Socially responsible investment has a long history in The United Church of Canada. In 1968 the church established a Committee on Investing Church Funds for Social Purposes, which in 1973 published “All That Money Can Buy: the movement for corporate social responsibility affects you, your money and your church.” It explored the issues in investing for social purposes and challenged the church at all levels to respond.
The United Church of Canada was soon established as a pioneer in Canada in one of the tools of responsible investment—shareholder engagement with companies on issues of corporate responsibility. It played a leadership role in the establishment in 1975 of the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility (TCCR), an ecumenical coalition of Canadian churches and religious organizations. The United Church’s Treasury and Pension funds provided leadership on a broad range of social, environmental and corporate governance issues.
The church also applied a negative screen to its holdings, refusing to invest in alcohol, gambling, pornography, tobacco, and, later, weapons. In addition to this negative screen preventing certain investments, the church in 1986 made a decision to divest the shares it held in companies with investments in South Africa, in protest against apartheid.
As well, the church made “social purpose” or “impact” investments in Oikocredit (lending to international microfinance and cooperative development organizations) and the Canadian Alternative Investment Cooperative (lending to Canadian organizations and worker cooperatives lacking access to traditional sources of financing for the support of disadvantaged peoples and the environment).
In 2001, KAIROS brought together the work several Canadian ecumenical coalitions including TCCR. Its mandate included work on corporate social responsibility (CSR), but it was eventually unable to continue to give priority to coordinating church shareholder advocacy as one of the means for promotion of CSR. Around the same time, the church outsourced investment selection and proxy voting to fund managers, and developed “best of sector” screening guidelines for these managers in addition to the negative screen. As a result, for several years, United Church implementation of its socially responsible investment policies focused only on portfolio screening.
However, questions about socially responsible investment were raised at several General Council meetings. As well, publications commissioned by the Moderator’s Consultation on Faith and the Economy in 2000 provided resources for continuing discussion by United Church members about options for responsible investment. The publication of Mission and Investing: A Guide for United Church of Canada Congregations and Organizations (2002) helped to broaden the discussion. Questions to the national church from some United Church members on the implications of responsible investment for investment in Israel and Palestine, resource extraction, and climate change led the church in 2010 to begin a review of its policies and their implementation.