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By Sister Judy Byron, OP Consultant, Portfolio Advisory Board
The 2023 shareholder engagements of the Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) of the Adrian Dominican Sisters will carry out the Enactments of our 19th General Chapter, held in June 2022. In addition to electing our new leadership, more than 200 Sisters of the Congregation affirmed our focus for the next six years on areas including diversity, sustainability, and women.
In our 2023 Shareholder Advocacy Plan, the PAB committed to raise up systemic inequities and the quest for racial justice in corporate board rooms, where we will advocate for policies and practices which respect human rights and promote worker justice, food justice, health equity, and a transition to a low-carbon future.
Focusing on our Adrian Dominican Enactment on Diversity to “act to dismantle unjust systems; and build the beloved community in which everyone is cared for, absent of poverty, hunger, and hate,” we engage Walmart and Dine Brands (Applebee’s and IHOP) on providing adequate wages and benefits for their employees. Research by the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at Brandeis University found that more than one-third of U.S. families that work full-time year-round do not earn enough to cover a basic family budget. More than half of Black and Hispanic families cannot afford basic needs.
We plan to continue addressing information and communications technology companies, Alphabet and Meta Platforms (Facebook), on child sexual exploitation online. In 2021 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline received 29.3 million reports of suspected child sex abuse materials online. Some 92.2% of the reports involved Meta mobile apps Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
In support of the human right to health and the dignity of each person, we ask pharmaceutical companies to adopt a human rights policy which includes the right to the highest standard of health for all with a focus on women, Indigenous Peoples, and those living in poverty and to develop drug pricing strategies that support affordability and access for all. Companies that we engage include Eli Lilly, Gilead Sciences, Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer.
Acting on our Sustainability Enactment “to address the cry of Earth and the cry of those who are poor,” we engage companies to assess the impact of their operations on society, the local economy, and the environment. We especially focus on the most vulnerable, including women, Indigenous Peoples, communities of color, and people who are impoverished.
We ask fossil fuel companies to adopt technologies to monitor and reduce methane emissions. The Environmental Defense Fund says that “cutting methane emissions is the fastest opportunity we have to immediately slow the rate of global warming, even as we decarbonize our energy systems.” In addition we ask fossil fuel companies to improve their public disclosure and transparency reporting, including plans to comply with a regulatory scenario that holds global temperature rise below a 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold. Companies in this sector include Exxon Mobil and Marathon Petroleum.
The PAB is a member of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), which pioneered the use of shareholder advocacy more than 50 years ago. “Inspired by faith, committed to action” to build a more just and sustainable world, ICCR members in the 2022 proxy season engaged hundreds of companies with thousands of dialogues and with more than 500 shareholder resolutions. We reached agreements with companies to implement the resolution requests for 174 proposals; the majority focused on climate issues and racial justice.
October 5, 2021, New York, New York – Fifteen members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) drew support from 43.9% of the shareholders of Smith & Wesson for a proposal that the gun manufacturer adopt a comprehensive human rights policy in light of rising gun violence in the United States.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters, represented by Sister Judy Byron, OP, were the primary filers of the proposal. Fourteen faith-based organizations from ICCR co-filed.
In a press release, ICCR noted that this amount of support from shareholders – compared to 39% support for a similar proposal in 2019 – “demonstrates shareholders’ mounting concern with the company’s lack of attention to the growing risks of gun violence.” The proposal calls on Smith & Wesson to include in the policy “a description of the processes the company will use to identify, assess, prevent, and mitigate adverse human rights impacts.”
“Undisputedly, something must be done about the misuse of guns in our country,” Sister Judy said in her September 27, 2021, Shareholder Statement. “As a leading firearms manufacturer we genuinely believe Smith & Wesson has the knowledge and the expertise to engineer the solutions we need to reduce gun violence and save lives.”
A consultant to the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board, Sister Judy went on to note that the intention of the proposal is not to put Smith & Wesson out of business or to abolish the Second Amendment. “We seek to make the business, the products, and the consumers who buy them, safer,” she said. “We seek – as everyone here must surely do – to save lives.”
The mining of metals results in significant changes in the environment. Mines can be as large as two miles wide by two miles long and ¾ mile deep, bringing about a significant change in the landscape. In addition, the mining process requires a great amount of water to separate minerals from the ore, leaving behind a large amount of waste rock with the consistency of sand. This material, referred to as “tailings,” is placed in a pond. The pond can be close to 1,000 feet wide and left for many years after a mine closes.
On January 25, 2019, in Brumadinho, Brazil, a tailings dam created by the mining company Vale collapsed, spilling 12 million cubic meters (more than 3.1 billion gallons) of tailings waste down the valley and causing the death of more than 270 people (see video of the collapse below, from the Wall Street Journal website).
Immediately, socially responsible investors met to determine a best step forward. They decided that some investors would engage Vale about the particular tailings dam breach. At the same time, the investors addressed the issue of the many mining companies that do not have good practice surrounding these dams.
The Church of England Pensions Board and Swedish National Pension Fund developed a sign-on letter asking mining companies to disclose details of their storage facilities. The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) joined these investors – representing more than $13.5 trillion in combined assets under management – to ask 726 of the largest publicly traded mining companies to disclose their tailings facilities. A review of the information submitted from the first group of dams shows some instability in 10% of the dams. This could lead to further disasters.
Photos of the Brumadinho mining disaster by Ibama on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
These investors, together with the UN environmental program, the International Council of Metals and Mining, and the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, formed a Global Tailings Review which will include communities on the ground to determine the best way forward toward a standard that will improve the management of these facilities. The draft standard is currently out for review by academics, communities, investors, and the public at large.
These steps cannot change the tragedy that occurred in January, nor the other 11 incidents that have occurred since 2010, but the investors hope to be a voice for change, calling for accountability going forward. These efforts aim to develop a better understanding of the social and environmental risks around tailings management and ensure that systems are in place to prevent future disasters and increase mining safety standards worldwide.
Portfolio Advisory Board, Adrian Dominican Sisters | 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive | Adrian, Michigan 49221
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