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Church investors - raising standards

Churches and their congregations have led the way in using their power as investors to promote fair labour practices and encourage UK companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In anticipation of the sixth annual National Ethical Investment Week (13th - 19th October), Dr James Corah calls for the wider church to renew its faith in finance

The public consider investment a secular activity. Even we church-goers prefer to leave the church's financial matters to the treasurer so we aren’t distracted from our more spiritual mission in communities. 

But the recent banking scandals and the credit crisis have changed everything. Confidence and trust in those who work in the financial service industry is at an all time low. Is it time the wider church renewed its faith in finance?

Earlier in the year St Paul's Institute and CCLA, which provides specialist investment management for faith organisations, hosted three major debates that made an explicit link between faith and finance.  More than 3000 people attended the events at St Paul's Cathedral to hear keynote speeches by the heads of the Anglican and Catholic Churches in England on the role that faith can play in re-establishing a financial services sector that serves society. The majority of the audience left the debates believing that Christian messages around the common good, forgiveness, and establishing a good purpose were key to the future of 'good' financial services.

For few people realise the influential role of the Christian community in the development of the ethical investment in the UK.  Churches and their congregations have also led the way in using their power as investors to promote fair labour practices and addressing the apartheid regime.

Today most of the major church denominations have considerable investment assets through church pension funds and other assets. The Church Investors Group (CIG), whose members include the Baptist Union of Great Britain and BMS World Mission, represents assets of more than £12bn and brings 45 of the largest church investors together to share best practice throughout the ecumenical church.

By working together CIG members have been able to amplify the churches’ voice and alter business practice for the better in many areas. CIG supports the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, pushing global governments for a policy framework that supports an orderly transition to a low carbon future. CIG members also have a strong record of encouraging UK companies to disclose and set targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012, 30 per cent of the targeted companies improved their practices after our work with them.  Research conducted by the University of Edinburgh, has shown that church investors have also improved companies' policies in regards to wider environmental, social and governance concerns.

Last year CCLA helped two FTSE 100 hotel groups take steps to reduce the risk of their facilities being used for child sex trafficking. Bringing together our church and charity clients, including those of a Baptist background, the wider Church Investors Group, ECCR, and an international consortium of concerned church investors, we were able to help these groups establish training procedures and consult expert groups in further developing their practices and policies.

But it is not just big investors who can make a difference. Through our savings and pension funds individual church-goers too can take easy steps to reflect their faith in their financial activities. To help congregations take their first steps in this area CCLA have continued to support the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) and the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) in producing a short National Ethical Investment Week guide to highlight simple, time efficient, activities that can make a big difference. 

These range from using ShareAction's website (www.shareaction.org) to send an automated letter to your pension provider, to asking what steps they are taking in regards to climate change, to bringing your whole church community together to collectively discuss what it means to use your church's money in an ethical manner through ECCR's new 'Ethical Money Churches' initiative. The guide is available at www.neiw.org.uk/money-doing-good.

National Ethical Investment Week is the perfect time to learn more about the work that churches, as investors, are doing to promote Christian values in business and finance. To learn more about the Week and find events in your area visit www.neiw.org.uk.

Dr James Corah is Deputy Head of Ethical and Responsible Investment at CCLA, specialist investment managers for charities, churches and local authorities, and is the Secretary to the Church Investors Group.

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