Voting Report – September 2018

August 2018

UK Excluded Stocks

  • Acacia Mining
  • Antofagasta
  • Cairn Energy
  • Centamin Egypt
  • Energean Oil & Gas
  • Evraz
  • Exillon Energy
  • Ferrexpo
  • Fresnillo
  • Gem Diamonds
  • Glencore
  • Hochschild Mining
  • Hunting
  • Kazakhmys
  • Kenmare Resources
  • Lamprell
  • Nostrum Energy
  • Ophir Energy
  • Petra Diamonds
  • Petropavlovsk
  • Polymetal
  • Premier Oil
  • Soco International
  • Sirius Minerals
  • Tullow Oil
  • Avon Rubber
  • Babcock International
  • BAe Systems
  • Chemring
  • Cobham
  • EI Group
  • Essentra
  • Fuller, Smith & Turner
  • GKN
  • Greene King
  • G4S
  • GVC Holdings
  • Marston’s
  • Meggitt
  • Melrose
  • Mitchells & Butlers
  • Morgan Advanced Materials
  • N Brown
  • Paddy Power Betfair
  • Playtech
  • Qinetiq Group
  • Rank Group
  • Rolls-Royce Group
  • Serco
  • Sportech
  • Ultra Electronics
  • Wetherspoon (JD)
  • William Hill
  • 888 Holdings
  • British American Tobacco
  • Diageo
  • Drax
  • Imperial Brands
  • Inmarsat
  • McColl’s Retail Group
  • Stock Spirits Group
  • Arrow Global
  • IG Group
  • International Personal Finance
  • Provident Financial
  • Riverstone Energy
  • S&U

Ethical Investment Review September 2018

Climate change

We once again asked Trucost to provide a carbon footprint assessment of our UK portfolio, which we first commissioned in 2009. According to their analysis, the UK Equity Fund’s carbon footprint amounted to 288 tonnes of CO2 per million pounds of market capitalisation. The carbon intensity of the Fund has fallen by 3.4% pa since 2009. The gap between the Fund and the Index (FTSE All Share) has narrowed since 2009, which indicates the level of improvement in the market overall towards greater decarbonisation.

We are members of IIGCC (Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change) and actively participate in public policy initiatives in a collaborative way. During the quarter we supported an IIGCC led campaign lobbying MEPs to adopt an ambitious approach to reducing car and van engine emissions including a target of at least 40% CO2 emissions reduction by 2030.

We attended and took part in a series of meetings on climate change including the TPI (Transition Pathway Initiative) and a conference call with Royal Dutch Shell. We co-signed a letter that appeared in the Financial Times encouraging the corporate sector to accelerate the transition towards a low-carbon economy.

We are continuing our considerable work preparing a detailed reassessment of fossil fuel companies in the light of the Paris Agreement. Scoping such a systematic approach is taking time, but our detailed work will ultimately provide a robust means of looking at fossil fuel companies from the perspective of the transition to a low carbon economy.

Plastics

We have devoted some time over the summer to researching the issue of plastics and our investments’ exposure in greater depth. We will be engaging with companies over the winter months, and are considering to joining As You Sow, an investor coalition focussed on plastics.

Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI)

Principles of Responsible Investment conducts an annual assessment of how asset managers consider issues relating to responsible investment. We have once again achieved top ratings cross the major modules including receiving A+ in the overarching Strategy & Governance section and in how we incorporate our ethical approach into our equity portfolios.

Human and labour rights

We contacted Compass Group following reports that one of its subsidiary companies contracted to the All England Lawn Tennis Championships had allegedly been paying employees insufficiently, including not being paid an agreed night shift rate. The company has robustly denied the allegations and provided a response asserting that all rates were agreed and were at levels above the National Living Wage. Some of these roles subsequently attracted further wage uplifts.

We contacted the UK arm of French hotels group Accor owing to the absence of a Modern Slavery Statement on its UK website. All companies with revenues greater than £36m and operating in the UK are required to publish a Statement. Correspondence with the company produced a comprehensive Statement, however we have continued in dialogue as this was not signed by a director and has not been uploaded to the Accor UK website.

