Methodist Church promotes humans rights with new investment policy

Methodist Church investment decisions are now being guided by anew policy on human rights which focuses on companies operatingin areas of conflict around the world.  While governments areultimately responsible for upholding human rights, the policyrecognises that companies have obligations too.

The policy has been adopted by the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church, which manages £1billion of Methodist Church investments. The Church is urgingcompanies to extend their engagement with human rights issuesbeyond their own operations by entering into dialogue with majorsuppliers and business partners.

Bill Seddon, Chief Executive of the Central Finance Board of theMethodist Church, said: "This new policy will help us engagewith companies operating in areas where human rights are beingignored, often due to armed conflict.  It will help usstructure our on-going human rights engagement with companies."

Senior Fund Manager Stephen Beer added: "Companies haveresponsibilities, not only to shareholders but also to theiremployees and people in the societies in which they operate. Companies can often face difficult dilemmas, which werecognise when we talk to them.  Nevertheless, they shouldabide by clear standards and business practice.  Our newpolicy covers just one aspect of our work to integrate human rightsconcerns with our investment approach.  For example, we alsoengage with companies on labour rights and health and safetyissues."

The Central Finance Board (CFB) aims to reflect Methodist Churchteaching in its investment approach.  It integrates investmentethics with financial analysis.  Through Epworth Investment Management the CFB team also managesinvestments for other churches and charities on the same ethicalbasis.

The new policy sets out what the CFB expects from companies. This includes the publication of human rights policies and anassessment of risk in areas of poor human rights.  Where acompany risks becoming too closely identified with human rightsabuses or where it is having an adverse impact on conflict, thecompany should be prepared to suspend operations.  The CFBcalls on companies to put policies in place to remedy human rightsbreaches.  Companies must also be willing to engage withinvestors on the issue. The new CFB policy, together with adiscussion paper, is published on its website.

Steve Hucklesby, Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church,said: "In many parts of the world, local communities feel thatthey have no control over the immense power of big corporations.Meanwhile, companies often tend to think of their responsibility tolocal communities only in terms of charitable giving. 

"You can still ask questions of senior executives about theirresponsibility for human rights beyond the workforce and be metwith a blank stare.  However, this is changing as people areincreasingly aware that a company's operations can have bothnegative and positive impacts on human rights andconflict." 

The Methodist Church wants to see strengthened human rightsprotection, consistent with the teachings of the Christian faith.Human rights protection is relevant given the expansion of capitalinvestment into global markets where protection of human rights isinadequate.