Non-profit

Wespath Benefits and Investments

Type:

Activist Pension Fund

Affiliation:

United Methodist Church

ESG Activism

Wespath Benefits and Investments, also known as The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of The United Methodist Church, is a nonprofit agency organized under the United Methodist Church in the United States that manages a pension fund and investment organization exceeding $25 billion in assets. The organization provides pensions and benefits to over 100,000 clergy members, employees, institutional investors, and others affiliated with Methodism.

The organization drew criticism for its decision to divest from Israeli-affiliated financial organizations as part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement opposing the State of Israel.

Background

The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church was founded in 1908 to provide pension and health benefits for employees of the United Methodist Church in the United States. The organization was organized in Illinois and currently headquartered in Glenview. Wespath currently has over 300 full time employees. [1]

In 2016, the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church changed its name to Wespath Benefits and investments. The new name was a combination of Wes, a reference to Methodist church founder John Wesley whom the church describers as a pioneer of “social justice,” and the word “path” referring to providing plan participants with a way forward. [2]

Wespath has three agencies: Wespath-Retirement Services, Wespath-Center for Health, and Wespath-Investment Management. The investment management arm of Wespath operates investment funds steered by Methodist values and “environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors.” [3]

Israel Divestment

Wespath has gained a reputation for promoting left-of-center causes branded as social justice and human rights. Critics accuse the orgnaizatuion of making politically charged decisions surrounding the retirement savings of plan participants.

Wespath touts a human rights-centric investment philosophy of “Invent, Engage, Avoid” where the group touts sustainable investment strategies that support human rights. The group has often severed relationships with financial institutions in countries with alleged human rights violations, most notably Israel. [4]

In 2014, the pension board of Wespath initiated a review of the organizations holdings concerning stances on invested organizations on climate change and human rights. “identified Israel and the Palestinian territories among more than a dozen “high risk” countries or regions with “a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses.” Other countries on the list included Saudi Arabia, the Central African Republic, and North Korea.” [5]

In 2016, it was announced that the five largest Israeli banks would be off-limits for Wepath investments, citing human rights abuses in Israel. The move drew support from proponents of movements to divest US holdings from Israeli institutions. [6]

A pro-BDS group within the Methodist church, the United Methodist Kairos Response (UKMR) praised the move and pushed the fund to expel more Israeli companies from its portfolio. Criticsm of the blacklisting pointed that the BDS movement effectively controlled the “controversy score” assigned to a company by publicly attacking it. [7]

References

  1. “About Wespath Institutional Investments”. Wespath Benefits and Investments. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.wespath.com/about-wespath-institutional-investments ^
  2. “Wespath Benefits and Investments”. New England Conference Methodist Church. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.neumc.org/wespath ^
  3. “About Wespath”. Wespath Benefits and Investments. Accessed January 21, 2020.  https://www.wespath.org/about-wespath ^
  4. “Investment Philosophy: Human Rights”. Wespath Benefits and Investments. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.wespath.com/investment-philosophy/human-rights ^
  5. Ravid, Barack. “U.S. Church Puts Five Israeli Banks on Investment Blacklist”. Haaretz. January 13, 2016. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/u-s-church-puts-five-israeli-banks-on-investment-blacklist-1.5389996 ^
  6. Bloom, Linda. “Israeli banks on ineligible list for pension agency”. UM News. January 13, 2016. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.umnews.org/en/news/israeli-banks-on-ineligible-list-for-pensions-agency ^
  7. Hammerman, Julie. “Internal protest at Methodist pension after Israel divestment”. Jerusalem Post. March 8, 2016. Accessed January 21, 2020. https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Internal-protest-at-Methodist-pension-after-Israel-divestment-447417 ^
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