The church – led by archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, a former oil executive – has said that it may sell its near £3m stake in Soco International unless it receives a number of reassurances from the company, whose decision to carry out a seismic survey in Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo features in an acclaimed documentary backed by Leonardo DiCaprio.
It is highly unusual for the church to proactively reveal its investments, and almost unheard of for it to announce that it may sell a stake due to ethical concerns. Its decision to go public highlights its mounting frustration following 18 months of talks with Soco during which it sought reassurances regarding the company’s anti-corruption policies, human rights commitments and environmental obligations.
The church now wants a “transparent independent inquiry of Soco’s operations in and around” the park, and an “amendment of the previously issued statement agreed between Soco and WWF … so that there are without exception no circumstances in which Soco would conduct further exploration or production activities in the Virunga national park”. (ACF)
EIAG issues statement on Church Commissioners and Pensions Board holding in SOCO
The Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) has issued a formal statement relating to the holdings of the Church Commissioners and Pensions Board in SOCO International Plc.
“Following Board level engagement between the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) and SOCO International Plc (SOCO), the EIAG has raised serious concerns about the Company’s determination to satisfactorily address, in an open and transparent manner, allegations concerning the operations of SOCO in and around the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
These allegations are of a serious nature and require a response from the Board that urgently seeks to restore the confidence of shareholders. We find the efforts of the Company to date have not been sufficient.
Through the engagement undertaken by the Church of England EIAG a series of steps were identified to the Company that should be taken to restore confidence. These included:
- Instigation of a wide ranging and transparent independent enquiry of SOCO’s operations in and around Virunga National Park, including the publication of the enquiry scope, outcome and confirmation of any resulting actions.
- Amendment of the previously issued statement agreed between SOCO and WWF to remove any room for doubt about their intentions within existing or future boundaries of a World Heritage Site so that there are without exception, no circumstances in which SOCO would conduct further exploration or production activities in the Virunga National Park. And for this to be communicated to the World Heritage Committee.
- To adopt and publish best practice standards across a wide range of its operations.
- To date it is unfortunate that the Company has not felt it possible to take these steps. The EIAG do not normally disclose the contents of our discussions with a company. However, if we judge that sufficient progress is not being made we reserve the right to issue public statements, seek to move shareholder resolutions and/or to divest from the company.
The EIAG will continue to monitor the company’s activities and to engage with the Board.