Britain Yearly Meeting sells BP shares
Demonstration against BP. Photo courtesy Greenpeace.
THE NEWS THAT Britain’s Quakers are selling their investment in oil giant BP has been welcomedby the World Development Movement and Quaker activists. The move to seel their shareholding was made following criticism of BP’s role in fuelling climate change.
The decision marks a reversal of position for Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM), the organisation of Quakers in England, Scotland and Wales. They had previously maintained that holding shares in BP was compatible with ethical investment (see ‘Quakers defend BP investment’, 2 July).
But last week, Ron Barden, clerk of Quaker Finance & Property Central Committee, said, ‘BYM has instructed our discretionary fund managers to dispose of our shareholding in BP’. He did not state the reasons for the decision.
In July, WDM encouraged Quakers to ditch the shares. On that occasion, BYM defended BP’s record on alternative energy and insisted they were engaging with the company on ethical concerns. But they faced criticisms from individual Quakers.
Chris Wood, who attends Westminster Meeting, told the Friend he had decided to halt his application for membership of the Society after he heard of BYM’s investment in BP. He insisted, ‘We are called to witness to a world that is transformed, that is sustainable and just’.
He said he is ‘very pleased’ with last week’s decision, which he believes ‘will send a strong message to those who commit climate crimes that their actions are unacceptable’.
WDM’s Kate Blagojevic told the Friend, ‘The World Development Movement strongly welcomes the news that the Quakers have divested from BP’.
Blagojevic suggested that the problem went beyond individual businesses to the economic system itself. ‘Large corporations’ primary incentive is to make profits,’ she said. ‘This is why we see the drive for profits consistently trumps the needs of people’. Miriam Yagud of Nailsworth Meeting welcomed BYM’s decision as ‘excellent news’. She said, ‘the next step will be real transparency and accountability about other investments held by BYM.’
She said this would be the ‘most authoritative form of outreach we could do – to speak plainly and honestly with each other and the wider world about ourselves and our actions’. WDM also urged BYM to go further and ‘ensure that remaining and future funds are invested in truly ethical and sustainable projects from now on’.
BP appeared as BYM’s largest shareholding in this year’s financial report. The second and third largest were Vodafone and HSBC. While BYM policy rules out direct investments in arms companies, a 2008 report by War on Want found that HSBC had £450m in arms firms as well as being principal banker for multinational arms dealer BAE Systems.
The spokesperson for BYM said they did not have anything to say on their investment in HSBC at this time.
Symon Hill the Friend, 19 November 2010