Living Wage

Working once again with Share Action, we have led a further round of engagement with seven companies pressuring them to seek accreditation to the Living Wage. The response from Berkeley Group was encouraging as the company is a Living Wage employer across its own directly employed staff. BT Group has taken steps to ensure reward is targeted at or above Living Wage levels, but does not wish to be ‘constrained’ by accreditation. Reckitt Benckiser Group also provided an encouraging response, suggesting it pays all UK employees the Living Wage with this extending to contractors.

We also challenged IHG Group, which as part of being made a preferred partner to the London Olympics in 2012, had agreed to accredit to the Living Wage. The company has reneged on this commitment, but justified this to us as due to the ‘rapidly changing environment’ including introduction of the National Living Wage. This was disappointing and we continue in dialogue with the company around its commitments.

Farm animal welfare

We supported a collaborative FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) initiative focused on reducing antibiotic use in the food chain. An investor letter was sent to Whitbread seeking more information from the company on how it manages antibiotic use in respect of its supply chain.

Corporate governance & executive remuneration

The September quarter traditionally marks the end of the voting season in the UK and Europe. During the quarter we voted at 17 UK meetings opposing or abstaining 17% of resolutions. Action was taken in the main against executive remuneration and the re-election of Board directors. Remuneration was opposed at BT Group, Burberry, Experian, Vodafone and National Grid Group among others.

Diversity has been fully integrated into our UK voting policy. Since 2017 the percentage of women on FTSE Boards has increased from 27.7% to just over 30%, however at executive level progress remains slow. We oppose the re-election of Nomination Committee Chairs where progress to improve Board diversity remains poor. During the quarter, directors were opposed at BT Group (four directors), SSE (four directors), Experian, Cranswick and DS Smith.

In Europe, we voted at eight meetings, and took action in 35% of cases, where re-election of directors and executive pay were the main issues of contention.

Our proxy voting partner, ISS, votes our shares in accordance with an agreed CIG policy, which is reviewed and approved by the members annually. Our full voting reports are available on request, whilst a summary is published online.

JACEI Annual Report 2018

Voting Report – June 2018

Ethical Investment Review June 2018

Climate change

We are working on applying our recently agreed climate change methodology to our fossil fuel company shareholdings. Our first task is to critically examine the data and analysis available for each of the five criteria we are using to assess companies. Our intention is to complete preliminary assessments of four companies (BP, Equinor, Royal Dutch Shell, Total) by the turn of the year. These will be subjected to a lengthy review process and we will also engage with the companies. At the same time, we expect further climate change scenarios to be published, which we will need to factor into our work.

Climate change remains at the forefront of our work and we are active in several initiatives, including attending an IIGCC meeting where we heard from Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) ; We have signed an IIGCC Investor Statement to the G7 and a supporting letter published in the Financial Times. We continue to play an active part in the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI).

We voted to support the shareholder resolution at Royal Dutch Shell brought by ‘Follow This’, a Dutch NGO. The resolution called on Shell to set and publish targets for reducing GHG emissions aligned with the Paris Agreement, with such targets including Scope I, II & III emissions. The resolution attracted around 5.5% support, with Shell arguing its published Scope III emissions ambitions represented sufficient progress.

Plastics

Concern about the impact of plastic waste on the environment and in the oceans is concentrating investor attention. We have joined a collaborative initiative called the ‘Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance’ which intends to engage actively on plastic pollution and on the design and sustainability of plastic packaging. The Alliance is planning focused engagement in the UK with food retailers and consumer staples groups on reducing exposure to plastic waste and making waste streams more environmentally sustainable. It is encouraging that over 40 companies, including Tesco, Unilever and Nestlé have signed up to the UK Plastic Pact initiated by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) which has four ambitious targets including 100% plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Water

On behalf of the Church Investors Group (CIG) we have now completed our initial engagement work on water stewardship. Using the CDP water survey, we engaged with nineteen UK and European companies to encourage greater governance, disclosure and oversight of systemic water risk. Sixteen companies responded with positive outcomes, four expect to contribute to the CDP survey in future, and a further four are actively reviewing participation. Five companies provided detailed responses on their own water management programmes. We will now review the results with CIG.

