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CofE to divest from oil and gas company

by Hannah Tooley

The investment is valued at £1.6 million and the company is aware of the Church of England's (CofE) plans.

The decision to remove investment from SOCO International comes after a recommendation from the Ethical Investment Advisory Group within the CofE.

The advisory group began the discussion after allegations about a series of human rights abuses, bribery and corruption in relation to SOCO International's dealing with Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2013, concerns were raised by the Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board.

The Church Commissioners manage an investment fund of around £6.7 billion. This is held in a selection of assets, including equities, real estate and alternative investment strategies.

They looked at four main areas; the need for the instigation of a wide ranging and transparent independent enquiry addressing the allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuses, the lack of independent and effective corporate governance, the adoption of best practice and internationally recognised, environmental and social standards and unequivocal respect for park boundaries within a World Heritage Site.

Adam Matthews, Secretary of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, who led the conversation with SOCO International said: "We are deeply concerned about the failure of SOCO International to properly and fully address our four concerns, in particular to ensure that an open and transparent enquiry is held into the allegations of corruption and human rights abuses.

"At the recent AGM we asked the board to urgently consider the appointment of an independent Chairman to ensure SOCO could finally openly and transparently address the concerns of shareholders.

"The response of the Company that has emerged from our engagement and crystallised at the AGM has led us to recommend full divestment."

Edward Mason, Head of Responsible Investment at the Church Commissioners said: "We have called time because without the changes we sought this is not a sustainable or ethical investment for Church funds.

"We take engagement with companies very seriously.

"In this instance SOCO has not responded positively or sincerely to the concerns we have raised.

"The lack of appropriate corporate governance was clear at the AGM and left us nowhere to go but full divestment.

"The company has been placed on our restricted list with immediate effect and all our investment managers have been notified."

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