Straight to content

Church of England launches impact fund in response to historic slave trade links

Posted in category:
Published: 17 January 2023

The Church Commissioners will establish the fund as part of a £100m commitment to support “communities affected by historic slavery” following report linking its endowment to transatlantic slave trade

Church House, the Church of England head office in Westminster, London | Photo by Paasikivi

In brief

  • A new report links the Church of England endowment to historic slavery
  • In response, the Church Commissioners’ Board has committed £100 million of funding to a programme of “investment, research, and engagement”
  • No details of the fund’s impact goals and measurement have been shared

The Church Commissioners for England have announced they are establishing an impact fund as part of a new £100m (€113m) funding commitment to support “communities affected by historic slavery”, following the publication of a report linking its endowment to transatlantic slavery.

The Church Commissioners manage £10.1bn (€11.4bn) on behalf of the Church of England. A spokesperson for the Commissioners told that in 2019 they “decided to do research into the origins of its endowment fund and whether there were any links to the transatlantic slave trade”. Last week it published a full report.

The report shows the endowment traces its origins partly to Queen Anne’s Bounty, a fund established in 1704 which apparently “invested significant amounts of its funds in the South Sea Company, a company that traded in enslaved people. It also 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”.

In response to the findings, the spokesperson says the Church Commissioners’ board has “committed to £100 million of funding, delivered over the next nine years commencing in 2023, to a programme of investment, research and engagement”.

As a result, it is establishing a new impact investment fund with a particular focus on those affected by historic slavery. The church hopes this fund will grow over time, reinvesting returns to enable it to have a positive legacy that will exist in perpetuity, and with the potential for other institutions to participate, further enabling growth in the size and impact of the fund.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend Dr David Walker, deputy chair of the Church Commissioners, said: “We will seek to address past wrongs by investing in a better future, which we plan to do with the response plan announced today, including the £100 million funding commitment we are making. We hope this will create a lasting positive legacy, serving and enabling communities impacted by slavery.”

The UK is gripped by a cost of living crisis at present, and the Commissioners uses the money made from investments to contribute towards the cost of mission projects, dioceses in low-income areas, bishops, cathedrals, and pensions. Dr Walker recognised this investment comes “at a time when there are significant financial challenges for many people and churches, and when the Church has commitments to address other wrongs from our past”. It is not clear whether funds will be directed away from the UK or other projects.

The spokesperson added: “A new oversight group will be formed during 2023 with significant membership from communities impacted by historic slavery. This group will work with the Church Commissioners on shaping and delivering the response, listening widely to ensure this work is done sensitively and with accountability.” He declined to give any details however of how impact would be measured or what the target returns for the fund would be.

The Church Commissioners says it will also continue to “use its voice as a responsible investor to address and combat modern slavery and human rights violations, and to seek to address injustice and inequalities”. Under Archbishop Justin Welby’s leadership, the Church Commissioners have pursued a more active shareholder engagement policy. This is not without controversy in the UK.

Reaction to the launch of the impact fund has been similarly divided. A writer in the left-leaning The Guardian described the fund as “chickenfeed compared with the modern value of the money that the report has identified”.

While on the right, The Daily Telegraph quoted the Rev Marcus Walker, founder of the Save The Parish campaign group saying “after decades of telling us that there is no money to fund the churches and priests who keep the Church alive on the front line, suddenly they’ve found £100 million behind the back of the sofa”.

Share on social media

Latest articles