Human and labour rights

We received responses from Unilever and Associated British Foods to our concerns around labour conditions on tea plantations. These remain an acutely complex socio-cultural challenge, and one in which we have engaged in the past. Unilever’s priorities are housing and sanitation in Assam and it assured us that it is ‘driving the industry to make time-bound improvements’. AB Foods (via its subsidiary Twinings) is also leading a step-change by ‘introducing a new framework to evaluate human rights risk’. We are encouraged that parts of the industry is showing commitment to improving the lives of estate workers, and we will continue to engage pro-actively for change, albeit this remains one of the more intractable challenges for investors.

Mining and Faith Reflections Initiative

We remain actively committed to the ecumenical process known as the Mining and Faith Reflections Initiative. The churches have led fruitful conversations with mining executives over time, and are now reflecting on potential next steps that support mutually beneficial dialogue between the churches and the mining sector, and which will include shared theological principles for engagement.

Farm animal welfare

During the quarter we formally joined a new partnership with FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return). FAIRR has led investor efforts that draw attention to the overuse of antibiotics in the farm animal supply chain, and which we have supported. FAIRR is also leading new research and engagement into the effects of protein and animal husbandry on climate change. We expect to work with FAIRR as they develop collaborative efforts around other relevant farm animal issues.

Executive remuneration

The June quarter traditionally marks the peak of the voting season in the UK and Europe. 2018 has been relatively quiet with few major pay revolts. However, the Investment Association has noted a sharp increase in shareholder protest more generally and in particular against the re-election of directors incurring 20% or more opposition. In the second quarter we opposed the re-election of 228 UK directors or 19% of the total.

We remain focused on opposing excessive executive pay but we have also strengthened our approach towards workplace fairness, boardroom diversity and climate change. Where boards have insufficient gender diversity we routinely vote against Nomination Committee chairs. Instances this quarter included Rio Tinto, BP, Smith & Nephew, WPP, Anglo American, Standard Chartered, Centrica and London Stock Exchange Group.

During the quarter we voted at 62 UK meetings, opposing or abstaining 16% of resolutions. We opposed over 60% of votes on remuneration policies and reports. In Europe, we voted at 187 meetings, and took action in 21% of cases, where re-election of directors and executive pay were the main issues of contention.

Voting Report – March 2018

Ethical Investment Review March 2018

Climate change

We have been focused this quarter on our climate change project. We are focussed on determining the extent to which fossil fuel company business investment plans comply with the Paris Agreement to keep the average rise in temperature to “well below 2C”. We already exclude a number of companies on climate change grounds under our three existing climate change policies. We have now developed a methodology for analysing companies.

For temperature rises to be limited, levels of coal, oil and gas consumption will have to be considerably lower than today, even though some fossil fuel use will continue up to and beyond 2050.

Our methodology, recently agreed, will include examining:

  • The current asset mix of extractives
  • Capital expenditure on exploration and production
  • Climate strategy and governance
  • Positive steps taken towards transition, and
  • Decreasing direct emissions

It will take some time to evaluate our existing holdings using this approach to our direct holdings and we will conduct an extensive round of engagement as we do so. We will assess new climate change scenarios and company data as they are published. Royal Dutch Shell has recently published data on its Scope 3 emissions (emissions from use of its products) and ‘ambitions’ for reducing them.

As founding members of the Transition Pathway Initiative we have welcomed the TPI’s developing thinking and planned updates on sector analysis for oil, gas, and electric utilities.

The financial sector has an important role to play in terms of business commitment to financing the transition to a low carbon economy. We have therefore begun to consider the role banks play in their lending decisions and to what extent these are consistent with the transition to a well below 2C world.

Fixed interest policy

We apply our Christian approach to ethical investment to all asset classes. However, bonds and equities differ with respect to the types of instruments in which we might invest and their issuance. We now have a policy for this area to guide us through the nuances of applying our overall approach to this asset class. The Policy sets out how we address ethical challenges when investing in Gilts (government debt), supranational, sub sovereign, agency, and corporate bonds. The new Policy is available on our website.

Human and labour rights

Supply chain risks dominate in terms of the potential for complicity in human rights violations. We contacted Berkeley Group following reports of child labour in the Indian granite market. The company confirmed it sources no granite from the regions at risk in India, and has comprehensive supply chain mapping in place to manage potential risks arising from child, forced or bonded labour. We have also written to Associated British Foods and Unilever to ask how they assess labour and human rights conditions on Assam tea estates. Labour conditions in particular appear to have deteriorated since our last round of engagement with wages among the lowest in India and allegedly falling below the State minimum. This remains a complex socio-cultural challenge.

