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By Mary Minette
Mercy Investments Consultant
December 8, 2023, New York, New York – The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility’s (ICCR) annual Fall Conference took place October 3-5, 2023, in New York City and featured a variety of speakers and events that related to the work of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB).
The event also provided an opportunity to celebrate the contributions and retirements of Sister Judy Byron, OP, Director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, and Pat Zerega, Senior Director of Shareholder Advocacy for Mercy Investment Services. Both have provided many years of staff support to the PAB.
Defending shareholder rights was a central topic of this fall’s ICCR gathering because of the growing number of bills introduced at the state and federal levels, aiming to prohibit investor consideration of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors. (For an explanation of ESG investment and anti-ESG bills, read this recent article.) With 2023 ESG shareholder proposals seeing decreased support, investors discussed potential actions, namely offering public support for the SEC’s forthcoming disclosure rules and engaging large asset managers on their voting practices.
Another session focused on providing investors with tools to engage asset managers on proxy voting. Following the recent rise of anti-ESG sentiment, asset managers significantly decreased their support for shareholder resolutions in their 2023 proxy voting. Asset managers oversee the holdings of investors, their clients, assuring that their decisions on behalf of the investors are made in good faith, aligned with the client’s responsible screening criteria.
ICCR members are urged to engage their asset managers on disclosure of voting policies, with progressive escalation steps for unresponsive managers, including switching assets to a competitor if the asset manager refuses to act.
In another emerging issue, a panel of presenters discussed the growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI), mindful of its impacts on society and democracy. The keynote speaker, Nathalie Maréchal from the Center for Democracy and Technology, explained that the most important decision is when not to use AI in modern work, citing the rise of disinformation, fraud, and misuse of data.
ICCR members continue to advance worker justice issues, and the conference included a session on advocating for companies to provide a living wage. The session’s panel members included an associate at a large retail chain who provided insight into the challenges facing workers, such as low wages, minimal benefits, and employer retaliation for employee criticism.
A researcher on the panel illustrated the negative impact that underpaying workers can have on long-term shareholder value, as studies show that a living wage supports employee retention and productivity.
The Racial Justice Investing Coalition moderated a session on racial justice-focused investing and its impact on fostering a stronger democracy. The session provided investors with a chance to learn about best practices from investors already working on this issue.
Another panel offered a presentation on pressing for corporate action on environmental justice and emphasized centering racial equity in climate work, engaging local communities in joint decision-making, and holding parent companies accountable for pollution from owned facilities.
In another session on company accountability, speakers addressed human rights due diligence (HRDD) and responsible contracting. Speakers explained the importance of supply chain contracts, highlighting that shifting risk onto a supplier is not the same as risk management. The panel members recommended that investors advocate for responsible contracts that feature shared commitments and prioritize human rights.
The ICCR conference provides a valuable opportunity to strategize with fellow faith-based investors for the current shareholder advocacy season.
Caption for feature photo at top: Attending the ICCR conference are, from left, Sister Susan Mika, OSB, Sister Ann Scholz, SSND, Sister Judy Byron, OP, Timnit Ghermay and Sister Marilín Llanes, OP.
October 28, 2021, San Bernardino, California – Sister Judy Byron, OP, consultant of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board, was featured recently on Mission Minute News for her involvement in efforts to work with gun manufacturers to put an end to the epidemic of gun violence.
During the 30-minute program, Mission San Jose Dominican Sister Jeanne Harris, OP, outlines Sister Judy’s work to prevent gun violence through corporate responsibility campaigns with gun manufacturers. Most recently, Sister Judy led the efforts of 15 organizations in the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility to persuade shareholders of Smith & Wesson to pass a resolution that the gun manufacturer adopt a comprehensive human rights policy in light of rising gun violence in the United States. They drew support from 43.9% of the shareholders - a much greater show of support than at earlier shareholder meetings.
Watch the Mission Minute News video. The segment on Sister Judy can be found at the 9:07 mark.