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.
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.
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.