What we do with our money makes a difference, even down to the banks and pensions we use.
Roo Stewart, United Reformed Church (URC) Programme Support Officer (Church and Society) reflects on our relationship with investment, and highlights the findings of a new report revealing how financial institutions are contributing to the production of nuclear weapons.
Jesus had some hard sayings about how we use money, according to the writers of the New Testament.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth… but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6: 19-21)
“If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” (Luke 6: 34)
“What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:25))
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but even at face value it leaves all of us with some challenges, particularly in our culture with its reliance upon pensions to support those who have retired, mortgages to enable home ownership and a large financial sector that generally thrives through trading investments.
When we think of business trading, we often think of pin-striped bellowers at the stock exchange, yet anyone who has ever opened a bank account or paid into a pension pot has become part of this financial system, with your money being used in diverse commercial projects at the discretion of the institutions to which you have entrusted your capital.
Where your heart is
The URC has not been quiet in its resolve to invest in an ethical manner. At the May 2019 meeting of Mission Council – the executive body of General Assembly, the key decision-making body of the URC – a resolution to divest from fossil fuels was passed. The move called for a refocusing on investment in renewable energy and clean technologies. Several synods and congregations have since taken the same decisive action. This was not without much discussion, of course, since the voice of a significant investor can sometimes be heard more clearly across a board room than the resounding silence of those who have left the table.
And now the Nuclear Weapons Financing Research Group, which has representation from the URC through the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT), has exposed the extent to which investments from financial institutions are helping to fund the production of nuclear weapons.
The 2016 General Assembly of the URC called for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban treaty to bring about the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and all trustees and managers of investments connected with the URC are instructed to avoid investment in the manufacture or supply of weapons of destruction.
Alarmingly, despite our own policy, the new report, ‘Banks, Pensions and Nuclear Weapons: Investing in Change’, shows that, overall, UK pension funds are still investing billions in nuclear weapons. The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is anticipated to transform the way in which spending on nuclear weapons is treated under international law, and this has already affected the investment decisions of banks and pension funds in other countries. The UK seems to be sadly behind the curve when we see the largest government pension fund in the world, Norway’s, has already excluded investment in new nuclear weapons producers.
Peace at what cost?
The URC continues to speak out for a peaceful world, where weapons of war are no longer a source of profit. We do this through policy and people, and invite you to speak to your local MP in a personal letter or email, raising your concerns about the UK’s position on nuclear weapons.
The new report is a useful resource to draw from if you do. It “names and shames” various financial institutions by giving them ethical ratings based on their policies, practice and transparency. It also offers recommendations for anyone with a bank account or pension fund. (Note that this report does not offer investment advice: if you have any specific questions about any legal or financial matter you should consult an appropriately qualified professional.)
Happily, we are seeing that banks and pensions providers are beginning to take note of the calls from investors for more ethical portfolios. Markets are driven by demand in this industry as in any other. Together, we can send a powerful message directly to our banks and pension providers when we specify that our finances be invested in alignment with our ethics. It may mean some research on your part to find an ethical alternative, perhaps moving your account to a different organisation, and it might even result in accepting a lower rate of return for the sake of avoiding investing in nuclear weapons. Whatever you learn, please share with your friends, congregations and colleagues, so that our financial service providers will continue to take note and disrupt the production of more nuclear weapons.
How can we respond to the challenge of Jesus to love our enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return? This new report can be extremely helpful in helping the Church, both institutionally and as individual members to make informed choices about where we place our money. You can find the report here.
For further information, visit Don’t Bank on the Bomb. For help and ideas in forming a good working relationship between your congregation and your local MP, take a look at JPIT’s ‘Meet Your MP’ resource.
Image: Michael Longmire/Unsplash
Published: 10 June 2020