Ethical Investment by Church of England

In addition to the important debate and approval of a motion on gender-based violence, the first day of the February 2014 General Synod received a presentation from the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, EIAG, about its role and ethical investment. Although not accompanied by a formal paper, the main points are covered in the Press Release and the Explanatory Document to Wednesday’s Diocesan Synod Motion on Environmental Issues, GS 1942B.  Additionally there are audio links to the and to the with the Deputy Chair, Reverend Canon Professor Richard Burridge.

As predicted by some commentators, the presentation received little press attention and on 11 February, the CofE’s Daily round-up of press coverage included only one link, to the article in The Guardian, “Church of England admits selling Wonga stake will take a ‘little while’: Chair of church’s ethical investment advisory group says communication failure led to embarrassment over payday lender”.

In terms of its total investments of £5.2bn, the £80k stake in Accel Partners, the US venture capital firm that led Wonga’s 2009 fundraising, is quite small.  The decision whether and when to sell Wonga will be made by the Church Commissioners, but James Featherby, the chair of EIAG indicated the complexity in doing so,

“To dispose early might damage other investments because Wonga is held in a pool fund along with a sizeable number of other, much more positive, investments, and one simply can’t sell one without the other.”

The Commissioners are also bound by UK Charity Law, and as trustees, the Commissioners are required to consider the financial interests of their beneficiaries, Harries (Bishop of Oxford) v Church Commissioners for England [1992] 1 WLR 1241, [1993] 2 All ER 300. Nevertheless, he urged the Church to take a positive view of both business and investment, stating

“being involved in the field of play, where our investments can support long-term, sustainable wealth creation for all stakeholders in society and where returns on investments increase the Church’s ability to fund its mission and witness”.

Whilst it was right that the Church should avoid certain investments and that there was no naivety as to potential problems, either systemically or within companies, Mr. Featherby argued that there was a need for engagement:

“investment portfolios will never be pure… Ethical ambiguity is intrinsic to life. We will graze our knees but this is better than disengagement – we need to be involved on the field of play, not on the side-lines. Engagement is important as we seek positive momentum not ‘perfection’”.

There are number of areas where active engagement with companies had led to changes in company behaviour, and during 2013, the Church of England’s National Investment Bodies, (NIBs)[1], voted directly on over 30,000 resolutions at 2,820 company meetings. There had been engagement with 42 different companies and also collaborative engagement through national and international initiatives. On the issue of executive remuneration the NIBs supported only 30% of UK Executive pay reports, rejecting the overwhelming majority on the basis of its policy on executive remuneration.

[1] Church Commissioners for England, Central Board of Finance, and Church of England Pensions Board.

2 thoughts on “Ethical Investment by Church of England

  1. I am 60 years old. I had never heard of “gender-based violence” before today. I had absolutely no idea what is meant by this phrase, so I looked it up. Gender-based violence appears to be any violence that can usefully be mentioned in the mischievous propaganda of those who are peddling a gender politics agenda. If violence involves a male perpetrator and a female victim, then it is convenient to certain people to label that violence “gender-based”, but not otherwise.

    It ought to focus our minds to note that in cultures like ours in the the UK, there have been studies that measure the extent to which men are slightly *more* likely to become victims of intimate partner violence perpetrated by their female domestic partners, than are women to become the victims of intimate partner violence perpetrated by their male domestic partners.. If I remember correctly, there are about eleven male victims for every nine female victims.

    However, if one looks only at the most injurious fights, the situation is reversed. For example, women are more likely to die from domestic violence involving men than men, are to die from domestic violence involving women, although (again) only *slightly* more likely.

    One possible explanation for *some* of the very *slight* excess of female perpetrators for all domestic violence, but the excess of male perpetrators for the worst few percent of incidents in which somebody dies or suffers grievous bodily harm, is that women are slightly more prone to starting physical fights, but that they sometimes unwisely start physical fights that they wind up losing, because they under-estimate the strength, temper and determination to defend themselves, with lethal force it necessary, of their menfolk. Given the high proportion of domestic violence episodes to which the police are called in the USA when both parties are injured, and neither party can remember how the fight started, or who struck the first blow, this possible explanation is plausible.

    I am disappointed that the Church of England has got itself sucked into this manufactured “debate”.

  2. In that case I suggest that you address your complaints to the Standing Committee of General Synod. It’s nothing whatsoever to do with us.

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