“Come now, let us set things right”

“Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Upon hearing those words from Isaiah, my heart was drawn to the recent events in Parkland, Florida. How can we, how can I “set things right?” We cannot bring back those 17 who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Nor can we bring back the two killed at Kentucky’s Marshall County High School (Jan 2018), nor the three at New Mexico’s Aztec High School (Dec 2017), nor the six at California’s Rancho Tehama Elementary School (Nov 2017), nor any of those many tragedies among school shootings in the U.S.

The youth from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have undertaken a herculean task: getting Congressional action on guns. At this point, Congress remains crippled. If Congress passes comprehensive background checks for gun sales, raises the minimum legal age for gun purchases, and restricts the sale of certain firearms, the inspired leadership from students Emma González and David Hogg will have accomplished a miracle of biblical proportions.

Do Not Stand Idly By details actions that local and state public officials can take, including identifying “bad-apple” gun dealers and changing firearm procurement policies for local law enforcement. They also have some modest and meaningful proposals for firearms manufacturers, including building a network of reputable dealers and deploying smart technologies in firearm safety. In spite of the availability of new technologies, gun makers have not chosen to deploy them. A simple way to see it is to compare a common firearm and a cell phone. The average cell phone has greater and more extensive security than any firearm on the market in the U.S., but the firearm is much more lethal than the cell phone.

For our part as shareholders, how can we “set things right?” Some (under the hashtag of #BoycottNRA) have pressured companies to break agreements and preferences extended to the National Rifle Association (NRA). A host of firms have ended partnerships with the NRA. Axios.com has provided a running list of companies that have ended their agreements with the NRA hereBlackstone, a large private equity asset management group, called its outside fund managers to make a report over the weekend about investments in firearms.  FedEx seems to gone further than most other companies who merely ended partnership agreements. FedEx offered a statement that expressed specific values about assault weapons.

Barron’s Reshma Kapadia outlined a strategy in a recent article: “We’re All Gun Owners, and Here’s Why.” Kapadia explains that even Florida teachers, via their retirement funds, hold shares in the companies that make the AR-15 rifle. Vanguard and BlackRock hold major stakes in the three manufacturers of firearms. The gun makers are small relative the size of the two large funds, the value of a “rounding error” according to Kapadia, but she notes: “The gun makers may not matter to asset managers, but the reverse isn’t true. The fund giants help keep the stocks of gun makers afloat.” At least 16 banks, including Bank of America, Capital One, JPMogran Chase, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo, also are significant shareholders in firearms manufacturers.

Reuters reports that BlackRock has not remained idle: “BlackRock puts gunmakers on notice after Florida school shooting.” The article duly notes that BlackRock has not defined what actions it will take. For my part, I’d recommend that BlackRock join with Sr. Judy Byron, O.P. who filed resolutions with American Outdoor Brands (Smith & Wesson) and Sturm Ruger. The resolutions ask the companies to report on their activities related to gun safety measures and the mitigation of harm associated with gun products, including efforts to research and produce safer guns and gun products, and to assess the reputational and financial risks they face from gun violence in the U.S.

Let us commit ourselves to “set things right.” Even the words from Isaiah that precede it deeply resonate with our work in corporate social responsibility: “Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Let us not be deaf to the cries of school children. Let us not fail to act.

ICCR has a press release about the resolutions here

SGI members score progress with utilities on climate change

This year, SGI members filed resolutions with two midwestern utilities: CMS Energy and WEC Energy Group. Each resolution aimed for the public disclosure of an assessment of the long-term business impacts of limiting global warming to under 2-degrees Celsius, as adopted by the Paris Climate Agreement.

We have great news: both resolutions have been withdrawn as the companies agreed to the main components of the resolutions. Despite the Trump administration’s decision to end the Clean Power Plan, both midwestern utilities rise to meet the challenges of climate change. In fact, CMS announced last week that they reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent and no longer using coal to generate electricity by 2040.

Sr. Ruth Geraets, PBVM of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Aberdeen, SD who led the filing of the resolution at CMS Energy said, “My congregation is concerned about climate change and the critical need to reduce greenhouse emissions because our mission calls us to care for creation. As longterm shareholders in CMS, we believe having a strategy in place to meet climate challenges head-on will improve CMS’ competitive position over the long term. We were pleased to see CMS step up to this challenge with its recently announced clean energy breakthrough goals.”

