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New Church of England ethical investment policies: pornography and high interest rate lending

Two new ethical investment policies have been adopted by the Church of England national investing bodies following advice from the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG).

Pornography

The national investing bodies' new policy maintains the toughest possible exclusion of companies involved in the production or distribution of pornography that their ethical investment research provider is able to implement.

The new policy document however is more fully theologically articulated than the previous one.  The Revd Professor Richard Burridge, Deputy Chair of the EIAG, said "Like all of God's gifts, sexuality can be abused.  

"Our policy is predicated upon the biblical witness against abusing God's gift of human sexuality for financial gain or exploitation.  Our role as Christian investors is to stand for a more positive attitude to sexual expression than can ever be attained through pornography.

"Pornography involves degradation of human beings made in the image of God and normalises views of human sexuality that contradict the Christian message. "

James Featherby, incoming Chair of the EIAG, said "It is completely inappropriate for the Church national investing bodies to invest their capital with companies whose business is the production or distribution of pornography. 

"There is no other policy recommended by the EIAG that sets such a low threshold across the piece for unacceptable turnover from a business activity.

"However exclusion from investment of unacceptable companies is only part of this policy.  There are too many big businesses making conscious choices to make pornography a revenue stream, even though the level of revenues is below the threshold at which we can consistently screen our investments.

"Where we have concerns about companies in which the investing bodies are shareholders, we will challenge them in engagement.  We do not think it is acceptable, for example, that major mobile phone companies should promote pornography on their own internet portals, especially when mobile phones are provided to children at ever younger ages. 

"On issues like this the EIAG will use shareholder influence to press hard for more ethical and responsible corporate behaviour." 

High interest rate lending

The new policy on high interest rate lending builds on the previous policy under which companies involved in weekly collected home credit ('doorstep lending') were excluded from investment.

The new policy extends the investment exclusion to cover other forms of specialised high interest rate lending, in particular payday and pawnbroker loans.

This extension of the policy takes account of the internationalisation of the investing bodies' portfolios and in particular the risk of investment exposure to publicly listed payday lending companies in the US (some of whom are now operating in the UK).

The policy draws on Christian theology on the need for the greatest care to ensure that lending to poorer members of society is not exploitative.

James Featherby, incoming Chair of the EIAG, said "The Ethical Investment Advisory Group acknowledges the importance of access to credit for all members of society.  But it is not prepared to sanction investment by the Church's investing bodies in companies charging triple-digit interest rates to some of the most vulnerable customers of the financial services industry.

"The Ethical Investment Advisory Group urges companies involved in the provision of short-term unsecured lending to vulnerable borrowers to do all they possibly can to ensure that their business models keep interest rates as low as possible and that their loans are appropriate for customers' circumstances.

"We call on mainstream banks to continue to work to make basic banking available to all and to help basic banking customers graduate to mainstream financial services. 

"We call on the banks who have benefited from the generosity of society to be generous themselves in their provision of finance to credit unions and community finance development institutions who work so hard to meet the financial needs of vulnerable customers at appropriate rates of interest.

"The Ethical Investment Advisory Group remains open to engage with any specialist providers of unsecured short-term credit that want, in these toughest of times, to consider business ethics in the challenging sector in which they operate."

 

Notes:

The Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) makes recommendations on ethical investment policy to the Church of England's three national investing bodies.  These are the Church Commissioners for England, the Church of England Pensions Board and the CBF Church of England Funds managed by CCLA.  Together they hold assets in excess of £8bn. 

The EIAG includes representation from the General Synod, the Archbishops' Council and the Mission and Public Affairs Council as well as the investing bodies.

The EIAG has no investment powers of its own but acts in a wholly advisory capacity.  It is the responsibility of the Trustees of each separately constituted investment body to decide whether to implement the advice given.

The two new ethical investment policies referred to are now available online.