Alison Prout – Why and how the Quakers took the step to divest

Alison Prout is a Programme Manager in Quaker Peace and Social Witness. QPSW works with and on behalf of Quakers in Britain on issues of peace and social justice. Alison currently focuses on faith consistent use of money.

Brighthelm_mastheadThe Quakers were the first faith organization in the UK to take the decision to divest. How did this come about?

Our motivation came from our commitment, made in 2011, to becoming a low carbon, sustainable community. We were aware that profiting from shares in oil and gas extraction was incompatible with this commitment and began looking into divestment. This included seeking advice from our asset managers, Rathbone Greenbank and staff working on Quaker concerns on peace and social justice.

Brighthelm_mastheadHow did the decision get made? Was there scepticism from some quarters and if so what were the big concerns?

The decision was made by our investment committee and agreed by our trustee body. The decision itself was straightforward and taken the meeting after it was proposed. The investment committee received good, balanced advice from our investment managers and could see how divestment was one part of realising our commitment to a sustainable future. Quakers have a long history of considering how their values should inform the way money is used; this probably helped.

The decision applied to centrally held funds, local Quakers have responsibility for their own money management. The decision to divest has been received extremely positively by local Quakers and has prompted a number of Local and Area Meetings to divest themselves. I would say the biggest concern that I have heard expressed has been around trustee responsibility to maximise income from investments. Many trustees don’t realise that they have a responsibility to balance both the need for financial return and the values the organisation holds. The next most common concern is not knowing where to put the money they have taken out of fossil fuels!

Brighthelm_masthead

What’s happened since – how have your investments fared?

 

Our investments in oil and gas extraction were a small amount of the portfolio, 2.73% in BG Group and 1.12% in Statoil of a portfolio that was circa £21 million at the time. We were able to sell this quickly and reinvested that money, and more in renewable energy. All investments are subject to an enormous amount of variables but we can happily say that divestment has not had a negative effect on our portfolio.

 

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