Tax justice

The payment of tax is an important corporate responsibility. It is important therefore that companies are transparent about how they pay tax and how they arrange their affairs to minimise tax payments. We have been working alongside the wider Methodist Church on this issue and have now published a policy on tax justice. We have focused on Biblical principles, current issues around fair tax, recent activity and the approach to engagement with companies. We have published our thinking on tax in a Position Paper, and the new Policy, on our website.

Plastics

Plastic waste can substantially damage the environment and urgent action is required across different sectors. We are looking at how companies tackle the issues around plastic waste. Our focus is on single-use plastic (bottles, cups, straws etc.) where these are seldom recycled, and micro-plastics (used in cosmetics and cleaning products). Further analysis will focus on key companies, looking at their policies and processes for reducing plastic use and how they work with packaging companies in terms of innovation and design.

Nestlé

Our annual in-depth meeting with Nestlé UK took place during the quarter. We received updates on BMS (breast milk substitutes) issues, human rights in the cocoa and coffee supply chains, Nestlé’s response to the debate on single use disposable plastic, Modern Slavery, and health & safety across its global operations.

Extractive industries

We continue to be active participants in the Mining and Faith Reflections Initiative and attended two half-day meetings facilitated by Anglo American. These debated the role of mining in development and also heard a NGO perspective on the role mining can play in local communities. We continue to work ecumenically with church denominations on developing common ground in our approach to mining.

Executive remuneration

Prior to the beginning of the peak voting season in the UK we published our 2018 UK Stewardship Code Statement. We have been rated ‘Tier I’ by the FRC (Financial Reporting Council) in recognition of our commitment to transparency. The Statement is available on the website.

Our new voting policy, developed with the Church Investors Group, was launched during the quarter. We remain focused on executive pay but have ratcheted up our approach towards workplace fairness, boardroom gender diversity, and climate change. Where boards are less than 25% female, we will vote against the chairs of the Nomination Committee.

We wrote to the Chairman of housebuilder Persimmon which has been heavily criticised for an executive incentive scheme that has delivered excessively. The Chairman had resigned over the scandal, recognising the Scheme had been poorly designed. We sought assurances that the scale of awards would be reduced and that a moratorium on future pay-outs be imposed pending a review.

Tax Justice

Introduction

The payment of tax is a contribution to the common good that enables a state to provide a range of public services for the benefit of all. It is the position of the Church that individuals and corporate bodies have an ethical obligation to obey the spirit, as well as the letter of the law on tax.

Tax justice has become a significant political and ethical issue in recent years. Scandals highlighting tax avoidance on the part of some large multinational companies in particular have raised the profile of tax justice, not least during years of restricted growth in public spending. This has contributed to growing pressure on Government and international agencies, such as the G7, G20 and OECD to improve legislation and enforcement, and on companies to organise their tax arrangements in a responsible manner that is within both the spirit and the letter of the law.

Tax is a complex, technical issue; it is not for the individual investor necessarily to engage with the detail, but on general principles of transparency and disclosure. This Position Paper sets out the biblical background, the position of the Methodist and other Churches, and scopes how the CFB may seek to engage with companies on tax justice.

Biblical background

Tax and an obligation to pay are mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. Biblical tradition points to the important role tax plays in creating a more just society and in establishing correct relationships. Deuteronomy 26:12-13 has a clear expectation that a tithe (one tenth of annual produce or earnings), should be used to support “the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied”. When, in the New Testament, Jesus is asked whether it is lawful to pay taxes to an (oppressive) emperor his reply, “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12: 13-17), highlights that the Roman Empire has a legitimate demand on people’s incomes, but reminds us that God’s demands are even more important.

Tax facilitates complex beneficial economic relationships within society. Not all of these relationships can be reconciled through a simple contract. Income or profit is generated using labour, skills, services and infrastructure, some of which it does not directly pay for. Tax provides for the payment of security, education, welfare and healthcare, as well as the legal framework to ensure fair transactions and property rights. Tax is therefore part of the complex and interconnected web of human relationships. In Romans, Paul writes “pay to all what is due to them – taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due… honour to whom honour is due… Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:7).

