Religious institutions amplify their impact through international investor collaboration

By November 20, 2018News

By Peter Chapman, Senior Advisor

Religious institutional investors were pioneers of advocating for environmental and social concerns as shareholders, long before it entered the mainstream financial industry. While faith-based investors have historically been guided by their ethics as well as the desire for investment returns, today, many institutional investors are incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into their strategies through the awareness that in the long term, a better future for the world is also better for business.

Until recently, the equity portfolios of most religious institutions were concentrated in their home markets. As portfolios become increasingly global, religious investors in many countries are forging practical links with each other that allow them to share both resources and portfolios. A growing number of religious institutions have realized that because the impacts of corporations are international, investors must also be connected and active internationally.

In 2011, the Church Investor Group – a coalition of British religious investors – invited representatives from around the world to meet alongside the annual Principles of Responsible Investment PRI in Person conference in Paris to discuss common interests and common goals. Out of this came an initial collaboration on human trafficking and the hospitality industry, linked to major international sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games.

Two years ago, British, American, Swedish and Canadian religious investors began sharing information about their work on forced labour and modern slavery. Since then, representatives have attended each other’s meetings, resulting in the Church of Sweden, SHARE, CIG and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) coming together to collaborate on the Modern Slavery Project and helping each other with national strategies to combat forced labour.

Launched in October 2018, the Edinburgh Finance Declaration puts international religious investor collaboration on a bigger canvas as an attempt to pull together an even larger network of interfaith institutions.

In Canada, SHARE is hosting the 9th Annual Responsible Investment Workshop for Religious Investors on December 5th, where decision-makers will gather in Toronto to network and learn about responsible investment. James Corah, Secretary of the UK CIG and Josh Zinner, Executive Director of the US ICCR will join SHARE’s Kevin Thomas on a panel to examine next steps for making the most of international religious investor collaboration. This session will look at not only what can be gained from international collaboration, but how to manage the demands and bridge the major differences in cultures of engagement.

Climate change, human rights and labour rights are among the strongest priorities for faith-based investors, who are working with SHARE to be active owners through proxy voting and engagement services. The impacts of successful company engagement by religious institutional investors are real, making real changes in corporate ESG practices at companies such as ExxonMobil and Nutrien. The long-term focus of religious institutions has led them to work alongside SHARE on constructive and focused dialogues with companies to make these improvements from the inside out.

Faith-based institutions continue to inspire the wider investment community, and we believe stronger international collaboration will amplify the shared goal of building a sustainable, inclusive and productive economy.

Peter Chapman is a Senior Advisor and former Executive Director at SHARE.