Uniting Financial Services, perhaps the oldest ethical investor in Australia, whose philosophy and processes can be traced back to the 1980s, has ceased what was likely to be a positive review of Rio Tinto, as a stock in which to invest. The re-think followed RIO’s desecration of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site in Western Australia.
Rio Tinto had been on the excluded list of investments for the Uniting Church’s investment arm. But the company’s movement towards a more sustainable investment future, gave the investor, which believes in co-operation for progress rather than direct opposition, pause to re-consider. Blowing up the sacred site and all its history by Rio Tinto has changed the landscape.
Uniting Financial Services (UFS) represents a fairly small, but influential, pool of institutional money. It is run by Warren Bird, the executive director of Treasury & Investments, who has had a long career as a fund manager. The firm manages about $1.2 billion in balance sheet assets and about $400 million in managed funds.
UFS has also entered the fixed income capital markets space with a $30 million raising late last year through an issue of subordinated notes to institutional investors to support investment activities which are aligned to the United Nations ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs). Everything UFS does is aligned to the SDGs.
In a note distributed via LinkedIn last week, Bird said: “Rio Tinto has been on the ‘excluded investments’ list of the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT for several years. However, the company’s positive steps in relation to divestment from coal and other risky extraction activities means that a process of reviewing the exclusion had commenced at the Ethical Investments Monitoring Committee (EIMC), which I chair.
“The continued negative for Rio has been its involvement in a number of ethical controversies. With the terrible news that Rio has destroyed a significant heritage site… the EIMC has decided to cease the review process immediately. Despite the company’s apology for this incident, the concerns it raises about the depth of commitment to ethical reform across Rio’s board and management are too great to ignore.
“The Synod’s ethical policy opens with the broad principle that the Church has no desire to profit from or support a company that behaves in such a manner. Rio Tinto will therefore remain on the Church’s ‘excluded investments’ list for the foreseeable future.”
Greg Bright is publisher of Investor Strategy News (Australia)