Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Jon Haber of Bearing Witness examines the investment portfolio of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and finds some pretty stunning oversights for an organization concerned with ethical investment.

Readers will of course be familiar with the PC(USA) as one of the mainline Protestant denominations spearheading the efforts to divest from companies that "support Israel's occupation." Currently, the PC(USA)'s Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee is investigating the church's investments and making recommendations to implement the directives of the church's bureaucracy.

Haber's investigation finds a lot more to be concerned with than companies like Caterpillar and Motorola for a church that claims to be interested in ethical investing. Specifically, he finds that, among other problematical holdings, the church holds stock in five corporations listed among's "Dirty Dozen" corporations who "do business with terrorist-sponsoring states" and which "exemplify the various ways in which this behavior is helping prop up such governments and, thereby, enabling their ability to aid and abet terrorism."

Haber notes:

...Most notably, five companies: ENI, Hyundai, Siemens, Total and USB, have specific economic ties to states responsible for terrorism, repression and severe human rights abuses. USB paid $100,000,000 in fines for illegally transferring US bank notes to Iran, Libya and Cuba. The South Korean Hyundai Corporation has extensive financial ties with the repressive regime in the North, as well as Iran. European oil giants ENI and Total have substantial development projects in Iran and Libya (with the French Total company having also been involved with projects with Syria, Sudan and Saddam Hussein's Iraq). Iran and Syria are also customers of Siemens, which is also contributing to the construction of the world's largest diesel power station in Khartoum, home to a regime responsible for over two million deaths in South Sudan and Darfur.

It should be noted that the PCUSA MRTI committee supposedly spent a great deal of time combing the church's portfolio for equities of questionable moral value (which is how Caterpillar, ITT, Citigroup and the rest were identified). Given that it took me no more than fifteen minutes to discover the information noted above regarding the five "dirty" investments in the New Covenant Growth portfolio, one wonders just how much effort this group dedicated to such a project...

How much effort, indeed. And who assisted with that effort? Haber concludes:

...just who was PCUSA's investment advisor when it chose to get into the game of ethical day trading? As already noted, the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee seemed to have missed some whoppers when reviewing how church funds may have found their way into morally questionable activities. And yet looking at the stocks selected for the church's Israel divestment campaign, they seem to align perfectly with assets recommended for divestiture by political organizations outside of PCUSA advocating anti-Israel divestment activity in schools, cities, and churches across the country and around the world.

It's one thing to gamble with the assets of individual investors or the reputation of the church based on the institution's own decisions. But what does it say when this reckless course is pursued due to the urging of those who care less about the return for New Covenant Fund shareholders or the reputation of the Presbyterian Church than they do about their own narrow political agenda?

Is the PC(USA) serious about ethical investing, or is the PC(USA) itself being used to further some other, more nefarious agenda? It is a reasonable question to ask.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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