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Chicago, December 11, 2023 – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters were among 150 attendees of the Alliance Against Human Trafficking conference who shared ideas about their efforts to end the scourge of human trafficking.

Begun in 2013 as U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, the organization celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. It changed its name to Alliance Against Human Trafficking to be more inclusive of the many allies in the Sisters’ efforts against human trafficking.

Human trafficking – the forced, fraudulent, or coerced exploitation of human beings in labor or commercial sex – is an illegal trade that afflicts women, children, and men. Polaris Project, a national anti-human trafficking organization, puts the number of people who are trafficked at 25 million worldwide. “It’s a big, $1.5 billion operation,” said Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, adding that human trafficking is the second largest illegal trade, after drugs.

Sister Patricia emphasized that human trafficking is everywhere in the world. “In my work here in Michigan, I’ve learned that many people think we don’t have human trafficking in Lenawee County because it’s rural, but in all 83 counties in Michigan, there are cases of human trafficking,” she said. 

“One of the phenomenal aspects [of the conference] was how many different people we were able to interact with and network about what was taking place in their geographical regions,” Sister Patricia said. She gained “new ideas, new insight, a way of realizing the connection of all of us.” Human trafficking is growing worldwide, and “the more who are involved [in working against it], the more can be done,” she said. 

Sister Judy Byron, OP, also attended the conference. “One takeaway for me was that we had the vision to end human trafficking, and the Sisters got together to found Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking,” Sister Judy said. “We’ve partnered with associates and many organizations and lay people to address this issue because it’s bigger than us.”

Through her involvement with the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC), based in Seattle, Sister Judy has been active in efforts against human trafficking since 2008. The organization’s many activities include monthly vigils in downtown Seattle that have been ongoing for 15 years and various presentations on the topic to raise awareness of the issue, including webinars for junior high school students. 

During the vigils, IPJC activists hold signs to attract the attention of passersby. In the beginning, Sister Judy said, people thought that human trafficking involved brothels in Cambodia. “Over the years, people began to realize that it’s happening in this country – labor and sex trafficking,” she said. “People thought it was over there but realized that human trafficking is no respecter of countries. It’s everywhere.”

Sister Judy explained that Adrian Dominican Sisters and other faith-based investors also work with the tourism industry to train their employees about the signs of a human trafficking situation and what they should do if they suspect it. Hotels and airlines especially have been training their employees, she said.

A particular challenge in efforts against human trafficking is that it has moved online in recent years, Sister Judy said. “Children are solicited on their phones and groomed for sex,” she explained. “There are parental controls on iPads and phones, but if kids want to find a way around it, they will.” Faith-based shareholders are working with social media platforms such as Meta, phone companies, and other communications companies to find ways to protect children, she said.

Sister Patricia educates the public, working with parishes and schools in the Adrian area and speaking to organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce. “I see many positive programs reaching out to the public,” she said. “This networking is very proactive and positive around addressing the issue.”

If you suspect that a situation involves labor or sex trafficking, call the U.S. Department of Human Services at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423). More information can be found on www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign or from the Polaris Project, https://polarisproject.org/.

January has been declared the National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and January 11, 2024, is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The observance continues into February with the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, the Patron Saint of Human Trafficking Victims.

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.

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.



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