Ethical Investment: Human Rights
16th March 2017, 19:00-21:00
Hurtado Jesuit Centre
This seminar was the last in the series of three. They were aimed at investors, treasurers, and those directly related, either practically or academically with investment.
Fr Augusto Zampini, PHD, Cafod and University of Durham
Catherine Howarth CEO of Share Action UK
The talks ended with a discussion on what ethical investment that appreciates human rights concerns looks like. Practical advice was offered by the speakers.
Ethical Investment Seminar III: Investment & Human Rights
March 16th 2017 @ Hurtado Jesuit Centre
- Fr Augusto Zampini
Theological Adviser at CAFOD
(The text has references to a powerpoint presentation)
Good evening to everyone. I’m delighted to be here. I would love to hear something about yourselves … all these banks and financial companies, so I know them from within because I used to be an associate to Baker Mackenzie. According to my bishop when I entered the seminary I was trying to escape from hell for all the sins I committed before! But today the idea is to delve into the ethical aspects. I won’t give you anything technical. Perhaps Catherine will provide more along the lines of concrete action. But going back to basics, as the Pope says, we are now living the pace of our lives; the pace of development is crazy. He invented a word. It’s very popular; ‘rapidification’. And he uses ‘rapidification’ in Laudato Si’. I don’t know if you know the story. Before the encyclical was launched, an official came and said, ‘Can we change something in the encyclical’? It took a while to get the editing done, and he said, ‘What now? Tomorrow it has to be ready’. No, it’s just one word, this word ‘rapidification’. And he said, what’s wrong with that? It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense in Spanish, English or French. He then said, ‘Change any word you like, but for ‘rapidification’, just leave it. Put it in inverted commas!’ And the reason is we live a crazy, crazy pace of life. I am so delighted that people like you are coming together to learn from each other and to reflect. So, for me, that’s a good testimony.
Let’s talk about work and when I talk about work, try to think of concrete people who are linked in all the chain of work, not just the guy who is in the factory or is in the mine or whoever is. Normally for the majority of people, at least, I know work is good, although we complain about work. However, as the Pope says again in Laudato Si’, we only need to take a frank look around us to see that the fact is that our common home is falling into serious disrepair, not just because of ecological issues, but particularly because of the social issues that are intertwined or interconnected especially regarding work. And he says that the problem is that we fail to see the deepest roots of these failures. We all agree on the diagnosis. We all agree on the symptoms but we fail to go deep down to the roots. He is very, very outspoken in this regard. He says that the roots of this failure can be found in the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of our technological and economic growth.
In the example of the slides you see the terms of ‘labour’ and ‘work’. “Cheap labour, I call it an opportunity not exploitation”. This might be just a joke but actually it’s not a joke. If you’re running an investment fund or if you’re running a company, you will try to do as much as you can to reduce the labour cost, at any expense. And I was a lawyer to companies, so I know what I am saying. For the majority of companies that’s true; and also a reality check. This photo was taken three years ago in Sri Lanka, that I had the privilege to visit, to travel all around the country, visiting the poorest regions in Sri Lanka. And this photo is a happy photo but it’s taken in Kandy right in the centre. All the community there, all the people you see there, they’re all slaves. Or put differently, they’re all Tamils. They don’t have any rights. They don’t have any passports. They don’t have any documents. They work in a tea plantation and they are an asset. They’re sold with the land. They live in two former horse paddocks that used to belong to the tea plantation in the former British Empire. And a hundred families live there in horrible conditions. They are sold with the land. They have no rights whatsoever. So every time I drink a cup of tea, I wonder where the tea is coming from. Who are the people behind this cup of tea? I don’t want to drink tea that comes from this kind of exploitation.
The problem with unemployment is massive. We normally talk about unemployment in figures. But when you live in a shanty town – I lived three years in a shanty town in greater Buenos Aires – unemployment’s not a figure. It is a painful reality that destroys people’s lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s 9%, 11% or 15%. It’s terrible.
When I talk about exploitation it’s not just about slavery. It could be unfair wages, as Catherine well knows. It could be long working hours, lack of holidays, tied labour or trafficking. And trafficking is not just about evil people. Many people travel to Saudi Arabia, because they are desperate for work. They go to Saudi Arabia to raise some money, but when they get to Saudi Arabia they realize that they are being almost trafficked and they are so embarrassed to tell the community that they stay there forever and they die there. But the same thing happens here in England. Trafficking is not just about the traffickers and the criminals, it’s about the people who employ them, and normally they are people like us.