The Bible also makes clear that the payment of tax, when rightfully due, is legitimate; “therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment, but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour” (Romans 13:6).

The position of the Methodist Church

Biblical tradition highlights the importance of taxation, and the legitimate demands the State may make. This interdependent relationship suggests that tax must be demanded in a way that is fair and proportionate. In return, tax that is legitimately demanded should be paid. Methodist Conference in its reply to Memorial 30 at the 2015 Conference also recognised that in seeking to build a just society, institutions and individuals have a responsibility to respond not just to the letter, but to the spirit of the law on tax. This responsibility applies with particular gravity to the Church itself, given its role in building a more just society.

The Methodist Conference has received reports of particular relevance to the question of tax justice, including “The Ethics of Wealth Creation” 1 (1990), and “Of Equal Value: Poverty and Inequality in the UK” 2 (2011).

Conference also received a Memorial in 2012 (M32)3 on Tax Justice from the Birmingham District Synod, welcoming the 2011 report (above) and asked Conference (inter-alia) to:

  • Urge all relevant sections of the Connexional Team to give active support to the issues being raised by the Methodist Tax Justice Network (MTJN) as and when they are able.

In reply, it was noted that ‘The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) is already working with Christian Aid, Church Action on Poverty and the embryonic Methodist Tax Justice Network to explore how these issues might be further promoted. The Conference therefore accepts the Memorial, asks the Methodist Council to ensure that these issues are included within the work-plans of the Connexional Team as resources allow, and recommends that churches and individuals use the study resource material from both the ‘Trace the Tax’ and the ‘Close the Gap’ campaigns 4 to aid understanding of the issues raised in the Memorial.

In “Of Equal Value: Poverty and Inequality in the UK” (2011), the Methodist Church acknowledged the importance of tax in creating a just society by stating that “money paid in fair taxation is a gift freely given; a contribution to the common good. When a proportion of this money is fairly paid in benefits to the least well off, it contributes to creating the just and compassionate society that the Church would wish to see. Those who would abuse these systems by not abiding by either their letter or their spirit push the goal of a just society further from our grasp.”

In the “Ethics of Wealth Creation” (1990) the importance of structuring capitalism so as to achieve international as well as national justice was highlighted. “Christians must struggle with the fact that we have a clear idea of a global common good, but no structure that embodies our common citizenship. Capitalism must be shaped to address this problem and so must the Church.” In 2014, Christian Aid estimated that $160bn a-year is lost to the developing world as a result of tax evasion/avoidance by multinational companies. 5 Thus, tax justice forms an essential part of the Church’s strong commitment to international justice.

In “Of Equal Value”, the Methodist Church recognised the importance integrity has in its own financial affairs when responding to government cuts. “Many of the new difficulties facing the poorest and most vulnerable are due to decreases in government expenditure. In order to speak about these cuts with integrity we must ensure that we corporately and individually contribute to government funds by paying all the taxes owed. These contributions are both a moral and legal duty; therefore it is not sufficient to obey merely the letter of the law, but also the spirit.” This point can be seen to apply more broadly to questions of social justice and inequality. If the Church fails to fulfil its moral and legal duty to pay tax then its ability to speak out in support of the poorest in society will be compromised.

The 2015 Conference received a further Memorial (M30) 6 from the Birmingham District which has led directly to the preparation of further work by JACEI and the CFB. This Memorial welcomed the “progress that has been made on communicating the issue of tax justice throughout the Methodist Church by the Methodist Tax Justice Network (MTJN) especially in association with the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT). The Memorial then asked Conference (inter alia) to call upon:

  • JACEI in conjunction with the Central Finance Board urgently to develop a Position Paper leading towards a Policy Statement on tax justice in order to address companies in which the Church invests on this issue…and to keep the Church informed on progress.

The Memorial response also stated that

  • Conference directs the Methodist Council to ensure that the Connexional team work with JACEI and the Central Finance Board to identify when further work on these [tax justice] issues can be completed and further directs Council to review progress by January 2017.

At a fringe event at the 2016 Conference, the then Chief Executive of the CFB, Bill Seddon, contributed to an event on tax, the transcript of which has been published on the CFB website 7.

