Workshop reports progress in responsible investing
Sr. Pat Millen of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and Mark Kinney, a local financial adviser with CUSO Financial Services located at Numerica Credit Union, told participants in an Eastern Washington Legislative Conference workshop that shareholder advocacy and socially responsible investing are "ways to change the corporate culture."
Sr. Pat, noting those efforts began about 1978, has served on her community's Corporate Responsibility Investment Committee since 1982 and is on the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment (NWCRI) with the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC) in Seattle.
With both, she brings her community's values and voice through proxy votes, commonly challenging corporate boards when there were few or no women or people of color nominees.
"Religious communities of women and men have retirement investments. How we invest our portfolio is important," she said. "Our community seeks to be socially responsible, not just invest for financial returns. We invest to have a voice in a company for advocacy, or do not invest in companies on our 'no-no' list."
The sisters do not invest in some companies because of their labor practices and do not invest in others because of environmental issues.
Sr. Pat described some efforts:
• Nora Nash OSF challenges Wells Fargo, which bought the bank the community used in Philadelphia. Through shareholder advocacy, she pushed the bank to make changes after some ethical lapses.
Nora has also addressed abuses of other corporations.
• Judy Byron SP works with NWCRI, a coalition of religious communities IPJC formed in 1994. Through NWCRI, they bought stock in gun companies to have a voice. They have also had impact on gun sales policies at several major retailers.
"Sometimes large groups influence companies by not buying their products," Sr. Pat said. "We also urged airlines to train workers to identify human trafficking."
Part of her community's and NWCRI's investments are for shareholder advocacy to urge corporations to be accountable for their policies and actions.
"We collaborate with the national Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) on social, economic and environmental health," Sr. Pat said. "We use our power as investors to shape a more just world. Shareholder dialogue with companies on practices has brought some economic and environmental justice."
Recently, however, the five-member Securities and Exchange Commission, appointed by the White House, proposed rules that may undermine shareholder actions, she said. Instead of holding at least $2,000 in stock one year before filing a shareholder resolution, the proposal requires holding stock three years or having $25,000. It also wants to limit the influence of coalitions with aggregate holdings, like NWCRI.
Mark told of efforts at the recent World Economic Forum at Davos, calling corporations to build a sustainable world through environmental responsibility, social responsibility and governance access (ESGs), he said.
He sees some major investment firms adding diversity to their boards, being committed to ESGs and seeing climate change is an investment risk.
"I didn't hear this talk five years ago. Some companies are realigning their priorities to care about their workers and invest some profit into the economy and jobs," he said.
Despite progress, there's more to do. For example, corporations need to shift from hiring people to work for too few hours to qualify to receive benefits like pensions or health insurance.
Mark thinks millennials are savvy and ready to challenge.
"More consumers want these issues addressed, and more people ask their financial advisors to find investments that reflect their values," he said. "Five years ago, socially responsible investing was a niche market. Now it's expanding."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2020