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Where would Jesus invest?

Uniting Church Superannuation General Manager Neil Kent. Photo by Osker Lau

AS THE Uniting Church handles more complex portfolios of financial resources, applying biblical and social justice principles about where to invest money has become an increasingly important issue.

Churches which have long traditions about issues such as gambling and alcohol are understandably nervous when it comes to seeing their money invested in share portfolios which include breweries and companies managing or producing gaming facilities.

The Queensland Synod first set down an ethical investment policy in 1982 and this was revised and expanded by the Council of Synod in 1996.

As well as concern for issues of the physical and emotional health of people the policy asks that the church avoid investing in companies that create or perpetuate excessive reliance on militarism or manufacturing armaments or weapons of mass destruction.

The policy states that investment decisions should also take into consideration any serious inhibition of human rights in Australia or overseas that might exploit underprivileged people by providing wages or working conditions which are significantly below the accepted norms in the society in which they work.

Ethical investment issues are key considerations for the Uniting Church Investment Service (U.C.I.S.) and Uniting Church Superannuation.

Uniting Church Superannuation General Manager Neil Kent said that an option for allocating superannuation to ethical investment is now available to the 12,000 clients who hold their superannuation funds with the Uniting Church.

Mr Kent said that the ethical investment fund used by UC Superannuation will not invest in companies which mine uranium for weapons manufacture, produce alcohol or tobacco, manufacture weapons and armaments or have been subject to human rights or environmental prosecutions.

He said it looks to invest in companies which focus on renewable energy, eco-tourism and sustainable agricultural products.

Of particular interest in the current climate are the environmental issues covered by the Queensland Synod’s Ethical Investment Guidelines.

The Guidelines reject investment in areas that do not comply with acceptable international minimum standards for pollution control or involve substantial change to the environment which will not be made good at the conclusion of the activity.

It also rejects investment which is dependent upon the destruction or wastage of non-renewable resources for which viable alternatives exist.

Member of St Andrews Uniting Church Yeppoon and enthusiastic environmentalist Mr Arthur Hunt sees ethical investment as a big part of his personal eco-responsibility.

“There is little point in being environmentally and socially responsible at home if we support companies that do the opposite on a bigger scale,” said Mr Hunt who distributes an electronic newsletter Sustainable Housing in CQ (Central Queensland).

“Some financial commentators are still sceptical about socially responsible investment of superannuation and other funds, but our experience is that it has proven to be a rewarding option, both financially and ethically.”

The Victoria/Tasmania Synod’s Funds Management captured national media attention when it sold its BHP Billiton shares after its takeover of uranium miner WMC in 2005 and, in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into uranium resources, that Synod argued that any economic benefits gained through increased uranium mining were outweighed by moral concerns about nuclear technology.

While ethical investment has been on the church’s agenda for the past 25 years, it seems agencies of the Uniting Church will increasingly take into account unacceptable levels of social injury or environmental damage when making decisions about where the church’s money is invested.

To read more about Uniting Church Superannuation click here.

Photo : Uniting Church Superannuation General Manager Neil Kent. Photo by Osker Lau