Working in an unhealthy environment causes trouble to workers and communities. The depletion of the environment as well – I will talk a little bit more about that. And then you have the problem of what the corporations do. To remind you of the case of Nike – Do you remember when they were condemned because they were exploiting people in Asia to produce the trainers that we use? Or the food industry – the tea is just one example, you can also go to coffee or soft drinks. You remember the case of Coca Cola, a decade ago. They were also forced to re-arrange their work agreement in Asia and in Africa.
The toy industry, at the moment; the toys coming from China is really problematic and unfortunately I wasn’t here [for the previous session] on the mining industry because I have a lot of things to say on that. I visited a couple of communities affected by a mining company in Columbia and Ecuador last year.
Because I was asked to talk about human rights, I have to redeem myself of my sins, since I was a corporate lawyer and I wasn’t a human rights lawyer! Occasionally I have to lecture in some universities as well. The main characteristic of human rights, just to remind ourselves, is that they are universal; they are for all. It’s not just the right of somebody. And in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it says, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. That’s what most of the countries in the world agree. We all agree in theory. But is it? Here there is a child working in a tobacco plantation, in Asia, and of course it could be anywhere. It could be in South America. It could be in Africa. This is the reality of the tobacco plantations. So are we really born free and equal in dignity and rights? Because as far as I know, again having had the privilege of visiting different countries, if you are born in Somalia, can we say that we are really equal? If you are born in Sierra Leone, can you say we are born free and equal in rights?
I am sure that what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is saying is that slavery and servitude are against these principles of human rights. It’s just that work has to be freely chosen; that we deserve to receive equal pay for equal work; that every single person has the right for decent remuneration for work performed – which means that this should guarantee a dignified life for the worker and his or her family. It’s not just the Church saying this, back in 1948. There is also the right also to join trade unions; the right to assembly, to gather together and promote the well-being of workers. I’m afraid in England here we’re losing the sense that this is a human right. Note also the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitations of working hours and paid holidays. This is coming after a long debate post industrial revolution, when we were not paying attention to the rights of workers. Then there were some second waves of treaties; international conventions on civil and political rights in the late sixties; economic and social rights; cultural rights; the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter, and the American Convention on Human Rights with the additional protocol of El Salvador. Human rights are not just the political rights, but also the economic rights; the right to work, but also the rights of culture and environment. The International Labour Organization was created of course in the nineteenth century. So before people were talking about the rights of workers, an international organization was promoting them. At the beginning they didn’t link human rights with the rights of workers. But in the end, late 20th Century, they did and they came with this idea that there are many rights of workers, not all of them are human rights, but they said freedom of association and right to collective bargaining is key; elimination of forced and compulsory labour, abolition of child labour, elimination of discrimination in employment. These we can say apply universally; in any company, in any circumstances.
When we talk about human rights, we agree that they’re universal, we agree that they cannot be changed, and that they have to endure. But what is the basis of human rights? Are there human rights because we have said there are common rights? Unfortunately, for the universal declaration of human rights, they did a great job to gather together and to say, well these are human rights, but they struggled with agreement on the basis and we can see that we are still struggling with that. So there are different approaches and foundations, especially for the rights of workers and again I mean by rights of workers, not just for the people who work in a particular factory but for all those who work in the supply chain, whether it’s a service or a concrete product.
There is a positivistic approach. So the rights are recognized by international treaty. So we know that there are human rights in so far as they are recognized in these international treaties, especially the ones I mentioned. The good thing about this is that it’s concrete. It is saying it is good for investors, because they know these are human rights; I know this I have to respect or try to respect it. Then you have a different approach which is more active, it is an instrumental approach. It was originated by Marxist movements that believed that human rights of workers are actually tools by which workers pursue their claims to balance unbalanced power. But also it went beyond, so that human rights are an instrument to protect the wellbeing of workers and not just their rights. Then you have a more comprehensive, or what you call normative approach. Human rights are theoretical and normative rights, but they are limited. Not all rights of workers are human rights. They are limited to those that are really universal. You can apply it everywhere. They are inalienable. They are timeless, for example, prohibition of torture, a right to privacy. So nobody can say, yes, now I will torture my employee or I will torture this person. And you cannot invest in torture or say well, my employee has no right of privacy whatsoever.
I will talk about what is the foundation of our ethical principles as a church when we talk about human rights and work. Here we have a wonderful quote from Laudato Si’; we are created with a vocation to work. So work is part of our DNA. Why? For obvious reasons because we are created in the image and likeness of God, the Creator, who created all work and then we, he asks us, continue this creation. Or, in the second story of creation, in Genesis 2 not Genesis 1, God asks us to till and keep the garden of the world; to till, to work on it and to care for it, and to collaborate; in the New Testament also, through our work with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. That’s John Paul II in Laborem Exercens. So you see a wonderful notion of what work is about. So it is far, far deeper than just ‘rights’. Another quote from one of the first fathers of the church, St Ambrose – every worker is the hand of Christ, which continues to create and to do good. Can you argue that we all do good in our work?
