Through its Pension Fund and investments, the PCC holds shares in companies whose practices and activities impact people and the environment. Stewardship of our resources is part of the mission and ministry of the biblical call to “do justice” (Micah 6:8).
What is Corporate Social Responsibility and What Does it Mean for the Church?
The Presbyterian Church in Canada has been involved in corporate social responsibility initiatives for over four decades. The 97th General Assembly (1971) instructed the Administrative Council to establish a committee mandated to examine and evaluate the policies of corporations in which the church held stocks. The 99th General Assembly (1973) adopted guidelines on investment proposed by the special committee and mandated a permanent sub-committee of the Administrative Council for continued study and action regarding corporate social responsibility and to cooperate with other denominations involved in similar initiatives.
Today, the notion of corporate social responsibility is mainstream, but in the early 1970’s, it was a new idea and not universally supported. Churches in Canada, including The Presbyterian Church in Canada contributed to the development of corporate social responsibility. Readers with an interest in the early history of the churches’ involvement in corporate social responsibility would find the essay by Renate Pratt, a coordinator with the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility from 1975 to 1986 of interest (see Coalitions for Justice – The Story of Canada’s Interchurch Coalitions, edited by Christopher Lind and Joe Mihevc, Novalis, Ottawa, 1994).
The Committee on Social Responsibility in Investment Policy stated in a 1979 report that “…. the church’s deep concern for people must be heard, especially the gospel concern for those who suffer poverty, degradation and the loss of basic human rights.” In time, this concern would also include the impact of corporate activities on the environment.
Since those early years, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, on its own and ecumenically, has engaged in corporate social responsibility issues concerning:
- Canadian banks investing in apartheid South Africa in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
- Private and public debt owed by countries in the Global South.
- The impact of mining companies’ activities on local communities and the environment.
- Forestry practices of major resource corporations such as Noranda.
- Later, the churches’ attention would focus on Talisman and the impact of its oil exploration and extractive activities in southern Sudan.
- In the late 1990’s churches tried to persuade Imperial Oil to prepare a report on the potential benefits and costs of responding to and not responding to climate change. These efforts were not successful.
Human Rights and the Environment
There is no legislation in Canada to ensure that Canadian corporations abide by the same environmental and human rights standards that exist in Canada in their overseas operations. In the past decade, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has, on its own and ecumenically, focused on the impact of Canadian mining companies on local communities overseas, in two areas: environment and human rights.
Climate Change, Corporate Social Responsibility and Church Actions
The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a signatory to the Carbon Disclosure Project. The CDP brings together 767 institutional investors (private and public) around the world holding $92 trillion USD in assets to help reveal the risk in their investment portfolios. The CDP encourages corporations to respond to the threats of climate change by reducing their carbon footprints. Each year, the CDP sends an extensive survey to the largest corporations in countries where there are institutional investors involved in the CDP. These surveys ask how a corporation is responding to climate change. Responding to the surveys is voluntary. The CDP publishes the results of the surveys, including the corporations that chose not to respond to the survey. Through Justice Ministries, The Presbyterian Church in Canada writes to Canadian corporations it holds shares in, either affirming those corporation which completed the survey and are addressing its carbon footprint and to the corporations that chose not to respond to the survey, encouraging them to do so. A list of these companies is available here.
Mining, Corporate Social Responsibility and Church Actions
The Moderator of the 137th General Assembly (2011) wrote to Goldcorp about the corporation’s Marlin mine in Guatemala. Through Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), The Presbyterian Church in Canada is engaged in a dialogue with Goldcorp re: its Marlin mine. Justice Ministries reports on the progress of this dialogue.
The Moderator of the 138th General Assembly wrote to Barrick Gold and Goldcorp (The PCC holds shares in both corporations) affirming the corporations’ support for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The EITI is a global coalition of governments, corporations and civil society organizations working together to improve openness and accountability of all revenues paid by corporations in the extractive sector to host governments. Countries need to meet the rigorous standards set by the EITI in order to qualify as a compliant EITI country. Failure to keep to the standards results in suspension.