Summary of Methodist Church position on tax

The Methodist Church’s position on tax might thus be summarised as follows:

  • The state has a legitimate expectation that people will pay the taxes they owe;
  • Such tax, fairly paid, can contribute to a more just and relational society;
  • The payment of tax is therefore legitimate and bears both a legal and a moral duty;
  • It is correct to abide not only by the letter of the law, but also within its spirit;
  • As such, the Church expects people to pay the taxes they legitimately owe;
  • There is an expectation that companies should be transparent about their corporate tax affairs and pay what they owe.

Current issues around taxation

One of the primary difficulties arising from any discussion around tax is definitions.

According to the OECD glossary of tax terms:8

  • Tax avoidance is “a term generally used to describe the arrangement that is intended to reduce…tax liability and that although the arrangement could be strictly legal it is usually in contradiction with the intent of the law it purports to follow” (emphasis added). Thus avoidance is understood in terms of intention as opposed to legal structures.
  • Tax evasion is “is generally used to mean illegal arrangements where liability to tax is hidden or ignored, i.e. the taxpayer pays less tax than….is legally obligated…by hiding income or information from the tax authorities.”

For the purposes of this Position Paper the term “tax avoidance” will mean actions which reduce tax liability using tax planning mechanisms that are legal but outside the spirit or intent of the law.

The emergence of technology and e-commerce has undoubtedly added complexity and allowed the flow of capital for tax planning purposes to be pursued with increased aggression. In 2012, a series of scandals emerged involving major multinational companies avoiding tax from the UK Government. Amazon, Starbucks and Google came in for particular criticism from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. 9 More recently, data leaks (such as the Paradise and Panama Papers exposé’s) have thrown light on the methods used for tax avoidance and the identities of individuals and companies involved in such practices.

Concerns have been raised about the implication such practices have, both for the tax revenues of the exchequer, and the reputation of businesses that benefit from their license to operate under the Rule of Law, but where they contribute very little to that society. One obvious example is Amazon booking UK revenues and profits in Luxembourg so as to benefit from a much lower rate of marginal tax.

The Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) argues that the behaviour of a business in tax planning ‘falls into the realm of ethics because businesses have a choice about their approach to interpreting the law and hence paying taxes. Whilst remaining legal in all it does, where a business draws its ethical line regarding how to interpret the tax laws and arrange its affairs is subject to a good deal of discretion.’10 This can extend to where it pays its taxes.

Public opinion has become increasingly intolerant of tax avoidance on the part of companies and has generally been ahead of national and international authorities, such as the OECD, in wanting it addressed.

One issue that raises concern is the use of ‘tax havens’. A haven may typically be a jurisdiction which exerts a small, nominal or nil tax rates as part of its regime. Historically, tax havens have been associated with secrecy. Tax has become something of a ‘competitive sport’ for some companies, moving domicile to benefit from a lower overall tax rate (Shire’s move to Ireland, and Ferguson’s move to Switzerland are just two examples). Other companies may have subsidiary ‘shell’ or holding’ companies through which monies may be channelled, and whose purpose is, at least in part, obscure (e.g. subsidiaries registered in Grand Cayman, Luxembourg or other well-known havens such as Gibraltar and the Channel Islands). In both cases these arrangements may be legitimate, but transparency remains key in order to retain confidence that corporate policies are fair, appropriate and just. In recent times, there have been international efforts to bring greater transparency to the use of havens and by jurisdictions themselves. The OECD has identified three factors as part of any assessment in identifying whether a jurisdiction is a ‘tax haven’ 11:

  • Nil or only nominal taxes – Tax havens impose nil or only nominal taxes (generally or in special circumstances) and offer themselves, or are perceived to offer themselves, as a place to be used by non-residents to escape high taxes in their country of residence.
  • Protection of personal financial information – Tax havens typically have laws or administrative practices under which businesses and individuals can benefit from strict rules and other protections against scrutiny by foreign tax authorities. This prevents the transmittance of information about taxpayers who are benefiting from the low tax jurisdiction.
  • Lack of transparency – A lack of transparency in the operation of the legislative, legal or administrative provisions is another factor used to identify tax havens.

