Church Investors Want to Speed Up ESG Reforms for FTSE 350 Companies

Climate change, board diversity among $27.7 billion faith group’s top priorities.

The Church Investors Group wants to hasten FTSE 350 companies’ adoption of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing principles, which they feel is coming along too slowly.

The coalition consists of the investment arms of church organizations, including the Church of England and the Methodist Church. Group members represent $27.7 billion in assets under management.

There are six areas that the asset owner unit is concerned with: corporate tax transparency, climate change, gender diversity, executive pay, living wage expectations, and board responsiveness. It says it wants to fix these problems to ensure shareholder and employee fairness as well as mitigate these risks in companies.

“As asset owners, we will continue to press with our votes the need for companies to act responsibly and work not only for the benefit of shareholders but also contribute to the wider common good in both the short and long term,” said Reverend Canon Edward Carter, who chairs the Church Investors Group.

Corporate tax transparency is a new initiative for the church investors’ voting agenda. It will vote against the FTSE 350 and Russell 50 companies that are scored at zero for transparency in the FTSE ESG Ratings in hopes that the companies will more openly disclose their activities.

Edward Mason, head of responsible investment for the Church Commissioners for England, said that tax transparency has “improved a lot in the UK but the picture is very different in the US,” when it comes to society’s  ESG concerns. He called transparent corporate tax reporting a “well-established requirement” for humanity and shareholders alike.

Climate change is another area of concern. The team wants chairs of companies with one or zero ratings from the Transition Pathway Initiative and electric utilities businesses to lower their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Boards are under fire on other fronts. The churches also want companies in the main Europe, US, Australian, and New Zealand indexes to have at least one female director. The group also says UK boards that have seen 20% or higher votes against management should be more responsive to investors’ concerns by “showing commitment to shareholder engagement and rectifying areas of high concern.”

Carlota Garcia-Manas, a senior analyst for the Church Commissioners for England, said there is “clear evidence that companies with good corporate governance and diverse boards demonstrate stronger performance and have better reputations.”

As for pay, the coalition demands FTSE 350 members should disclose pay gaps between the CEO and the average employee. It also won’t endorse FTSE 100 telecom companies that are not Living Wage accredited, a requirement previously applied to just financial and pharmaceutical companies.

“Ultimately, a business is shooting itself in the foot if it does not get this right,” said Stephen Beer, chief investment officer at the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church and vice chair of the Church Investors Group.

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