This is a photo from Ethiopia: it’s a programme that I visited for women that we’re helping in CAFOD with our partners in Ethiopia, to bring them out of slavery into a work that they’re developing; into their own work so that they do pottery and other things. They earn all the money but they especially get their freedom and dignity.
This is a woman in Ethiopia: they go up to the hill with the animal and the husband and they have to cut the trees. This is just outside Addis Ababa, the capital. It’s terrible for the environment and neither the animal nor the husband carries the wood. The woman carries the wood. They go downhill with all that. I took the photo very quickly as she was saying, ‘why are you taking my photo?’ You cannot tell whether she is fifteen or eighty. They look eighty years old; all of them but you cannot tell the age.
So for us because we believe and Laudato Si’ reassures us of this; work is a necessity. The majority of people, unless you are very rich and you are among 1% of people in the world, need to work. We need to work to survive. So work is a necessity. It’s part of the meaning of our life, of life on this earth. It’s a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. Actually, even if you’re very rich and you don’t work, you are bored. You need to do something so you invent hobbies but you need to work and for the majority of people in the world work is a necessity. Precisely because it is a necessity there is exploitation.
To continue with Laudato Si’, what is work about; personal growth and sanctification; the interplay of reflection and work. For us, for Christians, work is not just something instrumental that we do to gain some money. It’s also something that we do to develop our spirituality and to sanctify ourselves. I have to think about this. It’s very challenging – Am I sanctifying myself with my job or not?
Equally, what I want to point out with this slide is the way we work cannot be addressed merely from an ideological or from an ideal understanding of human rights for work. It has to be done in a concrete way. When we think about work we have to think about what we do, the environment in which we work, etc.
The Pope is very clear about this. Pope Francis says, the environment in which we work influences the way we think, we feel and we act and it expresses our identity. How are your feelings developing, how is your identity developing if you work like this? We make every effort to adapt to our own environment. Of course, the capacity of resilience is immense particularly in poor people who are struggling. But when it is disorderly, chaotic, saturated with noise and ugliness we cannot develop this dimension of our spiritual life in work and this is why when we invest in work we have to take this into account, it is not just respect, the minimum thing about rights, it’s about how to create a space of work that can help people to develop themselves.
Now for the Catholic social tradition, Catholic Social Teaching or Thought; the rights of workers are linked obviously with some duty, in the Church. We like to be balanced. Yes, we have rights to work but we have a duty to work but we are not very clear if all the rights of workers are human rights. We haven’t said that. But we have said, yes, what is a human right is related with a just wage, with the association to strike. We cannot work in places or jobs that we don’t pay a just wage. That is completely against our whole tradition.
This right of association and this association in solidarity includes the capacity to strike because of the imbalance of power, and that’s not coming from the Marxist tradition but it’s coming from a tradition of more than twenty centuries.
I can tell you all that the Catholic Church has said about work and rights but the question is What is our foundation?’ Our foundation in a nutshell is the human dignity of the person in connection with the common good. I feel a bit nervous when in the Church we emphasise a lot human dignity; God loves us, human dignity. Human dignity, yes, but our understanding of human dignity is not an individualistic understanding of dignity. In the catholic social tradition, the principle of human dignity, which is crucial, is always linked with the principle of the common good. It’s like two sides of one coin. Equally you cannot talk about the common good without human dignity. But they are both connected, interrelated and this is the foundation of our understanding of the right to work, whether they are human, universal human rights or not.
Now what am I supposed to do with all this information? If we follow the Catholic Social Teaching methodology, we have seen something, we have judged in the light of human rights in the Catholic tradition very briefly, but what are we supposed to do with this? The Catholic social tradition has emphasized this; we need to see the reality, or what we call the ‘signs of the times’ are moved by it, think about it and then take action. And this is since the first encyclical in modern times, ‘Rerum Novarum’ in1891. It all started by responding to the question, What on earth can we do with the reality of all these people working in factories? The Church saw all these Catholic people working in terrible conditions, children working twenty hours a day etc. So we started to develop a tradition saying there are some rights that have to be respected, because they are key for the human dignity and for the common good.
