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Church of England divests oil exploration company over corruption concerns

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The £6.7bn (€9.4bn) Church Commissioners for England has divested an oil exploration company following allegations of human rights abuses and corruption.

The full divestment of the endowment’s £1.6m stake in Soco International comes after “extensive and sustained” engagement with the firm, listed on the London Stock Exchange, and follows the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) calling for the sale of its stake.

In a statement, the Commissioners noted that the EIAG had begun engagement over a number of allegations regarding bribery, corruption and Soco’s human rights records in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Commissioners said the company had been urged to launch a “wide-ranging and transparent” independent enquiry addressing all the allegations.  

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It had also been called on to put in place new environmental and social practices to allay concerns over its activities in Virunga National Park, where it was involved in exploratory activity.

Last year, NGO Global Witness alleged Soco “paid off” rebel forces while benefiting from the “fear and violence fostered by government security forces in eastern Congo”.

The Church of England was called on in the NGO’s report as one of several investors that should push Soco to rule out any activity in the Congolese national park.

Adam Matthews, secretary of the EIAG, said he was “deeply concerned” by Soco’s failure to engage with the Church Commissioners’ concerns.

Edward Mason, head of responsible investment at the Commissioners, added that it had “called time” on its holding in Soco.

“In this instance Soco, has not responded positively or sincerely to the concerns we have raised,” he said. 

“The lack of appropriate corporate governance was clear at the AGM and left us nowhere to go but full divestment.”

The Church Commissioners administer the Church of England’s endowment used, in part, to pay retired workers.

The Church of England Pensions Board separately administers the £1.5bn pension fund, which is also advised by the EIAG. 

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