Pensions can make change

Methodist minister and ECCR trustee, Revd David Haslam, explores the importance of finding out how the money in our pension funds is invested.

The Money Makes Change programme includes asking about our pensions. Many of us have money in pension funds, which we really don’t take a lot of notice of, but we should. Where are our pension funds investing our money? Do they have an ethical policy of investment? Is it regularly updated?

An example of how such questions can be raised is the debate going on in the Methodist Church at present over Ministers’ pensions. Traditionally Methodist investments have had a policy developed by the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment (JACEI), which has members appointed by the Methodist Conference and the Central Finance Board (CFB) which invests money on behalf of many Methodist churches. The ethical policy means no investments for example in alcohol, tobacco, the media and gambling, with a particular ongoing debate on whether there should be investments in fossil fuels.

Under growing pressure from concerned church members, the CFB has gradually been withdrawing from first coal, and now oil – especially the companies which do not have a business plan aligned with the 2015 Paris Agreement. This has meant not investing in or selling shares in a range of coal-producing companies and companies like Exxon-Mobil (active in climate change denial) and more recently BP and Total.

However the Methodist Ministers’ Pension Fund, which has separate trustees from the CFB, has been downsizing its investment through the CFB, with its ethical controls, and investing instead through the Bank of Montreal, which is a heavy investor in the tar sands industry. The extraction of tar sands, and its transport by pipelines, is linked to many environmental and human rights issues. So Methodist ministers are now asking why their pension fund is reducing its investment through the Central Finance Board, and going elsewhere, where there may not be the same ethical controls.

It is increasingly important for us, even just as individuals, to ask our pension funds if they have an ethical policy and what it is. Perhaps the most important area currently is the fossil fuel industry, especially those energy companies which have known for decades the damage that fossil fuels would cause, and yet have gone on exploring and producing in an arguably quite reckless fashion. But there are many other ethical areas which can be addressed with your pension fund.

3 ways to take action

  • Learn more about your pension and how your money is shaping the world. The Make My Money Matter campaign is a great place to start.
  • Start a conversation in your workplace, using Share Action’s resources. If you are not happy with the funds available to you then encourage your employer to review its pension provider.
  • Want to start a conversation about pensions in your church? Use our interactive workshop to get people interested. Conversation 4 includes a conversation starter on pensions and ideas for action.

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