By Sister Judy Byron, OP
Director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment
Miriam Webster defines a tipping point as “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.” Are we at a tipping point on the issue of guns in the United States? With each passing day, the evidence would seem to be a resounding “Yes!”
On March 29, faith based investors released an Investor Statement on Gun Violence, endorsed by more than 140 investors representing $634 billion in assets, calling on gun manufacturers, retailers, and distributors, as well as companies with financial ties to these industries, to “review their operations, supply chains and policies and take meaningful action on this public safety concern.”
The members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and the Adrian Dominican Sisters have a long history of promoting peace through shareholder advocacy. We began in 1971 by addressing apartheid in South Africa, and continued by working with weapons’ manufacturers to use ethical criteria for sales to foreign governments and by leading an investor campaign against graphic violence in video games.
Responding to the increasing number of incidents of gun-related violence year after year, I convened my colleagues at ICCR in 2016 to address gun manufacturers and retailers on their role in the gun violence epidemic. As shareholders in American Outdoor Brands, Sturm Ruger and Dick’s Sporting Goods, we quietly worked on letters and resolutions, and then the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School occurred on February 14. Four days later, ICCR shareholders were swept up into the activist movement that has become known as #NeverAgain. Our children are leading us to end gun violence in our country, to ensure safety in their schools, neighborhoods, homes, and churches.
Adam Kanzer, of Domini Impact Investments, had the last word in the ICCR Press Release announcing our Investor Statement on Gun Violence, “The bravery and eloquence of the Parkland students has brought us to a tipping point on this issue. Today, we are asking investors and corporations large and small to take a hard look at their connections to gun violence and do what they can to restore peace and safety to our communities. We hope that our recommendations will serve as a blueprint for these actions.”
It is our hope that you are finding yourself asking, “What can I do as an individual to end gun violence in our country?” We leave you with a few suggestions:
March 5, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) continues its 43-year-old mission of socially responsible investing with a new structure and staff. The changes were outlined in a recent presentation to Adrian Dominican Sisters living on the Motherhouse campus.
Much of the presentation focused on the new structure of the PAB, which was put into place after the December 2016 retirement of Lura Mack, long-time Executive Director of the PAB. Most recently, Dee Joyner, Chair of the PAB at the time, was asked to serve as director of the Congregation’s new Office of Resilient Communities. This office was established to help the Congregation live out its 2016 General Chapter Enactment to “facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins.” Dee, an Adrian Dominican Associate, had served as Vice President of Commerce Bank and Economic Developer of St. Louis County, Missouri. While she is no longer the Chair, her new position involves overseeing the PAB.
The PAB is now headed by Co-chairs Rosemary Martin, former Chair of the Community Investment Committee, and Kathy Woods, former Chair of the Corporate Responsibility Committee. The two committees – now working as one streamlined Board – represent the dual functions of the PAB.
In introducing the two new Co-chairs, Dee noted the “wealth of experience” they bring to their new role on the PAB. Kathy, a former Adrian Dominican Sister, was one of the founding members of the PAB, with extensive experience in not-for-profit organizations, particularly hospital work and counseling. Rosemary, an Adrian Dominican Associate from North Carolina, also has been involved in the non-profit world. She founded and directed an international adopting agency, placing more than 2,000 children from other countries into loving homes in the United States. She now works for an accreditation company for service organizations.
In both corporate responsibility and community investments, the PAB collaborates with other communities of women religious. Pat Zerega, senior director of shareholder advocacies for Mercy Investments, works with the PAB in the area of corporate responsibility. The PAB also collaborates with other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in working with corporations to help them to be more socially responsible in their actions and policies.
Since the retirement of Lura Mack, who did much of the work with community investments, the PAB sought the help of an organization that could help in that area. Members of the PAB unanimously chose the Religious Communities Investment Fund (RCIF), founded and directed by Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP.
