FTSE firms must pay living wage, says 'shareholder nun'

Religious investors led by Sister Nora Nash demand employees be paid at least £7.20 an hour

Mark Leftly
Sunday 01 May 2011 00:00 BST

A group of religious investors led by the "shareholder nun" who has challenged Goldman Sachs' executive pay will tell every FTSE 100 boss to improve their workers' wages.

Sister Nora Nash – one of the Sisters of St Francis of Philadelphia – and church and civil society organisations managing more than £13bn of assets will forward a letter tomorrow demanding every FTSE 100 worker is paid at least £7.20 an hour. This is often referred to as a "living wage", and is 21.4 per cent higher than the current minimum wage of £5.93.

Last month, Sister Nora described a £43m payout to Goldman Sachs' top five directors as "sinful", and will voice her opinions to the investment bank at its annual meeting this month.

For now, though, Sister Nora and the likes of the Methodist and the United Reform churches are turning their focus onto FTSE 100 firms. The campaign, run by ethical investment group FairPensions, points out that 3.5m workers in Britain earn less than £7 an hour, so cannot meet their basic needs. The letter states: "Research and business leader testimony has shown that paying a living wage is in the best interests of companies. Benefits include stronger staff retention, significant falls in absenteeism, and improved morale."

Sister Nora said: "While executive compensation spirals out of control, so does the number of people who suffer from food insecurity throughout the world. Companies have a moral obligation to be accountable, to...consider equity and justice for the worker."

Campaigners are concerned that the likes of cleaning and catering staff are not rewarded properly. They fear that the pay gap between executives and more humble jobs is widening.

The signatories are also calling on FTSE 100 companies to check that sub-contractors pay their staff a fair wage. Bill Seddon, chief executive at the Methodist Central Board of Finance, said: "A lot of companies might actually pay their staff living wages, but if they take a look they might find that their outsourced service [employers] won't be. Perhaps we can give them a bit of a nudge."

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