But the new Rerum Novarum the new signs of the times is Laudato Si’, on the care for our common home, where the Pope links what we do; all the workers, big companies, small companies, all the work of human hands and the earth. It’s like the Mass. You see there, the prayer that we say at the offertory, ‘fruit of the earth and work of human hands’ – it’s both. The problem that we have is that it’s not just the work that is being exploited, but also it’s the earth. And if we want to tackle one, we have to tackle the other together. And that’s what, in a nutshell, Laudato Si’ tries to respond to, the signs of the time.
Many people think Laudato Si’ is just an ecological encyclical. It is not. It is about human development. It is about redefining our understanding of progress. Therefore at the centre of Laudato Si’, there’s a lot of statements and position of the church in terms of work, in relation with the environment as well, but going back to basics of work. Whereas Rerum Novarum was trying to respond to the crisis of workers in the early industrial revolution, now the Church is trying to respond to the crisis of two hundred years of industrial revolution, that have proved detrimental to many workers because we still have all these problems and to the environment.
There are three lines of approach in Laudato Si’, one is dialogue and participation. If these problems are massive, we cannot respond just from above. We need to include the people involved and if we want to sort out the problems of the world we need to include the workers. Also you need to include corporations and the way they organize their work. You want to include investors. You cannot sort it with a CEO and the board only. A second line of approach is ecological education, and this is not limited to education at schools and universities. This is not just the awareness of what’s going on with the problems of work and the problems of the environment. This is about trying to develop an understanding of our work and its implications for people and the environment and to change it radically. Because, if you remember how we began, the economic model is the problem. So we need to create something new, radically new. Our spirituality that has a lot to contribute. All these things are interconnected.
Before handing over to Catherine, I would ask, ‘What can investors do?’ I don’t know exactly, but I have some clues from Laudato Si’. One point is that one of the enemies in Laudato Si’, or the Pharisees you see Jesus fighting with, is ‘short-termism’. Short-termism in politics, short-termism in economics, short-termism in companies. Short-termism is a structural sin. If you are a president elected for 4 years, if you are a CEO, you have to prove that you are better than the previous one; you have only again four or five years to increase your production and to increase your profit etc. But, as Pope Benedict said, and Pope Francis repeats, human costs always include economic costs and economic dysfunctions always involve human cost. So the principle of maximization of profits that normally are disconnected from other considerations reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy. It’s not about ethics. It’s a complete misunderstanding of economics in itself. As long as production is increased, little concern is given as to whether it’s at the cost of future resources, or the health of the environment, or the health of the workers. Business profits come after calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved. This is against any economic rationale. It’s not just against ethics. And one thing I like especially for this audience is the number [paragraphs] 1 – 8 of Laudato Si’; ‘to stop investing in people, in order to gain a greater short term financial gain, is bad business for society. Do you see that this is the connection between human dignity and the common good? What kind of world do you want to leave to future generations, what is the purpose that we are here?
How are we going to deal with this economic problem that does not integrate all this? I will mention one other example, perhaps Catherine can bring more. I found this initiative called the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark. I still don’t know if it’s a good initiative to be imitated or to be supported, but it’s one initiative that we can further discuss. This was instigated by the head of Aviva, Steve Waygood. This is trying to compare the performance of large stock-exchange listed companies on business and human rights. Now the benchmark was developed with quite a lot of input with civil society and investors, so multi-stakeholders are involved. So that’s a good way.
The outcomes were very scary and these were extractive companies, textile companies; I can’t remember the others. I have the names of the companies. Unilever, Marks and Spencers, Coal Core, Glencore etc. were involved. So the good thing about this initiative is that for investors, they said companies can and should do more in terms of human rights. Child labour is an issue they were aware of. They have been aware of this for twenty years, and most of the companies who participated in this haven’t changed their policies in twenty years. So this for me is scary, because we know the problem is there and we do nothing. This is what Pope Francis says, the information of reality, shouldn’t be just information. It should touch our hearts.
The second thing, most of these companies are in the public eye. We try to put some pressure on particularly senior management to change their priorities.
And thirdly low ranked companies might feel pressure to move up the rankings. It’s all linked with the sustainable development goals.
I found this a very good or intriguing at least line of action that is connected to Francis, so I will finish with this, with just a quote,
In my opinion, something that investors can do, we can all do, is to remind ourselves that business is a noble vocation because we can direct the world into a different place, and we can invest in people for the transformation of people. But investors and economics and business can be good insofar as we create jobs as an essential part of the service for the common good. Because, if we forget about jobs, well we can invest in technology that maybe will lose some jobs but we cannot just invest in technologies for the sake of technology, for the sake of gain. We need to include people and this is all that I have to say, thank you.
