any hyphens.

Newspaper clipping from Irish times about US Chamber of Commerce Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Source: Irish Times

Pretty serious stuff. And strange for a company like Microsoft who’s just SO COMMITED (ahem) to reaching net-zero, right? 👇😒

Microsoft carbon neutral greenwash Hannah Duncan Investment Content

So far, the US Chamber of Commerce has spent $30 million and counting lobbying against the climate bill this year. Thirty million dollars. That's a hell of a lot, isn't it?

newspaper cut out from New York Times about US Chamber of Commerce $30 million spend Hannah Duncan Investment Content

And here’s something which will make you wonder if these tech companies really deserve to get money for the “G” in ESG funds… These lobby groups are paying off politicians to “derail” the climate legislation. For example, Senator Krysten Sinema received just under $1 million so far.

Recently, Business Roundtable (aka Apple, Amazon and Facebook) handed politician Senator Sinema $187,000 in exchange for her to oppose the climate bill. The US Chamber of Commerce (aka Microsoft) is even offering the Senator a cash “reward” for doing a good job - they've already handed over nearly half a million dollars to the easily-bought politician... If that makes you feel a bit sick, you're not alone. It's disturbing! And all of this to pay less tax and avoid climate laws. 😳🤢 ... Not really the ESG spirit if you ask me.

press release from Accountable US about bribery Senator Sinema Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Of course, these tech companies are old hats at buying off politicians. Almost better at it than making tech! Their lobbying costs are sky-high mental.

Take Microsoft for example. In 2004 the company bribed Romanian politicians as part of a licencing deal, and they paid a lot. The Microsoft Licensing Corruption Scandal, as it became known, has been dubbed the biggest ever Romanian corruption case. While four politicians went to prison, Microsoft skipped off into the sunset. The tech giant went on a slew of political bribery campaigns across Eastern Europe, resulting in fines and criminal penalties. So much for governance – the G in ESG.

2. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon partner with fossil fuel companies to extract more oil

Hypocrite alert! Despite all their pledges and promises to support the transition towards renewable energy, all three of these companies use their technology to help oil tycoons extract fossil fuels. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon all sell their data analytics, cloud computing and machine learning services to help oil companies find the most lucrative spots to drill. It’s tough to dig out information on these secret deals, Google really doesn’t want anyone knowing! But from what I can find… Shell, BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil are the biggest names buying these services.

And Google, Microsoft and Amazon are getting seriously rich from it. Bloomberg believes that the market will grow from $2.5 billion in 2020 to a staggering $15.7 billion by 2030.

Greenpeace report about tech companies partnering with oil and gas Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Source: Greenpeace

In 2020, Greenpeace discovered 14 contracts made between Amazon, Google, Microsoft and major fossil fuel companies. It’s believed that Microsoft has the most, offering a full suite of services in all stages of oil productions. Greenpeace found that a single contract between Microsoft and ExxonMobil adds an additional 3.4 million tones of carbon into the atmosphere each year. So, we all know where Gates can stick his “How to avoid a climate disaster” book.

Source: Greenpeace

In one of these partnerships, Microsoft partnered with oil tycoons Chevron and Schlumberger to help them drill for new oil. According to Microsoft’s own 2019 Press Release, “Schlumberger, Chevron and Microsoft. announced the industry’s first three-party collaboration to accelerate creation of innovative petrotechnical and digital technologies. Like, seriously?!

Google partner with fossil fuel companies press release Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Source: Microsoft

According to employees, these fossil fuel partnerships (oh no this is not the only one! It got so bad that staff staged a walk-out in 2019) bring in millions for Microsoft each year. Millions. They are clearly profiting from their dirty clients.

These tech partnerships are keeping dirty fuel companies in business. It’s estimated that the heightened analytics and modelling will generate as much as $425 billion for the oil and gas sector by 2025.

After the Greenpeace report came out, Google vowed not to make any new technology to help oil tycoons (thanks?). But from what I can tell, the others have made no such promises. Microsoft even poached Google’s VP of Oil, Gas, Energy and Cloud Computing to head up its Energy department… Someone who spent 25 years extracting oil and gas at BP.

The whole thing is fishy, right? Secretive. Sketchy.

CNBC newspaper clipping about tech and energy companies teaming up Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Source: CNBC

3. Dodgy data centres which damage natural eco-systems

Data centres are incredibly carbon-intensive. They pump out the same amount of greenhouse gases as the aviation industry. But unlike the aviation industry, the internet of things is only going to grow.

One of the major headaches with data centres is keeping them cool. Many will use water cooling systems. Microsoft go one step further. They are putting their data centres – get this – underwater.

These huge, boiling hot machines need to be constantly cooled down, something which costs tech providers a fortune! So, Microsoft has dodged these costs by heating up the actual ocean.

For me, this is really just too much. We need to be keeping the water cold. That’s the whole point. The water is warming, the ice caps are melting, the land is flooding. That’s what we’re trying to avoid. Putting giant radiators on the seabed is f***king stupid, isn’t it? Honestly, I can’t even.

