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Investing God's cash

A group of 23 religious organisations, with access to assets worth $7,000bn (£4,400bn), are joining forces to launch an ethical investment strategy, putting their money where their consciences are.

The International Interfaith Investment Group (3iG) was formed last week after two years of consultations among religious groups as diverse as the Roman Catholic Church, Shia Islam and the Zoroastrians, and financial experts including Rabobank and Eiris, an ethical funds group.

The World Bank is to host a meeting of all the faiths next year to help create a structure for the investment group that it is expected will be up and running by 2005.

3iG is being masterminded by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a charity whose patron is the Duke of Edinburgh andwhich is run in the UK by Martin Palmer.

"We are not looking at an overall consensus," said Mr Palmer. "What we are saying to faiths is 'find out what you earn, and then invest it to meet the ethical aims you aspire to.'" Up to now, faiths have decided what they do not want to put money into – such as arms makers, alcohol companies and the like – but rarely invest positively, he said.

Research conducted recently by Citigroup for the United Methodist Church in the US suggests that if the church gives a lead, parishioners would be prepared to commit their personal investments as well, swelling the pot by as much as 200 per cent.

The total sum available for ethical investment could be $20,000bn, more than the value of all companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq combined.