CFB and JACEI activity

The CFB and JACEI have been engaged with the subject of tax justice for sometime and have received frequent notes and updates. This activity has included:

  • JACEI receiving a briefing on tax and ethical investment from the CFB in 2013
  • JACEI receiving a tax justice paper in March 2013 prepared by JPIT, and in turn responding to correspondence the CFB had had with the Methodist Tax Justice Network
  • CFB participating in the ‘Tax Dialogue: on responsible tax for sustainable development’ in 2015
  • CFB participating in and delivered a speech at a fringe event at 2016 Conference entitled ‘The Joy of Tax’
  • CFB noting the adoption of the fair tax mark by SSE and engaging with the company on tax
  • CFB participating in the roundtable on tax convened by JPIT in the autumn of 2017

Other Church, charity and NGO positions on tax

It is in the context of increased reputational risk and a greater understanding of the issues around tax justice, that a number of organisations, including the Church of England, the Quakers and the Church Investors Group have begun to scope how they might engage with companies on tax. Other organisations such as charities and non-governmental organisations, including Christian Aid, ActionAid and Oxfam have well-established public campaigns on tax. They have been engaging with companies that have suffered significant reputational damage as a result of their tax affairs and are helpfully constructing frameworks for what a ‘good tax policy’ might look like.

Tax remains a novel and under-reported issue for faith investors.

The Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) outlined some thinking on tax and investment in July 2013 in which the EIAG recommended ‘that tax ethics should be a subject for investor engagement where it appears that a company’s approach is blatantly aggressive or abusive’ 12. The note set out some background, the business and ethical dimensions (‘the way in which a company approaches tax is part of its relationship with the societies in which it operates’), and rejected the view that corporate tax planning is only a matter of legal compliance.

The Church of England’s policy recommendations included:

  • Noting that significantly lower levels of tax than peers may indicate that a company is an outlier and should be the subject of engagement;
  • The EIAG outlined specific concerns around tax justice in developing economies;
  • The propensity for promoting tax avoidance and transparency
  • The objective of engagement should be to encourage the development of and alignment with good documented tax policy and voluntary public disclosure of tax paid

The Church Investors Group has also been engaged in the subject of tax justice and tax transparency with presentations at its 2015 Conference by Christian Aid (‘Corporate Tax and Morality: Lessons for Responsible Investors’ and the Tax Justice Network (‘Responsible Investment and Corporate tax’).

The CIG commissioned collaborative investor engagement on tax in 2017, led by the Church of England, will be focused on the global IT and pharmaceutical sectors.

Both Christian Aid and ActionAid have been vocal in the debate on corporate tax avoidance and have published briefings and primers for investors on how to engage with companies.13

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust 14 has produced ‘a Statement of Expectations’ in respect of its Fund Managers. The Statement acknowledges that ‘most companies face a competitive and uneven tax playing field, and calculating what the ‘right’ amount of tax they should be paying is not always clear cut’. Whilst JCRT recognises the importance of inter-governmental agency in reforming the tax regime, it notes that ‘we as investors…should not remain passive about this issue’. To that end, its Statement provides a series of actions expected of Fund Managers including:

  • Monitoring the level of corporate tax payments as an indicator of ‘good’ behaviour
  • Divesting from those companies that are clearly exploiting the tax regime and where engagement is likely to be ineffectual
  • Engaging with companies that are clearly exploiting the tax regime and where investor pressure may effect change, and
  • Supporting collaborative effort on tax reform at a policy and corporate level and encourage use of the Fair Tax Mark.

Fair Tax Mark

The Fair Tax Mark 15 was launched in 2014 and is an independent not-for-profit community benefit society (an industrial and provident society supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust). Its rationale is to accredit companies with a kite-mark by seeking “to encourage and recognise organisation that pay the right amount of corporation tax at the right time and in the right place”.

Take up has been predominately among smaller, co-operative or private businesses. Just one FTSE100 company (energy utility SSE) and two FTSE250 companies (Go Ahead Group and Marshalls) have become ‘fair tax compliant’.

Engagement strategy

Informed and meaningful engagement on tax policy with different companies requires a high level of technical expertise owing to the complexity of tax law and the multi- jurisdictional nature in which it is paid.

It would generally be neither feasible nor desirable for investor engagement to make technical determinations around the intentions (or otherwise) of individual financial structures by companies. Fruitful engagement should be centred on encouraging tax transparency and on how companies manage and disclose their tax arrangements.

