The largest church investors wield considerable influence because of the size of their holdings. They often have a tried and tested approach to critical engagement. This resource is shared with the smaller Christian institutional investors via the Church Investors Group (CIG) to maximise the impact of each member’s influence.
Smaller faith-based investors and individual shareholders also have the right to raise concerns with company directors. Those whose shares are handled on their behalf by a fund can raise issues with fund managers and ask them to take these up with the company concerned and to vote at company annual general meetings (AGMs).
Reasons to seek dialogue vary. In some cases there may be a long-standing issue of concern, perhaps arising from ongoing research or contact with host communities in a country where a company has operations. In other cases, matters reported in the news or allegations of company misconduct may give rise to the need for dialogue.
It is very useful to consider whether engagement may be undertaken in partnership with other like-minded shareholders, to strengthen the impact and perhaps share time and resource costs.
It is important to prioritise and decide when a matter is of sufficient importance and when there is sufficient possibility of influencing the company. Some suggest that engagement is most appropriate on matters of company policy and public reporting. However, a specific incident can be a useful starting point and can be used to highlight more general concerns about the company concerned.
Naturally, before taking up an issue you need to satisfy yourself that any reports or allegations are well founded in fact. Important questions that may arise at the start or during the process include: What is the desired objective? How will you know if you are having an impact, have achieved your goals, or have reached an end-point? With an ongoing dialogue, how will you remain up-to-date with the issue? Are you prepared to modify your approach if the company’s policy or practice changes or if the situation you are concerned about changes? And how will you question responses from the company that fail to address your concerns?
There are a range of ways to engage and influence companies, from letter-writing to high-profile public campaigning. There is no simple formula as to which approach will work best, so you need to choose one or more approaches depending on the nature of your concerns, what you seek to achieve, the company in question and the time and resources available.