The Church of England (CoE) has invested up to £10m in one of the world’s biggest arms firms which manufacturers aircraft and other military hardware which is used in the so-called “war on terror.”
The discovery was made on the eve of what is scheduled to be the biggest day of protests against DSEi – the UK’s leading arms fair – in Docklands, London, today, and has led worshippers to accuse the church hierarchy of profiting from wars.
The Church Commissioners and CoE Pensions Board are both shareholders in General Electric (GE), with shareholdings up to £10m. On Saturday, the Church defended their investment, claiming less than 3 per cent of GE’s business was based on arms sales.
GE supplies systems and technology for unmanned predator drones and fighter jets to conflicts around the world.
But the company, along with its key subsidiary General Aviation (GA), is a leading seller of “integrated systems and technologies” for combat aircraft, military transport, helicopters, land vehicles and drones.
GE is the 20th-highest-ranking arms company in the world when it comes to defence sales, which accounted for almost 3 per cent of its total revenue last year – an estimated $4bn.
The firm also makes the F101 aircraft, which took part in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to GE’s website, the F101 was designed as a “strategic nuclear bomber”, it was modified to carry a “diverse range of conventional weapons”.
Breaching the “spirit” of Christianity?
While the CoE is not contravening its own policies by investing in GE – investments in companies that profit less than 10 per cent of turnover from strategic military deals are permissible – some church members reacted angrily to the finding.
Anglican priest Keith Hebden who was arrested earlier this year for breaking into RAF Waddington – the location where drones used in Afghanistan are remotely controlled – said the CoE’s policy was wrong. He said: “We’re going to end up with problems. This means we have a stake in wanting there to be war.”
Co-founder of the anti-cuts campaign group Christianity Uncut, Symon Hill said: “Investments in GE conform to the letter but not the spirit of the Church of England’s investment policy.”
A CoE spokeswoman highlighted that GE manufactures dishwashers, lighting, aircraft engines and power plants. She said: “Some of GE’s engines and other products are supplied for military planes, boats and land vehicles. Our research provider estimates that less than 3 per cent of GE’s turnover comes from strategic military supplies.”
The Campaign Against Arms Trade stated: “GE is undoubtedly an arms company – why else would it be exhibiting its wares at one of the world’s largest arms fairs? If the Church is committed to following an ethical investment policy, it should drop the GE shares from its portfolio and invest it in companies producing more ethical and beneficial products, including renewable energy technologies.”
Yesterday’s revelations came months after the Church admitted it invested in transactions that injected money for the Wonga payday loans company. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said earlier this year that he would try to force the Wonga out of business by assisting credit unions to compete with it. He wanted the CoE’s investment policies to be reviewed following the recent controversy.