Transparency and disclosure is viewed as the most beneficial avenue for engagement as many of the financial structures that often determine tax liabilities are occluded. Secrecy and complexity obfuscate understanding. While such structures may have legitimate use (including entirely appropriate tax planning and some use of havens), secrecy raises concerns about the appetite and desire ultimately to avoid tax.

A transparent tax policy leads to greater confidence that financial engineering has a legitimate purpose and is acceptable from a societal standpoint.

JACEI contends that a Policy Statement on tax would enable CFB to engage effectively with companies on tax, and that such a Policy would primarily be used in routine discussions with companies where clarity or greater understanding of approaches to tax planning is required.

Primers published and developed by Christian Aid and ActionAid, and in turn built around tax policy and transparency are helpful guides in developing a tax engagement policy for the CFB. Extracts from key guidance is provided at Appendix I.

Hallmarks of best practice in this area might therefore include:

  • A meaningful published tax policy;
  • A statement that tax compliance is understood as more than legal compliance;
  • A statement on how tax planning is arranged and managed;
  • How much tax is paid and in which jurisdictions, and;
  • A view of the progress the company is making towards adoption of the Fair Tax Mark.

JACEI also supports CFB efforts to work collaboratively with others, such as the CIG on tax by engaging with companies of concern: Tax represents a challenging issue for engagement and lends itself well to more active collaboration.

Appendex I

Towards a Responsible Investment Policy on Tax

  1. The basis of guidance in this Appendix is sourced from Responsible Tax Practices by Companies published by ActionAid in 2013 16.
  2. Both Christian Aid and ActionAid have published significant literature on tax over time, and have become the leading developmental advocates for reform and change. Significant literature referenced for this paper incudes:
    • Responsible Tax Policy by Companies: A Mapping and Review of Current Proposals (2015)17
    • Getting to Good: Towards Responsible Corporate tax Behaviour (2015)18
    • Tax Responsibility: The Business Case for Making Tax a Corporate Responsibility Issue (2013)19
    • Tax Responsibility: An Investor Guide (2013)20
    • Tax Responsibility (2011)21
    • The Pocket Guide to Tax Justice (2013)22
  3. A responsible investment policy on tax and focused on engagement recognises that:
    • Aggressive tax practices are a reputational, regulatory and financial risk
    • Tax responsibility is about transparency and disclosure, principally:
      • Disclosing a responsible tax policy
      • Managing compliance with the policy
      • Reporting on tax responsibly
  4. A responsible approach to tax justice will incorporate disclosure of policy, how tax planning is measured and reporting to stakeholders.

Notes

  1. http://www.methodist.org.uk/downloads/pi_ethicsofwealthcreation_90.pdf
  2. https://www.ifs.org.uk/comms/comm118.pdf
  3. http://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-conference/conference-reports/conference-reports-2012/
  4. www.christianaoid.org.uk; www.church-poverty.org.uk
  5. http://www.christianaid.org.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/comment/the-price-of-tax-dodging-in-the-developing-world.aspx
  6. http://www.methodist.org.uk/about-us/the-methodist-conference/conference-reports/conference-reports-2015/
  7. http://www.cfbmethodistchurch.org.uk/ethics/the-joy-of-tax.html
  8. http://www.oecd.org/ctp/glossaryoftaxterms.html
  9. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20288077
  10. https://www.ibe.org.uk/userassets/briefings/ibe_briefing_31_tax_avoidance_as_an_ethical_issue_for_business.pdf
  11. www.oecd.org – originally published in 2008
  12. https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2018-01/Corporate%20tax%20ethics%202013.pdf
  13. See Christian Aid and ActionAid for resources on tax www.christianaid.org.uk; www.actionaid.org.uk
  14. https://www.jrct.org.uk/userfiles/documents/Statement%20of%20expectations%20on%20corporate%20tax.pdf
  15. https://fairtaxmark.net/
  16. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/responsible_tax_practice.pdf
  17. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/responsible_tax_practice.pdf
  18. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/getting_to_good_towards_responsible_corporate_tax_behaviour.pdf
  19. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/doc_lib/tax_responsibility.pdf
  20. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/tax_guide_for_investors_final.pdf
  21. https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/doc_lib/tax_responsibility.pdf
  22. https://www.christianaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-02/Tax-pocket-guide-September-2013.pdf