Have you heard of the Move Your Money movement? It started in the US I understand, and is now in the UK. I looked at what they had to say and as a result I moved many of my accounts and bills to more ethical suppliers.
Today I opened a new current account with the Co-op, but I’ve tried to look at all my monthly bills. I chose –
- Ecotricty for electricity and gas. Their customer service is great and they focus on energy from renewables
- The Cooperative bank for my current account. I was with Barclays, whose investments in tar sands, arms, food speculation and so forth are really not what I want to invest in.
- Moved from Barclays to Triodos for my savings account.
- Closed my Barclays ISA. It was empty anyway!
- Switched my pension to the Legal and General Ethical investment fund
Of course, there are others, and I will assess my mortgage and home insurance when they come up for renewal.
Why did I do this? Well, I believe that I have a responsibility to the poor – the Bible teaches us to “speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Proverbs 31:9 NLT. How can I say I care about the poor of the world whilst my money goes to things that oppress them? They are, after all, our most vulnerable to climate change, food speculation and so on.
I thought it would be a good exercise to look at some of the reasons NOT to do this:
Argument 1 – you can’t win so why try?
In matters of global justice I’ve heard people say “you can’t win so why try?”. Fair enough, is it possible to be “totally ethical”? I don’t know. I can’t see how you could – I mean, we all create pollution, and not even Richard Stallman is totally “off the grid”, but I think that to throw up my hands and say “I can’t win” would just be dodging the issue – I will do the best I can to invest ethically.
Argument 2 – one person doesn’t matter
“Surely you’re just cutting off your nose to spite your face – why not get the best deal? One person doesn’t matter!” Well, I DO believe one person matters. That’s why I vote.
Argument 3 – ethical claims are overstated
I hear some say that wind power is ineffective, whereas Ecotricity convincingly argue that wind power is incredibly effective and could make the UK energy independent… I don’t know FOR SURE that the Co-op or Triodos do what they say with my money – I mean, I can’t follow every penny – but at some point I guess I have to take it on faith. I’ll be as diligent as I can in validating the claims of supposedly more ethical suppliers but at some point I draw a line and say “this seems like the fairest option”.
The real reason I don’t think these arguments stack up is a theological one.
I spent last week at Spring Harvest, and one of the things that came out of the teaching time and time again was a responsibility to care for this world and first and foremost the people in it. I believe that Christians are not to jealously hoard possessions or be too hung up on getting the best deal for ourselves. The straight-shooting writer of the book of James in the Bible says this, which is pretty full on: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” James 5:1-6
Wow! I do not want to oppress anybody. I don’t think that’s all this passage is about, it’s also about not putting one’s trust in passing things, but in terms of justice it’s clear – I am, globally speaking, rich – certainly compared to India’s Dalits, for instance. I want fairness. I realise that people labour to make the electronics that I use to do my job – I want them treated fairly (I recently heard that mining for raw materials for electronics is a huge scandal and tantamount to slavery – this is something I need to find out more about).
I want to help build a stable, safe, fair economy and defend the rights of the poor in every way – and to get alongside the world’s oppressed.
I am not looking to guilt trip anybody, I am not criticising anyone, I’m just saying what I feel is right.
I’m probably still getting this wrong, it’s something I’m going to keep looking at.