UK Church Investors Threaten Companies Over Climate Change, Gender, And Executive Pay

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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The Church of England and the Methodist Church threatened business executives Wednesday, demanding that they address climate change, gender inequality and excessive executive pay.

The Church Investors Group (CIG), which represents the CofE’s and Methodist Church’s main investing bodies and those of other churches in the UK and Ireland, issued a statement to FTSE 350 firms Wednesday in the approach of the Annual General Meeting season, according to Daily Mail. CIG threatened to block key appointments if the companies did not adopt policies to combat climate change, increase female leadership, and cut down on what the CIG perceives as excessive pay for executives.

“The best companies contribute to the common good through their products and services and the way they treat their employees,” CIG chair Reverend Canon Edward Carter said, according to Financial News. “Their directors understand that if they are not doing something about fairness and about the risks facing us today, they are part of the problem and risk losing the confidence of the public and ultimately their licence to operate.”

CIG manages more than $23 billion and is an active shareholder in FTSE 350 firms. The group’s stated purpose is to “encourage the formulation of investment policies based on Christian ethical principles” and to influence management boards to implement what they see as ethical business practices.

The group seeks to impose quotas on FTSE 350 firms for women in leadership positions. The statement said CIG will oppose the re-election of a firm’s nomination committee chair unless women comprise 33 percent or more of the firm’s board. CIG also demanded that companies employ women in at least 25 percent of their top tier leadership positions, or CIG would vote against the re-election of all directors on the boards of companies that failed to do so.

CIG also said it will enforce the Paris agreement and would vote against the re-election of the chairs of companies that made “little progress to transition to a low carbon world.” CIG will use company scores from the Transition Pathway Initiative, which the Church of England created, to determine which companies qualify as having made acceptable progress with regard to carbon emissions.

“We continue to see climate change as a key issue and encourage other investors to partner with us in ensuring we hold companies accountable to the highest standards and adapting their activities to fit with the Paris Agreement,” said Carlota Garcia-Manas, deputy head of engagement for the Church Commissioners and Church of England pensions board, according to Daily Mail.

With regard to a company’s salaries for executives, CIG stated that it would not support the remuneration reports of firms who either failed to pay a living wage, failed to disclose pay ratios, or who paid their executives excessively relative to what they paid lower tier employees.

CIG has exerted considerable influence over companies in the past, pledging in 2015 to discontinue investing in companies that make more than 10 percent of their profits from tar sand oil or coal mining, persuading ExxonMobil in 2016 to disclose details of the company’s climate change exposure to their shareholders, and pulling investments from several companies over the years which CIG deemed to engage in either environmentally harmful or unethical practices.

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