Stephen Power: Thanks Father, for this background. I think this background from Laudato Si’ and from the Catholic Church’s social thought is hugely important for our investment issues. Most of you, who are Catholics, will know that Catholic Social Teaching pretty much originated in this area of London; from the dock strike and Cardinal Manning’s intervention and all of that. So we’re on historic ground here. All of which Catherine knows very well because she studied Industrial Relations; the match-girls strike and the dockers’ strike. I think that background, where we’re coming from, is hugely important. Catherine is very experienced in putting some of that ‘thought’ into action. So I’ll just hand over to you for whatever comments you’d like to make on Fr Augusto’s words.
- Catherine Howarth
Thank you so much, Fr Augusto for taking us through that and I will talk about some of the projects and actions and activism that I’m involved in with ShareAction.
I thought that maybe to start with this idea of the work that we do as investors and thinking with this phrase that you gave us, Augusto, ‘Am I sanctifying myself with my work?’ That’s a question to ask yourself in the capacity that you have as an investor or as a trustee or as a board member and it’s a question I can ask myself. I used to be a pension trustee for a while; got elected by other members of my pension scheme. Goodness, I look back on that – I really stood for election in such innocence about what would be involved! But then I learnt a lot that was very useful and now I’m on the investment committee of a grant-making trust and of another trust. It’s true that I don’t think I asked myself, ‘am I sanctifying myself with my work’ as an investor, but I do think there are opportunities to do that.
So it would be kind of interesting to think about, what does it… and these are only thoughts shared, because I don’t have any of the answers perfectly at all, not even slightly …. but what does it mean to be a good Christian investor? It is a really interesting question to ask. And what it has mainly meant, or what it’s mainly looked like, is a process that involves taking some wicked things out of the portfolio. So it clearly often looks like taking companies out of the portfolio that do things which for Catholics are deemed really inimicable to Catholic teaching and thought. And for other Christians, many of them share those more Catholic perspectives, but generally people screen out tobacco, on the grounds that something like six hundred million people a year die of tobacco-related disease, so that’s a pretty big killer. But this approach is a method to sort of possibly purify but maybe not fully sanctify the process of being a Christian investor. And I just think that the more I’ve thought about this over the years, the more I think it’s actually about trying to be a bit more relational in the investment process and to think about trying to bring something a bit God-given in a kind of Christian ethic into the interactions that we have as investors
So the first line of attack if that’s not too strange a word to use is thinking about the relationships that investors, like yourselves, have with the asset management industry. I mean those are the people that are your service providers. So it occurred to me, thinking about this, that really it would be good to, on the morning before you meet your investment managers next, to just pray about that meeting. You know, How could that meeting break the script just a little bit from what normally happens? – which is a very important process of saying, ‘How much money did you make for us?’ – a very valid question, needing to be asked, but what else? How could it be a different experience for that investment manager to meeting a pension-fund trustee or to meeting a high net-worth individual – that’s the jargon used for very rich people in the investment sector! – so how could it be different to meet you as a Christian investor, with a mandate to be engaged as a good Christian investor? It might involve telling them a bit more about what happens. The reason the income is necessary, is that the work that is done with it is whatever it might be; Christian work of one sort or another – for example funding this place (the Hurtado Centre). I don’t know how much you’ve told your investment managers about the work that goes on here but you know it’s incredibly important work and you know they might think differently about what they do on your behalf if they knew more about it.
Stephen Power (Chair): We do have at least one of our investment managers here … and she’s very welcome to be part of it!
Catherine: So their work also deserves to be sanctified and it could be with a bit more insight into what it produces. That’s one side of it; ‘Why am I producing the income?’ Because it actually really does some very important work in the world and that is why good returns are very important. But there is this other dimension to it which is thinking how can those investments and the stewardship of those investments be a way of bringing about some change, particularly in relation to people’s working lives because every single investment you make touches somebody’s working life.
So a good example is, I think, (it’s the biggest company in the world now) Apple. I’ve got my Apple product. I’ve my Apple phone in my bag. I’ve got another Apple laptop. So one thing I, and it was news to me this week, I learnt is that – this is a feature of so much global production now – it’s the people that work for Apple actually making the products aren’t employed by Apple. They’re employed in the supply chain. Nevertheless, I hear that every single Apple worker – and they’re not Apple workers; they just work for Apple! But you know, they really are Apple’s workers – make the company seventeen thousand dollars of profit per worker. If you divided the company’s profits by the number of people that actually make the products, they are generators of seventeen thousand dollars each of profit. But only an additional six hundred dollars a year would get each of them up to a living wage in China!