Kris Cooper, Office Manager, has served the PAB on the staff since 2013. Other members of the PAB are Sister Patricia Leonard, OP, Associate Director of St. Ann Place, a homeless hygiene center in West Palm Beach, Florida; Sister Marilín Llanes, OP, school psychologist in Joliet, Illinois; Lloyd Van Bylevelt, an Adrian Dominican Associate who serves at the Peace Education Foundation in Miami; Marcy Brown, Vice President in Commercial Treasury Management at First Federal Bank in Adrian; and Margaret Weber, who works for the Basilian Fathers in Toronto in the area of socially responsible investment. Sister Elise García, OP, is the General Council liaison to the PAB. Pat Zerega and Adrian Dominican Sisters Judy Byron, OP, and Corinne Florek, OP, serve as consultants.
April 7, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Shareholders in public corporations have a unique privilege, opportunity, and responsibility: to use their proxy ballots to shape the values and decisions of those corporations.
That was the message of Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP, Executive Director of the Religious Communities Investment Fund, in a live-streamed April 3 talk, “How One Checkmark Can Influence Corporate Policy.” Her address was given in the auditorium of Weber Retreat and Conference Center on the Motherhouse campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
She noted the strong economic influence that corporations carry: of the 150 largest economic entities, she said, 87 are corporations. Some 91 million U.S. adults own some stock, she noted, adding that most throw away or recycle their proxy votes rather than voicing their values.
“If you own shares, you have a voice – and I’m here today to ask you to use your influence to improve corporate decision-making and creating change in the issues you care about,” Sister Corinne said. “After all, investments are your money and should be working for you.”
Sister Corinne encouraged individual shareholders to consider the values they support and the industries they would like to avoid supporting, and to ask their financial advisers to craft a portfolio that reflects these choices. Then, as individual investors, they have the right to guide the corporation’s decisions through their proxy vote.
“Proxy is just another name for a ballot that contains resolutions that are up for a vote,” Sister Corrine explained, adding that proxies also include a slate of candidates running to serve on the corporation’s Board of Directors. Resolutions can deal with issues such as environmental impacts and disclosure of the corporation’s lobbying expenses and treatment of workers.
If shareholder resolutions receive support of 3 percent of the proxy voters, the corporation will remain in dialogue about those issues. “The proxy voting is the incentive for the corporation to stay in the dialogue,” Sister Corinne explained. When shareholders don’t vote at all, their votes are considered to be in favor of the view of the corporation’s management rather than of shareholders who are trying to make changes, she added.
Using proxy voting to help bring more justice into the economy is not a new practice. Sister Corinne noted that the Adrian Dominican Sisters have been involved in economic justice through corporate responsibility for more than 40 years through the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB). The Congregation is also working with hundreds of other faith-based organizations, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), to ensure that the corporate world reflects values of justice, care for the environment, and concern for workers and low-income people.
A panel of Adrian Dominican Sisters spoke on their own experience of voting proxies for the Congregation. Sisters Frances Lombaer, OP, Joan Marconi, OP, and Thérèse Haggerty, OP, encouraged listeners to vote their proxies, noting that the process becomes easier with practice. “We do proxy voting because we want to support the choices that the Congregation makes through the PAB, our Portfolio Advisory Board, Sister Thérèse said. “These choices are in line with our vision statements.”
Sister Corinne concluded her talk by giving investors some ideas on how they can both diversify their portfolio and make a difference in the world.
“Please join us in this effort to create more justice in our economy,” Sister Corinne concluded.
To watch her presentation, click here.
October 4, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – Numerous aspects of the issue of climate change and its effects on Earth have been discussed and analyzed in recent years. A presentation, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), focused on a unique but vital slant: how finance can be used as a tool in the fight against climate change.
Geeta Aiyer, CFA, founder and president of Boston Common Asset Management, spoke on “The Climate Finance Landscape – Mitigating the Impact of Climate Change” in the auditorium of Weber Center, before an audience of PAB members, Sisters, Associates, and Co-workers. Geeta has worked closely with the Congregation for about 20 years as an investment manager.
