Methodists will seek profit from oil and mining despite green pledge

By staff writers
December 7, 2009

The Methodist Church has said it will continue to seek to profit from investments in controversial oil and mining shares, despite last week’s announcement that it was to "use its investments to fight climate change".

Risking accusations of 'greenwash' in a statement today, the Methodist Church told Ekklesia that they only invested in mining companies with "the most progressive standards" and that the church did not believe the oil sector was “intrinsically ethically unacceptable.”

Over 20 per cent of the Church’s shareholdings are in oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, condemned in a recent report by Amnesty International for its environmental destruction in the Nile Delta.

The Methodist Church also has investments in mining companies Rio Tinto, Anglo American and BHP Billiton. Campaigners say that mining is one of the most polluting industries in the world, having a disproportionately negative impact on marine-dependent and land-based communities, especially indigenous peoples, and is frequently associated with forced evictions, militarisation, conflict and human rights abuses including extra-judicial killings.

BHP Billiton in particular has faced allegations of human rights abuses and widespread environmental destruction. The campaigning group, London Mining Network, recently published an ‘alternative report’ into its activities. It outlined the negative impact of many of the company’s operations – in Australia, West Papua, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa, Canada, Colombia and Chile.

The Church of England also holds shares in the same companies, but has not made a similar pledge to be green with its investments.

Last week, the Methodist Church said that it was greening its portfolio of shares. In a statement it outlined “how investments reflect Methodist teaching on the environment and take forward the fight against climate change. It said it aimed to "create and manage portfolios with a carbon footprint that is relatively low and measurably declining.”

Steve Hucklesby, Policy Adviser for the Joint Public Issues Team, told Ekklesia today: “Oil companies, both Shell and BP, are investing in renewable energy generation but this positive environmental agenda is massively outweighed by the more recent interest shown by both companies in Canadian Tar Sands projects. We have expressed our concerns and bring our concerns independently through meetings with senior executives of Shell and BP as well as with other partners, particularly the CIG (Church Investors Group)and ECCR (Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility).

“The question as to whether oil extraction is an ethically unacceptable area of commercial activity was given consideration by the CFB (Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church) or of JACEI (Joint Advisory Committee on Ethics of Investment), which might have led us to exclude the whole sector, as we do [with] Defence and Alcohol. We decided that it is not intrinsically ethically unacceptable. Of fundamental importance to us is the commitment of oil companies to addressing concerns around climate change. Our approach to investment is to work with companies to encourage better practice and we seek to invest in those that are the more progressive in their sector. Our investments in Shell and BP will be continually reviewed in this light.

“We don’t exclude mining companies as a sector of investment. We invest in those companies with the most progressive standards. We have regular dialogue with companies and we bring to their attention issues that are of concern to us. A successful ethical investment policy, in our view, is to see companies improve their position in relation to the environment rather than avoiding them and not having an influence. Disinvestment is a last resort when it is clear that the company involved is not prepared to amend its behaviour.”

The Church also holds shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). Recently forty leading figures, representing faith groups and church leaders, environmental and anti-poverty campaigners, wrote to the Chancellor to call on him to transform the Bank into a 'Royal Bank of Sustainability'.

The Methodist Church was not represented amongst the signatories who called for an end to the bank's funding of “destructive” projects around the world, which contribute to human rights abuses and climate change.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.