That’s a really interesting number which I heard this week, which just gets you thinking and actually, if you were to ask your investment managers, who may well hold Apple on your behalf, what questions they had asked about that, it would give them an interesting task to do, and it does need to be all joined up with other people. So this isn’t something that any of us can individually do, but when we do come together as investors with an interest in these things, change does come about. So, I don’t want to witter on about my past but it’s true that I did do a lot of work many years ago, which got me into the work that I do today, meeting with workers in Canary Wharf and beginning to challenge some of the banks at Canary Wharf to think about paying the living wage. I met someone one night. It was about 9:30 pm in the kind of underground corridors of the Canary Wharf complex. This was a wonderful man called Abdul Geraint, who was given a proxy by a wonderful Catholic you might know called Bernadette Farrell, who writes wonderful hymns. Bernadette had shares in HSBC and she said, well Abdul can use my shares and go to the AGM, and he asked this fantastic question about the living wage. It was just this fantastic relational encounter that really got me thinking about shareholder activism as a way of creating change. HSBC today pays all of its cleaners and contractors the living wage, as do most of the financial services industry. But the whole thing came about because of Catholic witness really, Christian witness. One of the things we did in the early days of that campaign was to take the collection money from some of the parishes in the East End and take them one day down to Oxford Street and – it was a group of nuns mostly – we kind of paid the twenty p’s and the fifty p’s and the ten p’s in at the till as a subversive bit of direct action. It snarled up the branch and we had a photo shoot and it got going. It was a really interesting example of Christian witness and action in relation to the financial system. It really paved the way for something that has changed many thousands of lives. So I think that is a richer definition of Christian investment than just screening out the wicked companies, important though that is. I’m going to leave it there because I think that’s enough to be getting along with. Actually, can I tell you about one thing which I should have mentioned, otherwise I’ll get in terrible trouble with my colleagues who work hard on this.
ShareAction has been thinking for a while, on ‘environmental and social and governance factors’ in the investment world. ‘ESG’ it’s called. There’s a lot on ‘E’, the environment, and rather less on ‘S’, the social. So on one of the really successful and excellent initiatives in the E space is the Carbon Disclosure Project which brought together many hundreds of investors, who said we’d all like to know a bit more about companies’ carbon footprint, so we’re all going to sign just one letter, that goes to the companies every year and asks them to complete a survey which gives us the data we need to be able to understand whether companies are doing well on that.
We’re copying that and we are soon going to be launching something called the ‘Workforce Disclosure Initiative’. It is an effort to try and bring together investors that are interested in working conditions of the companies that they invest in across the world. It starts in a very gentle way. It’s just saying, Could you tell us whether you even know about, for example, whether you know women in the supply chain have any rights to maternity cover? Or very basic things that might be interesting to know.
So we’re designing that survey at the moment with lots of expert input from all sorts of clever people who are really knowledgeable about these things and we’re also reaching out to investors to say we would love you to come on board.
The good thing about this one is that you don’t have to do anything exhausting like go to an AGM and ask a question! You just need to sign up your investment organization. In a way it’s less relational than what I’ve just been describing, but it will I think be very useful in influencing companies and signalling that investors care about people. If we are silent on this, they can only conclude that we don’t care. We do. It’s just that we need some mechanisms and tools. So I would invite you to be amongst the pioneer signatories to the Workforce Disclosure Initiative and if you want to know more about it I can tell you. But I think it’s going to be a really practical tool and once that data comes out it will be possible to have a more informed and intelligent conversation with companies about whether they’re getting this right or not.
My final thing is – I said pray before the meetings you have with the investment managers, because I do think that’s a really good idea and think, what question would I like to ask that will make this a slightly different meeting from the one that he or she has with a secular investor? I would really also encourage you to pray for the directors of the companies because they are the people who have day to day control of your assets in the markets and they really have amazing power over people’s lives. But you’ve given them that power, as investors in their company, so they need to know that you care and so I think that would also be a good thing to do. So I’ll leave it there.
