Why is the Church of England investing in Amazon?

Why is the Church of England investing in Amazon?

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Church of England invests in a wide range of areas, from residential and commercial property, to timberland and infrastructure. It also invests in big business. But why?

The 2017 Church Commissioners annual report revealed their most valuable equity holdings included online retailer Amazon, oil and gas company BP, Vodafone and pharmaceuticals giant, GlaxoSmithKline.

The Church of England says the returns generated each year from their investments are used to support "the mission and ministry" of the Church of England, including grants for cathedrals, bishops and "mission activities", which include community projects in low-income areas and research programmes into "how the Church can grow".


Who makes an investment?

Investments are made by Church Commissioners who oversee a total funding pot of around £8.3bn. Last year, the Church reported a 7.1% return on their investments.

Earlier this year, The Times revealed that the Church's head of investment, Tom Joy, was earning a salary of £515,000 per annum in 2017. The Archbishop of Canterbury receives an annual stipend of £80,160.



The Archbishop of Canterbury criticised Amazon in a speech at the TUC Congress meeting earlier this week, claiming they paid "almost nothing" in taxes and later tweeting that the firm, and similar companies, were a "leech" on the taxpayer.

The online retailer is one of the Church of England's 20 biggest investments worldwide.

Defending their investment, the Church released a statement on their website, which read: "The Church Commissioners have previously been on the record that we consider aggressive tax avoidance or abusive tax arrangements to be both a business risk and an ethical issue. As with other issues, we take the view that it is most effective to be in the room with these companies seeking change as a shareholder.

"We continue to work with other shareholders to tackle this issue via engagement with companies and their managers."


Indirect investment in Wonga

In 2013, Justin Welby told the BBC he was "embarassed" and "irritated" after telling payday lender Wonga that the Church would force them out of business by helping credit unions compete with it. It later emerged the Church of England had indirectly staked £75,000 in the company through an investment fund.

The Church ended its investment with Wonga in 2014, which Mr Welby said he was "absolutely delighted" about.

In 2010 the Church sold off stakes in mining giants Vedanta amid human rights concerns. 


Who won't the Church invest in?

The Ethical Investment Advisory Group, which oversees the various investment bodies within the Church of England, has official guidelines on which companies to avoid.

It exists to prevent the Church from funding businesses that could be perceived to be against Christian values.

It advises against investing in any company that makes more than 3% of its revenue from the production or distribution of pornography, is involved in indiscriminate weaponry or is involved in conventional weapons if their strategic military supplies exceed 10% of turnover.

The Church will not invest in businesses whose activity or focus (defined as more than 25% of group turnover) is tobacco, gambling, alcohol, high interest rate lending or human embryonic cloning.