With respect to the dialogue with WEC Energy Group, on behalf of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Central Pacific Province, Tim Dewane said, “Pope Francis has said, ‘Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility.’ We thank WEC Energy Group for its efforts in this regard so far. We believe they are not only good for the planet, but they are also in the bottom-line best interests of the company, its customers and shareholders.”

“These two utility companies are climate leaders in the Midwest,” said Frank Sherman, Executive Director of SGI. “They recognize that market forces and their customer base are pushing them to exceed federal climate regulations and state renewable portfolio standards. Although they are big companies, utilities have a very local focus and are highly dependent on the social license granted by the communities where they operate.”

Our partners at ICCR shared a press release about this win which can be found here.

SGI members join investor letter to Walt Disney regarding tobacco depictions in films

When CEO Bob Iger said, during a Q&A session at Disney’s 2015 annual shareholder meeting, the company will “absolutely prohibit” the use of smoking in Disney films rated PG-13 and under, faith-based investors lauded the decision. It built on a prior commitment from 2007 that prohibited smoking in Disney films, but not yet across their brands.

The 2015 commitment was not a decision limited to certain labels: “We are extending our policy to prohibit smoking in movies across the board: Marvel, Lucas, Pixar, and Disney films,” said Iger. Iger offered only two exceptions: films which involve historical figures known for smoking, or scenes that portray smoking in a negative light (emphasizing the detrimental health consequences of smoking). Disney’s full policy can be found here.

In December of 2017, Disney acquired Fox film and television for $52 billion. It remains unclear what Disney will do with the new acquisitions.

SGI and its members joined other investors in a letter to Disney that calls upon the company to apply the same standards to the film and television properties acquired from Fox that it applies to other film and television holdings already within its portfolio.

Again, read the full investor letter here.

SGI Webinar Recording: Immigration and the Shareholder

We offer hearty thanks to Hannah Evans Graf of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (also co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition) and Dylan Corbett from the Hope Border Institute who joined us for the webinar. Also, to our members and allies from within ICCR or other networks, we are grateful that you joined us.

If you are only seeing this for the first time now, in the webinar we:

  • Reviewed our values and commitments on immigration
  • Assessed the state of play on policy
  • Highlighted what some allies are doing
  • Encouraged deeper investor engagement with our companies around concerns on immigration (e.g., the shareholder letter to JPMorgan Chase concerning investment in private prisons and immigration detention centers)
The slides from the webinar are available here.

Some helpful resources include:

Please, consider evaluating the webinar by clicking here.

FSPA takes CSR to court

When we saw a recent article (Wisconsin groups to get $12M settlement for natural gas price fixing) from the La Crosse Tribune quoting Sr. Sue Ernster, FSPA, we wanted to bring it to the attention of our SGI members.  Sr. Sue adds:

FSPA participated in the lawsuit of the manipulation of natural gas pricing by multiple utilities as another way of how we live out our social justice activities and our values.  We see this as an effort to help those whose voices are not represented in this and other situations.  We are utilizing the resources we have at our disposal to hold those accountable who were responsible for this price manipulation.

Our hope is that participating in litigation settlements such as these, as well as filing shareholder resolutions with companies, demonstrates that people are paying attention, asking questions and holding them accountable for their actions.

Investors call on Congress to reinstate TPS

The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, with signatures from SGI and 12 of its individual members, sent a letter to the leaders of Congress advocating for “Congress to allow TPS holders to remain in the country and pursue a path to naturalization.”

TPS, temporary protected status, established by Congress in the Immigration Act of 1990, is humanitarian program whose basic principle is that the United States should suspend deportations to countries that have been destabilized by war or catastrophe.

There are approximately 195,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians, and 2,550 Nicaraguans who are current beneficiaries of TPS status. In addition, there are 5,800 Syrian, 8,950 Nepali, and 57,000 Honduran TPS holders in the United States today. Of the total 10 countries with current TPS designations, approximately 330,000 people (or, adults and children) benefit from TPS. Many have resided in the U.S. for a significant period of time. For instance, more than one-half of El Salvadoran and Honduran, and 16 percent of the Haitian TPS beneficiaries have resided in the U.S. for 20 years or more.

Thanks to our members who individually signed on. May this week have fruitful in deliberations in the U.S. Senate. Again, to read the letter, please visit here.