The whole thing has been presented as a giant sustainability win. But that seems like a whole hunk of greenwashing PR. Because, as David Attenborough will tell you, messing with the temperature of ecosystems is not wise.

BBC reporting on Microsoft new data centre underwater Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Source: BBC

4. Hypocrite founders

Bill Gates has four private jets. He stands there, flogging his book on “How to avoid a climate disaster”. The book isn’t printed on recycled paper or anything by the way. And then he hops on his private jet. He even took a private jet to attend the Paris Agreement.

Like WTF?!

Who is he to lecture us on anything climate-related? Every single one of us here emits less than he does. As as we’ve just seen, his company secretly facilitates fossil fuel expansion. Heats up water. And bribes politicians to oppose climate legislation. Like… Are you f***king serious?!

Bill Gates new book

Clipping from Simply Flying about Bill Gates four private jets Hannah Duncan Investment Content

It’s estimated that Bill Gates spends $7 million each year to off-set his carbon emissions. But that’s so not the point. Paying to pollute is not ok. Just f***king stop being so selfish and start focusing on a sustainable lifestyle. Sheesh.

Elon Musk. Went on holiday. To space. What a wanker. 🤢

Elon musk being a wanker on a rocket in space Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Image taken from: NY Post

That trip was the carbon emission-equivalent of 278 people.

It’s really upsetting that these tech tycoons are doing this in their spare time. And it proves, at least to me, that at the end of the day, they really don’t give a sh** about their carbon emissions or the planet. It’s just another thing that they can own and walk all over.

What’s worse about rocket travel is that the carbon emissions travel further up into the atmosphere, locking in the gases for two to three years longer according to experts. Even the water injected into the air, at that height, forms clouds which further heat the planet. These horrible rich men who go up to space for a jolly. An ego boost. Pathetic.

Then on the other hand, there’s actual legends like Greta Thunberg who put their lives in danger on treacherous seas because they refuse to endorse aviation.

Greta Thunberg on a ship holding a skolstrejk sign Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Image taken from BBC

Gahh. Is there anything more selfish than casual space travel for billionaires? It's so gross. 🤮

5. These "ESG companies" are relentless tax dodgers

All of these companies are TERRIBLE for tax dodging. Because Apple takes the biggest bite out of our ESG funds (and because I think they’ve got off quite lightly so far), I’ll start there.

So, Apple just keeps avoiding paying any tax. It’s literally unbelievable. I don’t know who their accountant is, but I can tell you it’s not the same as mine. Between 2009 and 2012, the company famously made eye-watering profits of $74 billion and paid … wait for it … less than 1% tax. Since then, people kept a closer eye on these sketchy practices, which may help to explain why the company is so profitable.

Not a lot has changed. It’s estimated that Apple have avoided paying some $40 billion in taxes. And counting.

Fortune newspaper clipping about Apple tax avoidance Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Source: Fortune

Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon all hold a lot of their money overseas. Anyone living in Switzerland for example, will be able to point you in the direction of their offices. Or Ireland. Or any tax haven worth it's salt. They’re not there for the scenery, or the yodelling, or the Guinness … they want to pay less tax. When it comes to overseas subsidiaries, Apple leads the way with $246.5 billion of profit stashed up in haven bank accounts.

Fast company graphic showing the taxable assets held overseas by Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Source: Fast Company

sketchy tax stuff newspaper clipping from Fast Company

Source: Fast Company

One of the other ways that Apple, and the other tech companies can secure these tax dodges is by "making donations" to politicians. There's another word for that isn't there? Bribery.

Fortune found that Apple spent $2.3 million lobbying in the third quarter of 2017. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon spent a further $14 million. All to pay even less tax. All to avoid paying their fair share. So that’s another kick in the balls for the “G” and “S” of ESG.

Fortune newspaper clipping about Apple lobbying Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Source: Fortune

When big companies avoid taxes people who are not billionaires like you and me pick up the bill left behind. We pay more and get less. And then…. To add insult to injury, these companies appear on our ESG funds as the "most ethical investments" in the world. And then we give them even more money. What a joke, right?

Being an ESG company is not a part-time job 😠

I guess my overall impression writing this article was how these tech firms want to have their cake and eat it. All of the founders are keen “pay to pollute” lovers.

But that’s not good enough. And we deserve better.

Tech firms cannot take the best bits – like the ESG investment money - then leave behind what they don’t want, like paying fair taxes. It’s all or nothing. In the same way, companies who pay to dismantle climate legislation, can’t show off about their net-zero goals. And if they help oil and gas companies scale-up, they can’t continue to boast about their part in the renewable energy transition. It’s misleading. Especially when they try to cover-up the bad bits.

Employees at these tech companies have clearly been concerned for some time now. There have been whistle blowers, strikes, walkouts and more.

... My conclusion? Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook are not entirely the ESG companies they claim to be. They're leading double lives.

Image of tech workers striking against climate change Hannah Duncan Investment Content

Image taken from Bloomberg Law

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