Faith-Based Investing for Oblate International Pastoral (OIP) Investment Trust

Revered Seamus P. Finn

Executive Director, International Interfaith Investment Group (3iG) and Director of Faith-Based Investing for Oblate International Pastoral (OIP) Investment Trust

When both the Vatican and the Church of England hold “days of reflection” on mining, the equivalent of a tectonic shift has occurred. While this marriage of religion and industry may be surprising, it is not new. Indeed faith-based groups have been not only engaging but actually investing in the extractive sectors. One of those groups describes the rationale, and what impact it is hoping to achieve by driving engagement through investment.

Why should the church care about extractive? And why your group in particular?
Extraction of natural resources has been part of human development for thousands of years. People have always looked to the faith traditions for some kind of guiding principles. And the church is keenly interested in the impact of extractive sectors, notably how people’s lives are affected.
There is also a fairly large coterie of faith-based investors who own and manage funds and endowments. They want to manage the money in a way that is consistent with their beliefs and teachings. For example: Are they transparent? Are they honest? Do they pay their workers fairly? Are they concerned about human rights and the environment?

Why social justice through investment?
The social justice and investment worlds often do not interact. There is typically not much nuance in a social justice campaign, where clear slogans such as “no mining!” are needed. This may be right for a certain community. But it does not work in every circumstance.

Why is it worth investing in extractive, when some have chosen to opt out?
It is a balancing act. If you take fossil fuels off the table, it significantly narrows down the investment universe. For example, this smartphone I am holding has over 60 minerals in it, and mining contributes in some way to over 40% of economic activity. Nobody is perfect, and we believe through engagement, you can change some minds.

What is your view on the Development Partner Framework (DPF), initiated by the Kellogg Innovation Network and Anglo American? Is it different? Will it have traction?
We have always argued for a multi-stakeholder engagement process. What I like about the DPF is that it is inclusive. The industry is willing to come to the table, then invite in academics (Kellogg) and NGOs, and create a safe space where we could discuss some of the prickly issues challenging the industry. The DPF offers a practical and objective sustainability framework that companies can pursue.

The industry seems to be at an inflection point, how can it come through it and be successful?
The industry does not have an unlimited horizon. Customers will start looking for alternatives. If companies cannot guarantee a conflict- and child labor-free supply chain, then customers will vote with their feet. With the right leadership though, the industry can change.

How can extractive companies have a “moral compass” to drive this new agenda forward?
There are parallels with our conversations with pharmaceutical companies about reaching the undeserved. And about ethical conduct of banks in the financial crisis. The extractive sectors are a little different, in that they involve common resources. But we can offer moral guidance, for example encouraging companies to consider indigenous traditions looking seven generations ahead—at least 100 years—about the choices they make today. This goes beyond a life or mine and mine closure policy and includes restoring the land.

Is there a way to secure societal fairness? Is it always a dynamic or is there a sweet spot?
Every sovereign territory in which a mining company operates is different, so it is a dynamic. Companies have had mixed success with local development projects. Some companies are seriously looking at equity stakes for local communities, which can be challenging for federal governments that hold the land and sign the exploration contract. In this way, they can give communities vehicles through which to exercise responsibility and push them to determine who are their best leaders and who will manage the investment for shared community benefit. This is a big step forward from giving money to central governments and hoping for fair disbursement.

What one piece of advice would you give to extractive companies that are trying to stay ahead and thrive?
My advice would be to engage communities proactively and very early on in the process. When companies know from satellite technology they want a plot of land, prior to bidding, that is when some engagement with the local communities needs to start. This includes close oversight over subcontractors who might do the initial drilling—and who leave the first impression on a community.