She began by setting her talk in context, noting the urgency of climate change, which can bring about “disruption of climate cycles” and severe weather, as well as “food scarcity, the extinction of species, and the displacement of populations.”
For many years, faith-based organizations have tried to persuade people to address climate change and to change from using fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar. Financial motivation also plays a role, Geeta said. “I firmly believe there is no sustainability without finance,” she said. “Hence, your role as the Portfolio Advisory Board remains central.”
During her talk, Geeta focused on how finance tools can be used as part of a strategy to persuade corporations such as energy companies to lessen the effects of climate change on our planet.
Geeta gave a mixed review of the effectiveness of one popular tool: divestment, selling off your stocks and having nothing to do with a fossil-fuel company, for example. Divestment is a “values statement that says you don’t want to participate in it.” However, she added, the stocks could then go to other owners who don’t care what effects the fossil-fuel companies are having on the environment. In addition, other companies besides fossil fuel corporations put carbon into the air through their operations.
Geeta pointed out that activist shareholders — those who want to make a difference to the environment or social justice through their investments — have a range of tools to persuade corporations to take the environment into account, from dialoguing with the companies to engaging in shareholder resolutions. The PAB, through its Corporate Responsibility arm, engages in those actions to bring about greater social justice and enhance the common good.
Geeta noted the powers of persuasion that shareholders have with the corporations that they invest in because the shareholders would want to make decisions that benefit the corporation as well as the world. As shareholders, “we have a very different voice,” she said. “We want [the corporations] to do well. …We’ll sit with them and talk with them in a voice that can be heard.”
Dialogues between activist shareholders and the companies in which they invest can take many forms, Geeta said. She emphasized the importance of working with fossil-fuel companies to begin to produce renewable energy, with other companies to reduce their use of carbon and to be more efficient, and with insurance companies and banks, who enable continual construction that can increase the use of fossil fuels.
Geeta expressed her own optimism that fossil fuel companies and other corporations will eventually act to make the environment more sustainable. “When we know people are watching, we change how we do things,” she said. For example, if fossil fuel companies realize that the demand for carbon-based energy has been reduced, they might supply more energy through renewable sources. Companies in every sector could become aware of opportunities to make a difference through more efficient use of energy or through technology that helps consumers to measure their own use of energy.
To hear more about this complex issue, watch the video of Geeta’s entire talk.
September 2, 2016 - A well-known asset management specialist will be the featured speaker in a presentation hosted by the Portfolio Advisory Board.
Geeta Aiyer, CFA, founder and President of Boston Common Asset Management, will talk about "The Climate Finance Landscape — Mitigating the Impact of Climate Change" at 1:15 pm. September 8 at the Weber Retreat and Conference Center.
Aiyer uses her extensive experience in finance to fuel leadership and innovation in the areas of environmental sustainability and social justice.
More details about Aiyer and the upcoming talk are available here.
On July 20, 2016, a Dow shareholder meeting was called for members to vote on the company’s merger with DuPont. The Adrian Dominican Sisters — shareholders who also represent shareholders from Pesticide Action Network, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, and Trillium Asset Management — attempted to present their concerns about the risks and impact of the merger. However, the meeting was tightly controlled and no one other than the CEO and the Corporate Secretary were permitted to speak.
Read more in this PAN press release, which also includes comments from Margaret Weber, member of the Portfolio Advisory Board for the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Insights, the Portfolio Advisory Board’s electronic newsletter (published quarterly), features stories about the socially responsible activities of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, including community investments and shareholder resolutions.
Shareholders End Silence on Gun Violence
Renaissance Marks 10 Years of Serving Families and Businesses
PAB among Faith-Based Investors Speaking Out for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
LiftFund: Empowering Diverse Entrepreneurs, Businesses
Portfolio Advisory Board, Adrian Dominican Sisters | 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive | Adrian, Michigan 49221
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