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Church of England to pressure firms into improving diversity via its investment arm

by Will Maule

The Church of England's investment arm is ramping up pressure on companies it invests with to ensure they are hitting diversity targets. 

The Church Commissioners, which manages the denomination's £8.7bn fund, urged firms to ensure that their senior teams are ethnically diverse and that biodiversity protections are being ensured. 

The Commissioners warned that if these values are not upheld, they will start sending out letters to the worst offenders in their portfolio by the middle of next month.

Speaking to the Guardian, Bess Joffe, the Church Commissioners’ new head of responsible investment, said that members would begin casting protest votes at annual shareholder meetings if the diversity demands are not met. 

“I think you’ll see some vote impact as early as 2021. But of course it’s not going to be taking companies off guard – we will be communicating our expectations in the next four to six weeks,” she said. 

The investment body has previously voted against companies due to their attitudes on climate change and because of executive boards that are absent of women. 

Last year, it voted against Prudential’s board over an “unacceptably low” numbers of female directors and have pressured Exxon over their emissions policies. 

Biodiversity and ethnicity, Joffe said, are essential aspects of the Commissioners' new ethical investment plan.

“We thought about recasting the way we think about things into two broad themes, so we have respect for the planet and respect for people. And I think that fits really well with the Church’s overall mission,” she said. 

“Ethnic diversity has not been a priority in any real way for companies,” Joffe added, noting that companies must "play their part in improving the lives of people who have been disenfranchised and left behind and who are going to suffer [disproportionately] as a result of Covid".

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