Catholic Church profits from porn | 21Mar2013 17:49:58
I went to see Lee Codes, the ethical investment advisor, to see how the CBIS measures up as an ethical fund. These are some of the investments that the catholic Christian brothers… Investments and services they put my money in. 26 million dollars in Google, 4 million in Yahoo, Marriott, Direct TV – an American company – Amazon, Vodafone, Watchnet… They supply the films you see inside the hotels. How does that strike you?
Well, the first impression is that these are the sort of holdings you’d find in a mainstream fund, with no ethical policies at all. So I’m very surprised to find them in a fund which firstly is faith based and secondly that is supposed to have an ethical policy.
When you deal with, say, catholic investors who would want to avoid links to companies that do have links to pornography; for those people would these companies be off the investment list?
Yes, certainly for the individual catholic clients or catholic institutions that we advise, all of those companies would be unacceptable. We would certainly place them on the not approved list.
But couldn’t CBIS use their shareholder position in these companies to pressure them to give up their porn interests?
There are many investment institutions and individual investors that start out down that route of buying shares in order to engage. The problem is that very, very few actually have a coherent policy and there’s very little evidence that anyone has actually achieved anything by going down that route.
The catholic funds investment decisions seem bewildering. To try and get an explanation, I headed to Rome.
The American Brothers are in town. They’ve come over and they’re here in Rome in this lovely cloister setting to launch the European and the world side of the Christian Brothers Investment Services. So, it’s about their funds going global.
I’m sure their intentions to invest ethically are utterly sound but I found myself sitting next to a row of nuns wondering how the biggest investment catholic funds had tens of millions in companies which profit from something that everyone here see as a sin.
For over 25 years, Christian Brothers Investment Services in the USA has helped catholic institutions, congregations and dioceses to responsible investing.
After the conference I got the chance to sit down with Brother Louie de Tomas’s. A CBIS founding father that hopefully could enlighten me.
Given the Catholic Church has a very clear stamp on pornography, what’s your practical approach to invest in companies which might be lent upon?
It would be very simple, actually. If they were a company that was exclusively or near exclusively involved in pornography, quite simply we say ‘you know, that’s on the No List, forget about it, we don’t want to invest in that at all.’ However, if they were an entertainment company that was pretty good in all aspects but we see there was an introduction now of pornography or an introduction of inappropriate direction going, here is the effectiveness of what CBIS is saying to active ownership; what we should be able to do is – so to speak – lobby that corporation and say ‘don’t go there, don’t go that direction’. We could be a force for good.
Is there a kind of ballpark percent that you have if a company’s involvement with porn is above a certain percentage; then you won’t invest in it?
I wish I could have that. I wish I could give a percentage or some sort of formula. Like anything that is involved in the area of values, we’re talking about something that takes judgment, that takes thinking about, that takes prudential action.
Across your funds, we have approximately 26 million dollars invested with Google. Google, through the sponsored advertising links make significant and sizable money directly from the porn industry. It’s estimated by some analysts that they make several hundred million dollars a year from the sponsored links, taking people through to porn websites. You’ve got 26 million dollars of stock in them.
We can simply say ‘let’s get out of it’. And then you wouldn’t have the ability to ask me that question. But I’m sorry; we’re not going to do that. Because we’re much more interested not in you picking this up and saying ‘Argh… I think I got you’. No, no. But what we’re saying is much more difficult. We’re saying we are prudentially judging that situation, we are studying it and we are looking for a way that we can effectively stop it.
You have investments in a variety of companies; all make some money from pornography. Your argument is that you can hold stock in those companies to use it as a force for good, to change them. If that’s the case, why in the last seven years haven’t you tabled one shareholder resolution to change any of these companies?
Because… First of all, any of these companies – again – are not using are not using pornography as their major source of business. What we’re trying to do is find an effective means, an effective way to get them to stop doing that.
I understand why something like Google or Yahoo might be a more contemporary subject and you’re working on that now, but you know… hotels, we know about for seven years has been nothing… Cable TV we know about: seven year, there’s been nothing…
I don’t know if this is going… If this is getting anywhere productive. Look, let you viewers decide what you’re up to and let them decide what I’m up to. And I’m at peace with that.