France, Germany and the United States will implement the EITI standard. Norway is already compliant. The Canadian Government has not indicated a commitment to implement the EITI standard however Prime Minister Harper announced that legislation requiring public disclosure of revenue payments from energy and mining companies to foreign and domestic governments will take effect in 2015.
The Open for Justice campaign which KAIROS is involved in, encourages the government to develop two accountability mechanisms for Canadian mining companies’ operations overseas: 1) An extractive-sector Ombudsman with the power to independently investigate complaints and make recommendations to corporations and to the Government of Canada; and 2) Legislated access to Canadian courts for citizens of other countries who have been seriously harmed by the international operations of Canadian companies. Click here to read the petition.
Church Dialogue with Goldcorp
A&P 2012, p. 279, 25: Recommendation No. 2 International Affairs Committee Re: Shareholder Dialogue with Goldcorp (Marlin mine, Guatemala)
In reports to the General Assembly in 2011 and 2012, the International Affairs Committee commented on the impact of the Goldcorp-owned Marlin gold and silver mine in Guatemala (A&P 2011, p. 289-91, A&P 2012, p. 278-79). The mine is controversial and has raised questions regarding the social and environmental impact it has on several Indigenous communities. The Presbyterian Church in Canada has partners that report being impacted by the mine. The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a shareholder in Goldcorp. In June 2012, the 138th General Assembly approved this recommendation: “that, in partnership with other organizations, Justice Ministries engage in dialogue with Goldcorp and report back to the 139th General Assembly.”
In the fall of 2012, The Presbyterian Church in Canada joined a dialogue organized through SHARE: Shareholder Association for Research and Education (www.share.ca), a Vancouver-based organization that conducts shareholder engagement on behalf of its clients.
The report on the dialogue is a summary of four questions from shareholders to Goldcorp pertaining to particular aspects of corporate social responsibility initiatives at the Marlin Mine.
Goldcorp shareholders initiated dialogue with its predecessor company, Glamis, in 2006 because of concerns about the company’s social and environmental record. Today, approximately 50% of Goldcorp’s gold production comes from Canada, 33 percent from Mexico and 8 percent from Guatemala (Marlin mine). The dialogue was initiated as a result of conflicts between the company and local community members who live near the Marlin Mine in Guatemala. The mine has been dogged by claims that prior consultation was insufficient to allow informed public scrutiny or debate, a view that was confirmed by a review by the International Finance Corporation’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) in 2005. Since then, SHARE has engaged Goldcorp on behalf of shareholders. A visit to the site by shareholders occurred in 2008.
At the urging of shareholders, Glamis and Goldcorp have taken several important steps, including:
- implementing International Cyanide Management Code certification (cyanide is used in the gold extraction process);
- training security personnel to reduce risk of violent confrontation and provide general human rights training across the company, including the Marlin mine;
- completing and making public an independent Human Rights Assessment of the Marlin mine overseen by the company, concerned shareholders and a mutually agreeable third party from Guatemala;
- creation of a grievance process for workers and communities affected by the mine; and
- hiring of staff at the company’s head office as well as at the local and regional levels to manage corporate social responsibility.
Despite these steps, social and environmental impacts remain a concern for investors. The focus of SHARE’s dialogue in 2013 will include:
- impact of leadership change at the company’s head office in the area of corporate social and environmental responsibility;
- follow-through on effectiveness of grievance process, including disclosure of outcomes;
- transparency of water quality and quantity information for communities near the Marlin Mine;
- community engagement in closure planning at the Marlin Mine; and
- disclosure of information about labour rights and labour rights training.
The dialogue with Goldcorp will continue in 2013-2014. The International Affairs Committee will report to the 140th General Assembly on the progress of this dialogue.
The purpose of this dialogue (and of dialogues with corporations generally) is to encourage the corporation to strengthen its commitment to safeguarding human rights and protecting the environment through sound policies and practices. Shareholders have an important responsibility to actively engage with a corporation on corporate accountability issues.
