Our sustainable investment work allows us to better fulfill our fiduciary responsibilities and reinforce our commitment to the values of The United Methodist Church (UMC). This is especially true when we focus on specific issues affecting companies and people around the world—including human rights. The Invest—Engage—Avoid framework helps guide our human rights-focused sustainable investment activities.
Positive Social Purpose Lending: Affordable housing and community facilities that promote social development and access to basic necessities
Shareholder Engagement: Focused engagement which recognizes that businesses face risks when operating in areas where the security of human rights is uncertain
Investment Exclusions: Excluding investments that are inconsistent with the values of the UMC or exposed to unsustainable human rights-related financial risk
Human Rights Engagement
In our Investment Beliefs, we recognize that “engagement with corporations is a powerful process” that has the ability to add long-term value to the funds we offer.
We use our privileged position to bring the UMC voice to the table in support of human rights and to help our participants and institutional clients reach their financial goals. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Guiding Principles) is our foundation for these engagement efforts. Noteworthy human rights engagements include:
This construction equipment giant is subject to scrutiny because of the use of its products in conflict areas. Wespath has maintained a years-long dialogue with the company and has consistently sought that management develop effective risk mitigation and impact assessment standards.
As a result, Caterpillar has strengthened and improved disclosures relating to its human rights policies, including conducting assessments in alignment with the Guiding Principles. Caterpillar also applied its policies beyond its direct operations to include its suppliers and dealers.
Wespath is a frequent attendee of the energy company’s semi-annual sustainability-focused meetings. At these events, ConocoPhillips presents ideas, explains decision-making and seeks investor feedback on issues related to human rights, indigenous peoples and more.
For instance, the company in 2018 explained the rollout of its new human rights policies to its internal business units. The framework included considerations of agreements, land use, relocation, economic development, environmental conservation and cultural heritage. Investors supported both the policies and the materials created to aid its implementation.
Human Rights Exclusion Guideline
To assist in identifying and managing environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related risk, our board of directors adopted a policy on the Management of Excessive Sustainability Risk (MESR). Our MESR guidelines currently focus on two issues: climate change and human rights.
On the issue of human rights, we conduct extensive proprietary analysis and incorporate data from our ESG research provider Sustainalytics, human rights advocacy group Freedom House and additional sources to identify high-risk areas and exclude companies that operate there. Our human rights MESR guideline excludes:
- Companies operating in countries demonstrating a prolonged and systemic pattern of human rights violations*
- Companies operating in conflict-affected areas where significant human rights violations have been widely documented**
- The sovereign debt of any country demonstrating a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses**
As of December 31, 2019, we excluded 35 companies and the debt of 12 countries under the human rights guideline.
* Defined as countries with the worst ranking in Freedom House’s annual “Freedom in the World” report.
** May include sectors of a country’s economy recognized as prolonging conflict and violence, or areas in which significant breaches of international law occur