The Church of England fails to convince on CSRPosted: November 9, 2011
City workers think there is too big a divide between rich and poor. This is one of the apparently contradictory findings in a report issued on 7 November by the St Paul’s Institute – the cathedral’s thinktank – following a survey of 515 City workers.
And the week before, the Bishop of London Richard Chartres asked former investment banker and committed Anglican Ken Costa to ‘start a dialogue’ on ethical capitalism.
These announcements suggest the Church of England is trying to move on from the embarrassment caused by three resignations at St Paul’s and show the Occupy protesters that it is taking their concerns seriously.
The report does contain some fascinating examples of ‘ethical incoherence’. A majority of those surveyed thought that City bond traders, stock brokers and bankers and so on were paid too much, but around 2/3 of them were working in the City primarily because of the salary and bonuses. They thought the deregulation of the Big Bang in 1986 had made the City less ethical, but of course the prevailing view among financial professionals is that too much regulation is a bad thing.
And in an article in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Costa promised an ‘interactive dialogue’ and ‘penetrating questions about shareholders’.
I have no doubt that the Church is genuinely concerned about the morality of capitalism, but find it difficult to take these initiatives seriously.
Mr Costa says it’s too early in the recovery from recession to talk about taxation. This seems pretty out of step with recent moves for a Tobin tax on financial transactions that was on the agenda at the G20 meeting in Cannes. And in the article, his example of a ‘penetrating question’ is the old chestnut ‘Is it still the case that the promotion of shareholder value is the object of all companies?’
He goes on to suggest that shareholders such as pension funds should be activists and ask difficult questions of their investee companies. This is also not new. The idea of institutional investors as active owners is the second of the six Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), an initiative launched in 2006. More than 900 investment institutions with assets under management of about $30 trillion are now signatories to the PRI. Surely, this major international initiative has not passed Mr Costa by?
In his introduction to the report, the former canon chancellor of St Paul’s the Reverend Giles Fraser also appears out of touch and behind the times. In a paragraph that will make any CSR professional simultaneously wince and go slack-jawed, he suggests that financial companies wanting to demonstrate their CSR credentials should embrace ‘charitable causes that were less sentimentally compelling [than ‘kids and orchestras’]. Erm… what about the impacts of their core business of lending and investing? Or their contribution to climate change? Or the quality of service they provide their customers?
After the protesters had been in the St Paul’s courtyard for a few days, the Dean said their voice had been heard. He offered a debate on the issues and hoped they would now break camp. While the report of the survey findings and the initiative with Ken Costa demonstrate a desire to be part of the debate, I remain unconvinced of the Church of England’s appetite for genuine engagement on the City’s role in economic injustice. And I am sure these efforts will do even less to convince the protestors to leave.