Church of England to set up impact fund as part of £100m commitment to address historic slavery links

Announcement follows investigation into Church Commissioners' links with 18th-century slave trade, but commitment could be dwarfed by impact investing initiatives already planned by individual churches.

The Church of England is to launch an impact investment fund as part of a £100m programme of investment, grant-making, research and advocacy to address historic links to slave trade.

But the £100m could be dwarfed by initiatives taken by individual churches, as a group of major churches in Bristol has already initiated plans for an impact fund, potentially worth £50m, to address the legacy of slavery.

The Church of England's announcement follows a report that revealed the predecessor of the Church Commissioners, the charity that manages its estate and assets, had links to transatlantic trade.

The investigation, initiated by the Church Commissioners’ board, shows that Queen Anne’s Bounty, which became part of the Church Commissioners at its creation in 1948, had invested in the South Sea Company, a company that traded in enslaved people, and received “numerous benefactions, many of which are likely to have come from individuals linked to, or who profited from, transatlantic chattel slavery and the plantation economy”. 

I am deeply sorry for these links. It is now time to take action to address our shameful past

The investigation found that Queen Anne’s Bounty received funds linked to slavery worth the equivalent of £1bn in today’s terms.

The impact investment fund will be used “to invest for a better and fairer future for all, particularly for communities affected by historic slavery”, the Church of England said in a statement.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and chair of the Church Commissioners, said: “The full report lays bare the links of the Church Commissioners’ predecessor fund with transatlantic chattel slavery. I am deeply sorry for these links. It is now time to take action to address our shameful past.”

The Church Commissioners today manage some £10bn of assets, which are invested in real estate and company shares, and use returns to support the Church’s ministry. It promotes sustainable investing, and last year said impact investing was “a continuation of our ESG strategy as we seek to influence the world positively with our capital”.

The exact size of the impact fund is yet to be determined. A new oversight group “with significant membership from communities impacted by historic slavery” will be convened in the next few months to decide how the money will be distributed.


Beginning of a journey

The £100m may seem small compared with initiatives already planned by individual churches. FaithInvest, a global membership association and network for faith asset owners, told Pioneers Post that it was already advising a group of “major churches” in Bristol, a city that historically greatly benefitted from the slave trade, to develop a £50m impact investment fund explicitly dedicated to addressing the legacy of slavery.

It's only the beginning of what needs to be a much longer journey

Martin Palmer, CEO of FaithInvestMartin Palmer (pictured), CEO of FaithInvest, said: “One of the great churches in Bristol is leading a major new programme which is looking at the investments held by many of the big city churches in Bristol. And this is putting serious funding into creating a fund that will invest in Africa. It's already looking at projects in Malawi and in Nigeria, possibly also in Tanzania.

“If churches in Bristol are talking about a fund of potentially £50m (£25m from one church alone) then I really think the Church Commissioners' £100m is the beginning of a much longer journey.”

He added: “I very much welcome the news that the Church of England is pledging £100m to "address past wrongs". 

“It is to be absolutely welcomed. It means that it is now possible to openly discuss this in the Anglican Communion and, given that most of the 70 million or 80 million Anglicans live below the poverty line and are in Africa, it does mean that we recognise our responsibilities. 

“So it's a good start. But it's only the beginning of what needs to be a much longer journey.”


Top image: Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and chair of the Church Commissioners. Credit: Roger Harris for UK Parliament

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