Comments, Questions and Answers
Anthony Carey: A very interesting discussion. One of the things is saying what I want as an investor, what I expect of my investment manager, my fund manager to do for me. The other interesting thing is, that I think Catherine highlighted, is how to change the system. If you look at some of the areas where change has occurred, it’s getting society to decide that something’s not acceptable and we need to change it. In getting people to look at it in the investment industry, there are a number of key areas that probably don’t help things. For example in the UK system there’s a lot of lines, a lot of intermediaries, between the original, who owns the shares, and who’s actually the ultimate beneficiary. The more you allow those intermediaries in the way, the more you run the risk that actually ultimate beneficiaries’ views don’t get noticed. I think that the current Prime Minister has been fairly good in sorting out the Modern Slavery Act. But if you look at their current Corporate Governance paper, they talk about stakeholders but make no reference to human rights as such; again, things not being joined up. So I suppose a comment would be, To what extent do we think we should work within the system and what is the best way of actually changing the system so that it works to make sure human rights are protected? If you take the globalization in business in the last 20 -30 years, the gap between the board sitting in London and all the other businesses, is probably much greater. The amount of human rights reporting in accounts is actually pretty limited, and it often tends to be the greenwashing, so to speak, the good news stuff, not fair and balanced, which is one of the reasons why we’re working on the project on human rights auditing. To what extent do we accept the system and try to work within it, like ‘I’ll only invest in decent companies’ as opposed to what extent the Church could do more to mobilize people to actually try to change the system?
Catherine: I think one must be a bit realistic about how much one can change the system, not that I don’t try. Maybe it’s those small things that become quite powerful in a way. You know, it’s those small, individual relational encounters in which you witness a slightly different ethic. There’s a logic to the way the system currently works and it’s not the logic of love. But we could put a bit of that into it. And then that’s just a small way. It’s quite dangerous and subversive. I think quite Christian. I think we can actually be capable of making a small tiny rippling change which means it feels like a different encounter with the professionals and service providers that are a part of the system and the current logic. It’s probably difficult to hope for much more at this stage until we do band together and I think there is actually a very wonderful coming together of, well, ECCR is a really good example of it, and there are fantastic collaborative initiatives in the space. The Association of Provincial Bursars is another good example. There are things we can do together where we maybe can begin to be more powerful in our effect, but I think in small ways we can witness, in ways that are very important and authentic and they do sanctify our work.
Stephen Power: I think maybe for us as Church investors too, there’s one thing about changing the system and working within it but, ‘How much do we change our system?’ We come at, I think, a lot of religious orders and dioceses who accept the parameters of what normal investing means. You know, you invest in this sort of distribution of assets, with these sort of returns according to these sort of benchmarks. But are we really going back to, What is the world we envisage that we want to invest for? This is where we can change. Perhaps the biggest change can come from changing ourselves to begin with. And then together that carries a lot of weight. It’s a bit more than just what some people are saying about divesting from fossil fuels or miners or whatever. That makes a one-off impact, if you make a big enough fuss about it. That has to be done with a big impact to have an effect because it’s not going to change the system by itself. But if we do begin to, as Catherine said, to come at this from our mission, the mission of the gospel, or the mission of the love of Christ, then we do envisage a different world, the world that Fr Augusto talked about. I think our investment policies would look very different. It’s quite a step. We have to try and think of how we do this but maybe some you people who’ve been on the investment committee with the Jesuits a long time might want to take issue with that!
Comboni Missionary Sister: I’m a Comboni missionary and I lived for sixteen years in Eritrea. So I want to give a perspective of somebody who lived in Eritrea and was subjugated to the lack of human rights. In Eritrea there is compulsory, they call it [conscription] national service, which is never-ending, after secondary school. And it’s still going on. Then I said to some of the people there, ‘but this is against your human rights!’ I remember saying to them, you have the right to work in a job freely chosen, and they looked at me as though I’d come from the moon, really and truly, because I think they thought that I was a Westerner bringing subversive ideas. So I think that I would like to ask the people, we’re thinking about human rights here, but also think about people that don’t even realise that they do not have their human rights!
This is the problem you’re in the pot, and you don’t realize that the water is getting hotter and hotter. And eventually the frogs that are in the pot, they can’t, you know, jump out because it’s got so hot that they don’t have the strength to jump out. So the thing is that we who are in the western world we know our human rights; this is not human, this is not right, but if you think of the people that are living in some developing countries, they don’t even know what their human rights are. Their government is telling them that you should help the collective, the common good. How to educate people about their human rights? I’m passionate about it.
Catherine: On the subject of Eritrea – I can’t remember the name of the company – there is a Canadian mining company that’s got a massive ownership stake held by both Blackrock and M & G, which are two of the big investment managers that maybe people in this room use. There is an effort to try and influence that mining company not to effectively become complicit in the extraordinary system of modern slavery that persists in Eritrea (NEVSOM). So it’s a very practical example of something that people in the room might be able to ask if it happens to be that their manager is either Black Rock or M & G.
