The national body of British Quakers is facing controversy following the news that it has invested over half a million pounds in BP.
The World Development Movement (WDM) has urged them to consider selling the shares, accusing BP of “fuelling climate change”.
Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM), the national organisation of British Quakers, has a higher percentage of its investments in the oil giant than in any other company. While they published this fact in their accounts last month, it had not become widely noticed until reported yesterday (30 June) by the independent Quaker magazine The Friend.
Kate Blagojevic of WDM told The Friend that she welcomed the support that many Quakers have given to WDM campaigns. She urged Quakers to “put their money where their ethics are”.
BYM is likely to face pressure on the issue from amongst Quakers as well as externally. But while many may call for the shares to be ditched, BYM insist that they have used their shares to engage with BP and to achieve positive change.
They have highlighted their role at BP's Annual General Meeting in April, when they joined with the Methodist Church and other funds to back a rebel motion on tar sands exploration, a form of obtaining oil thought to be around three times more carbon intensive than conventional oil extraction methods. The process is also alleged to have damaged the health of local communities due to toxic by-products leaking into water sources.
A spokesperson for fund managers Rathbone Greenbank, who manage the Quakers' investments, said that the engagement was “successful, as the company was forced into making public disclosures on its plans for oil sands development".
BYM's Roger Morton told The Friend that their fund managers are issued with a “detailed ethical investment mandate”. He acknowledged that alternative energy makes up only a small proportion of BP's business, but insisted that the company's spending in this area “has not been matched by other companies in the sector, and is a key aspect in any balanced view of the company”. In contrast, Greenpeace insist that BP's spending on alternative energy has recently gone down.
Fair Pensions, an ethical investment group involved in the resolution, welcomed the Quakers' involvement. The Friend reports that they have urged BYM to keep up their scrutiny of the company and “use the power that they have as a shareholder” to “reduce environmental and social risk”.
WDM have gone further. Kate Blagojevic said that “unless BYM are prepared to use their shares for the strongest possible shareholder action, then divestment from BP is the only ethical stance available”.
Quakers, known more formally as the Religious Society of Friends, developed in England in the seventeenth century out of a distinctive interpretation of Christianity that emphasised the inward experience of Christ leading to outward action.
Quakers seek to testify to their experience of God in their daily lives and often in political activism. They are known for their commitment to peace, equality and sustainability. There are about 23,000 Quakers in Britain and over 300,000 worldwide.