Ethical Hub: Policy Statement - Screening and Engagement

Mission

The Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church (CFB) has defined its mission, alongside the Church, as: seeking practical solutions which combine Christian ethics and investment returns. The CFB’s aim is to:

  • provide a high quality investment service seeking above average returns
  • follow a discipline in which the ethical dimension is an integral part of all investment decisions
  • construct investment portfolios consistent with the moral stance and teachings of the Christian faith
  • encourage strategic thinking on the ethics of investment
  • be a Christian witness in the investment community

Screening

The CFB integrates ethical considerations into its investment process, evaluating environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks in the businesses in which it invests. Screening is applied both to stock exchange and fixed interest securities.

The CFB applies ethical exclusions by way of screening that seeks to avoid investment in companies with material or significant exposure to the following areas of business activity:

  • Alcohol and tobacco production
  • Military products and services (including defensive systems and components, platforms and weapons)
  • Gambling and gaming
  • Pornographic and violent material
  • High-interest ‘door step’ lending

Companies in the extractives sector are excluded from investment until being ‘positively’ screened as acceptable for investment, usually following a period of engagement.

Under our climate change policies companies are excluded where they have a significant exposure to high emitting sectors such as coal and oil sands, or where they are ‘wholly or mainly’ committed to fossil fuel exploration.

Other ad-hoc exclusions may be applied from time to time, for instance where there may be human rights concerns. This would normally follow a period of close engagement and dialogue.

Engagement

The principal means by which the CFB exercises ethical stewardship is through engagement with investee companies. This is sometimes known as ‘active ownership’. Engagement is applied both to stock exchange and fixed interest securities. The way we approach Stewardship is set out as part of our annual Statement under the UK Stewardship Code, to which we are a Tier I signatory.

The CFB encourages high standards of ethical business practice and will seek to engage where we:

  • require information or seek understanding of a company’s approach to specific ethical issues
  • identify material risks where disclosure is absent or inadequate
  • seek to respond to an ethical controversy that has impacted the company

Engagement is carried out by all members of the CFB investment team, including senior management via written correspondence (letters and e-mail), telephone conference calls, or face to face meetings.

The CFB may choose to engage with investee companies collaboratively. The CFB is involved in a number of collaborative investor initiatives in which effort is pooled. The principal, but not sole, means of exercising such engagement is through our membership of the ecumenical Church Investors Group (CIG), https://churchinvestorsgroup.org.uk where we lead or support various engagement strands. One of the core strategic goals of the CIG has been defined as:

  • to increase the emphasis on engagement and the scale of the engagement work we [the CIG] undertake

Other collaborative engagements are conducted through our memberships of the IIGCC (Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change), PRI (Principles of Responsible Investment), BBFAW (Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare), and FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return). The CFRB uses other investor tools and benchmarks such as the Access to Medicines Index and Access to Nutrition Index, in order to conduct engagement.

The CFB routinely engages with investee companies itself on a range of material ESG issues, which have recently included:

  • The Living Wage
  • Executive remuneration
  • Funeral poverty
  • Corporate lobbying
  • Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking
  • Health & safety incidents in the extractives sector
  • Reported human rights violations
  • Conflict minerals (telecommunication companies)
  • Fairtrade
  • Farm animal welfare and antibiotic use
  • Breast milk substitutes

Responses are evaluated to determine whether further intervention is required, or whether the engagement may be deemed satisfactory and therefore closed. Where a company fails to respond after a reasonable period of time, a follow up approach is made, either to the same recipient or (wherever possible) to an alternative named individual.

Company preparedness in response to climate change and board diversity have been integrated into our corporate governance voting policy, which may result in oppose votes being registered against the re- election of individual directors, or against the adoption of the Annual Report & Accounts.

Engagement is normally targeted at senior management, specifically:

  • Corporate Governance: Chairman, Senior Independent NED or Company Secretary
  • All other ethical and corporate responsibility issues: Chief Executive, Head of Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility or Head of Investor Relations.

Meetings are typically held with sustainability or corporate responsibility professionals or with the senior leadership team.

From time to time the CFB is invited to consult on corporate remuneration proposals, and it is our policy to respond constructively to these consultations.

The CFB may respond to, or participate in, public policy consultations on either corporate governance, corporate reporting or wider stewardship reviews, where these are of material interest. The CFB may also engage with other public bodies such as regulators, government or supra-national bodies such as the OECD or EU on specific matters pertinent to ethical investment stewardship.

Reporting & Communication

CFB engagement activity is published quarterly in our Responsible Investment Review for clients and online at http://www.cfbmethodistchurch.org.uk/ethics/. More information on engagement activity is published in the annual JACEI Report to Conference, which is also available online.

March 2018