John Arnold (ECCR): An observation really. What advice would you give, Catherine, I know that you’ve done a lot of work on this: for those trustees that are making a decision about their investment managers, which were the ones to work with and pick the best as it were or the ones that really fit what the trustees feel would be optimum for the charity. I know ShareAction has done some work on investment managers on that side of things. But I also wanted to say, as an uplift, a lovely example of people in action particularly in relation to child labour. About six years ago, I was out in Belize working with the sugar cane farmers there for Fair Trade and Tate & Lyle were wanting to get them certified and so on. I just read recently, about a week ago that, actually it’s the sugar cane farmers themselves as the association of working together and the rules of labour and freedom of association that they have in Fair Trade who are actually holding the government to account to improve their child labour laws out there. This is a sort of a multi-tier process. It shows what the decisions can be when you get companies to make good decisions. There are good people out there who want to make good decisions, in terms of engaging all these issues. You really need to influence hearts and minds out there to make better decisions.
Catherine: One of the things that ShareAction does is regularly research and evaluate how the different asset management companies are doing on responsible investment. We put out on Monday a big ranking of forty of the largest asset managers in Europe. Schroeders came number one, so good for you. But I wouldn’t say, Oh gosh, everyone should rush off and put their money with Schroeder’s. No offence! Because actually, it’s the same philosophy as being invested in a company, you can make a change in that company. Being with a particular asset manager, you have a real opportunity to drive them up to be as good as the best. What all of those managers need are clients who say, you know it is a useful tool that ShareAction has put out on Monday. Because you could be saying, hang on, we’d like you to be getting as good a score as the best in the ranking. And for them to hear that view, and if one of your managers is one of the forty, we’ve got this little table of recommendations for each of the managers at the bottom of that. The Jesuits are part of a network that ShareAction organizes, called the Charities Responsible Investment Network (CRIN). We help all of the members with a bit of an evaluation of how their different asset managers are doing so there are resources to help you. But I wouldn’t say run off and change your manager necessarily because actually you’ve got a really good opportunity to get them. It is very well worthwhile seeing if you know anyone else that has the same asset manager and clubbing together to have that conversation because doing it together, two clients ganging up, really gets them thinking.
Sister 2: I actually feel quite sorry for investment managers. Because I belong to a Congregation that’s predominantly elderly and European, and we have thriving missions in Zambia and a load of young sisters there. So they’re constantly trying to soothe our conscience, because we know that if we invest in companies that say produce tobacco that we will get more for our money. So they’re always trying to look and see what other good things those companies do to see if it will balance it for us. But I haven’t been at a chapter where we’ve actually decided to redefine what we mean by our vow of poverty and what does it mean in the world that we’re living in now. We are the ones who make the vows and see that most other people keep it! So in religious life, there needs to be a whole movement to redefine our vows in the light of what’s happening. So I do feel sympathy for them. But I think what needs to be done is by us and we need to be much more radical in anything to do in these areas. It’s a huge task but we owe it to our sisters who are coming behind us.
Fr. Augustino: At the end of last year there were more than eight hundred business people in the Vatican coming together with the Pope. And he had a very strong message about that, about the meaning of money and profit. And he said, money is not neutral, money is an idol – as long as we think that it’s neutral, it becomes an idol. For Christians an idol is a heresy. It’s exactly against all our beliefs. So he was challenging, saying, it is not just what is poverty about; it’s what is profit about, Why do you want to make money? What is the notion of money? Because we can no longer say we make money just to give charity. That’s not acceptable for the Catholic tradition. Is the process of making money and in the outcome following our beliefs? That’s the radical thing that perhaps investors can push. I agree that every little gesture counts, as the spirituality of Theresa of Lisieux. Every single little gesture counts there. But equally we mustn’t underestimate the power of investments. That was the message of the Pope. We don’t underestimate the power of money. Actually what he was challenging is the logic of profit at any cost.
So what investors can do is to challenge in these meetings, or put good questions as Catherine was saying, I like that idea, of thinking about good questions. We cannot change the system entirely, because we do not know another system. But we know we have to correct the system and we need to correct it radically.
Stephen Power: in conclusion
I thank Fr Augusto very much for a very solid background about where we should be coming from as Christians, as Catholic Christians. Leading on to how we need to rethink, think again about how we act as investors; how do we view our complicity, or our involvement to use a more neutral word, in the system, a system which is creating a world which generates so much inequality and poverty, as we’ve heard, from Eritrea.
And to thank Catherine very much; she is inspiring many people to be active and to keep active, not just on particular issues. Personally she’s come at this from a deep, religious point of view injecting the basic principles of our Christian life into this world, which is what our mission is.
So thank you very much. Thanks to Rebecca who has helped so much to put this series on. And all the people who helped to put this series on. I hope we will share some of this material through the website and through our publications.