What are Ethical Investment Policies?
An ethical investment policy guides trustee boards and sets guidelines for investments of church monies. The Presbyterian Church in Canada does not have an overarching ethical investment policy. Some congregations such as St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Ottawa, have developed their own guidelines.
The Glebe Trust and Ethical Investing
Shared with Justice Ministries by Rob Robertson, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Ottawa, November 23, 2012
The purpose of this brief paper is to review some current practices and thinking about ethical investing (sometimes called socially responsible investing) and to assess whether the Glebe Trust should adopt ethical guidelines. I will review the relevant material from the Presbyterian and United Churches and from advocates of ethical investing, and then suggest ways that the Glebe Trust might fit its practices into a simple framework for ethical investing.
The issue of ethical investing was addressed in 2002 by the PCC General Assembly. While accepting that no economic activity is “amoral,” the General Assembly emphasized the existing legal obligations of Trustees to combine return and risk considerations in a way that is in the best economic interests of the beneficiaries of a Trust. It took the view that generally Trustees should not limit investments for social or political reasons unless “they undermine or contradict the aims and ministry of the congregation.” Even where the General Assembly or the Justice ministries recommend against certain investments, it was concluded that Trustees have an obligation to show that similar returns are available through other investments. Existing ethical investment funds were reviewed, and the conclusion was drawn that it was not clear that the views implicit in them would be supported by a majority of Presbyterians. It was thought that it would be impossible for the denomination to create its own screens “without incurring costs and risks.” However, in practice I understand that the PCC screens out tobacco and gaming companies.
The United Church of Canada has been more open to the idea of ethical investing. It applies screening criteria for the investment of its pension funds and general revenue. In doing so it has two categories of exclusion. First there is “qualitative criteria”; this means that it looks at both the good and the bad in a company before it judges. Second, there is “exclusionary criteria”; this means that there are some industries that they “seek to avoid.” The five areas assessed are:
- Business Practices – Does the company have a code of ethics that it follows and has it been convicted or accused of engaging in questionable business practices?
- Community Relations – Has the company engaged in community development, been sensitive to First Nations, promoted human rights abroad etc.?
- Employee Benefits – Does the company have an employee ownership scheme and offer same sex benefits and provide health and safety measures or does it act in a discriminatory way or use sweat shops?
- Environment – Does the company engage in good environmental stewardship, relative to other companies in its industry?
- Products – Is the company involved in the production of alcohol, tobacco, pornography, weapons or in gaming and lotteries?
According to the Mennonite Central Committee there are 54 mutual funds that follow socially responsible criteria. These are funds that attempt to make socially responsible investments as well as devoting a small percentage of profit to community development work. Some of the funds are managed by a company called Meritas. It considers investments under the following headings:
- Respecting the dignity and value of all people.
- Helping build a world at peace and free from violence.
- Internalizing a concern for justice in a global society.
- Exhibiting responsible management practices.
- Supporting and involving communities.
- Practicing environmental stewardship.
In practice, the portfolio of some Meritas funds does not look significantly different than the Glebe Trust’s, with investments in transportation, banks, and energy.
The Tides Foundation is another organization interested in the subject. The principles it suggests are the following:
Goals and Screens
Goals – invest in companies that demonstrate these characteristics:
- Their products and services contribute to basic human needs, including consumer health and safety.
- They exhibit superior performance in the protection of basic human rights, and the hiring, training, and promotion of minorities and women.
- They exhibit innovation with respect to products which protect or enhance the environment and/or which evidence superior performance relative to waste utilization and pollution control.
- When operating internationally, they meet the local standards of host countries for all of the above social and environmental dimensions.
Screens – avoid investing in companies that demonstrate these characteristics:
- Their products and services are unsafe in normal use (such as tobacco and gambling).
- They are weapons systems contractors or derive more than 10% of their gross revenues from defence contracting or subcontracting.
- They do not practice responsible corporate governance.
