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“Put your money where your faith is”
February 16, 2007
Winnipeg, Man. — Gary Hawton has had a lot of time to think about ethical financial investing. After all, he’s been investing since he was twelve years old.
Today he is the CEO of Meritas Mutual Funds – a socially responsible investment (SRI) company in Cambridge, Ont. “This is deeply inside me. I feel I’ve been gifted to understand this. [It] is truly a way for me to be salt and light in the world, to have a meaningful impact in not just corporate Canada, not just corporate America, but corporate world,” says Hawton.
To that end, Hawton and Michael Jantzi are inviting pastors, congregational leaders, business people, pension plan holders – in fact anyone – to attend the Mennonite Church Canada Ministers’ Conference one day prior to the general assembly in Abbotsford, BC, this July. The event will tackle the often sensitive subject of money and faithful living.
Sven Eriksson, Denominational Minister for MC Canada, believes the topic is compelling enough to open the invitation to anyone outside the usual inner circle of ministers who have traditionally used the day for connecting and supporting one another. “Responsible use of money is the second most frequent theme in the gospels,” said Eriksson. “The first is kingdom building.” The two seem inextricable linked, he added.
“The big idea,” says Eriksson, “is that what we do with our money has a lot to do with our faith.”
Part of this “big idea”, says Eriksson is that pastors want to be better equipped to build relationships with business people who have sometimes felt out of place in the church, so it’s natural to bring the two groups together.
Hawton concurs. “I think God is bringing [business] people into our church and we need to have pastors and people there who aren’t intimidated by them and who are able to discern how those people are best utilized in the church and outside of the church,” said Hawton.
Whether you are a pastor, a business person, or worker in any one of thousands of jobs, chances are you’ve invested somewhere. SRI leaders want to bring greater awareness that ethical investing is simply the right thing to do.
Michael Jantzi says that in many parts of the world, SRI is the fastest growing segment of the investment market. Jantzi is President of Jantzi Research, the Toronto-based investment research firm that is a pioneer of socially responsible investment in Canada. American investment funds that screen companies for their environmental, social and governance performance total $2 trillion – about 10 per cent of total investments. Canada lags behind, with SRI investments of $65.5 billion, or three to five per cent of total investments, he said.
"It's not that long ago that if you mentioned socially responsible investing to someone you would get curious looks and strange smiles,” said Jantzi in a previous interview with The Record. “They would say: 'Isn't that an oxymoron?' "
But that is changing. Hawton recalls how Meritas challenged Pepsico on its zero response to the HIV-AIDS pandemic in Africa and other countries. It took several tries, but Pepsico finally heard the clarion call when it became clear that company’s reputation and brand credibility were at stake.
“If a third of your employees and a third of their family and a third of your customers are dying, there’s probably a business impact,” says Hawton, reciting what it took to get Pepsico’s attention. “Let’s figure out how to address the problem so that you are a sustainable business, long term. And the great thing is that along the way you may save thousands of lives.”
Since then, Pepsico has developed unprecedented access to AIDS education and healthcare for its employees and the communities where they operate, says Hawton – programs that weren’t previously available.
While consumers may see SRI as a passive way of moral investing, SRI industry leaders often see it as an opportunity to challenge corporate behaviour.
Aber Diamond is a company Hawton is currently challenging over the issue of blood diamonds – gems harvested in third world countries where people pay the harvest price with their lives. While their Canadian operations are sound, Aber recently purchased a retailer with no known checks and balances regarding diamond sources.
“All of my assets are God’s, which he has entrusted to me as his steward. If we’re going to own shares or mutual funds, we need to understand that we own each of the companies that are inside that mutual fund, and we have to take responsibility for how those companies act, how they earn money. There is no way that God wants to earn money by owning Playboy shares, or by owning shares in a company that manufactures landmines,” said Hawton passionately.
Sidebar: Putting your money where your faith is - Event Details