- They broadly violate fair labour practices.
- They have a record of failure to abide by federal, provincial, and local environmental regulation and/or are participating in nuclear power plant technology (this screen could be re-evaluated if nuclear technology evolves).
- They are responsible for systematic human rights violations or contribute to repressive governmental practices
Churches exist to fulfil a Christian mission. Money is one element in helping them do that. The Glebe Trust is an important mechanism in maximizing the money available for St. Andrew’s to fulfil its mission. However, in trying to maximize returns the Glebe Trustees cannot be oblivious to competing concerns. Clearly, Trustees do not want to act in ways that would bring discredit or discord to the congregation. That would ultimately impair the pursuit of St. Andrew’s mission.
The first challenge for Trustees lies in identifying the kind of investments that are undesirable for our church. The PCC recognizes that such investments exist, but it despairs at identifying them pro-actively. It also worries that the investments identified by others as undesirable may not have the agreement of a majority of Presbyterians. (Query: Is it in the interests of the church to make investments that a significant minority oppose?) Certainly the views of individual members do vary considerably. Examples might include the issues of nuclear power or the defence industry. Some ethical investment guidelines include them; some do not. It is also true that over time Christian views of what is desirable evolve. An example is the inclusion of same-sex benefits as an issue for consideration in assessing a company; in the 21st Century a significant number would see this as indicative of good practice, whereas in the 19th they did not. In the end, there is no sure mechanism to determine what views individual Presbyterians have on social issues. However, there are ways to determine what views the PCC and St. Andrew’s have, as expressed in their statements and their activities. It is clear that at present there is a concern for respecting international human rights, good stewardship of the environment, fair treatment for aboriginal people, the provision of social housing etc. Glebe Trustees cannot determine what a majority of Presbyterians think, but they can know the stated social goals that our church has from time to time. Trustees should avoid undermining these goals.
Relevant to this issue is the PCC statement that investors must demonstrate that similar returns are available from investments other than those screened out. I suggest that given the vagaries of the market, Glebe Trustees would not have difficulty in arguing that acceptable, alternative investments hold the promise of comparable returns, and therefore this obligation is of negligible concern.
The second challenge is whether investment decisions should not only avoid the socially bad but also promote the socially good. It is fair to say that the Glebe Trust has no program mandate and that Trustees do not present themselves as necessarily expert in the area. That being said, it is suggested that Trustees should not close their eyes to opportunities to advance the social goals of the congregation and the denomination where that is consistent with the financial best interests of the congregation. It is not out of the question for Trustees to be urged by the congregation to invest in green technologies or aboriginal enterprises for example. In my view, where two purposes can be accomplished at once, Trustees should be open to that. However, this is different than the Trustees actively seeking to turn the Trust into a vehicle for social investing. That would require considerably greater research than is now required and more complicated judgements on risk. Mutual funds that advertise socially progressive portfolios could be used, but those portfolios may not vary markedly from what the Glebe Trust would otherwise hold, and would carry with them administration fees and the diversion of some profit to charitable purposes other than St. Andrew’s.
Handling social issues in the context of investment decisions is a challenge, but one that Trustees can meet with study, reason and reference to the Minister and Session for counsel where required. It is not anticipated that this will have to be done frequently.
Based on the above analysis, the following ethical principles are suggested for adoption by the Glebe Trustees:
- The basic obligation of Trustees is to advance the best financial interests of St. Andrew’s through investments compatible with the aims and ministry of the congregation and The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
- Trustees and financial advisors will give reasonable scrutiny to investments to ensure they do not support activities that could be considered socially regressive or potentially harmful to the reputation of St. Andrew’s. Trustees will be particularly mindful of social concerns expressed from time to time by the congregation and The Presbyterian Church in Canada in making such determinations.
- Where potential investments that could advance the social goals of St. Andrew’s and The Presbyterian Church in Canada are suggested for consideration by a congregational body, Trustees will give serious consideration to such proposals provided they are financially sound.