Investing in firearm safety

Last week, some SGI members (Sr. Ruth Battaglia, C.S.A., Sr. Reg McKillip, O.P., Mark Peters, and Dan Tretow) and I found ourselves in a rather unusual meeting amid law enforcement, retailers, medical professionals, advocates, public officials, media, investors and philanthropists. Hosted by Common Ground, the Industrial Areas Foundation, and Do Not Stand Idly By (DNSIB), the Gun Safety Expo offered a forum for leading developers showcased products that can prevent gun theft and unauthorized or accidental shootings.

SGI and ICCR have been collaborating with Do Not Stand Idly By on gun safety issues. You may recall Sr. Judy Byron’s wins with Sturm Ruger and American Outdoor Brands

DNSIB and ICCR are working on a coordinated strategy to reduce gun violence via a market strategy. As DNSIB puts it, “Our tax dollars buy about 40 percent of the guns in America. The military buys about 25%, and law enforcement 15%. This is enormous market power.” At this time, our cell phones have better safety features than any gun on the market. If law enforcement demand smart guns (e.g., those that require fingerprint recognition or other technologies), suspects could not use their guns against them. As well, it creates a market demand for more secure devices. Homeowners with guns are more likely to have them used against them (or by their kids) than used in self-defense. A new study shows that household gun ownership can pave the way for a high suicide rate among young people. Smart weapons would reduce senseless deaths. Gun manufacturers can take steps, without any change in laws, to make guns safer so that lives may be saved.

SGI members offered the following reactions:

While I have never been around guns, have no desire be introduced to them, and fail to comprehend some people’s need to have ready access to a gun, attending the Firearm Safety Expo nudged me to accept, if not fully embrace, a non-polarized way of addressing the deadly impact of guns. Innovative safety technologies offer some hope in reducing the number of gun-related suicides, deaths, and injuries. We, as socially responsible investors, can join our voices with public officials, law enforcement, and legal services in asking gun manufacturers to develop and use gun safety technologies that make their product child-proof, useless to thieves, and able to save the lives of police and civilians alike.

Sr. Ruth Battaglia, C.S.A.

I guess I was hit with the irony of it all….The more we make guns safe, the more attractive it would be for people to purchase them. We also can use that same logic with gun manufacturers who are not wanting to invest in safety measures…the safer you make the gun, the more people will feel comfortable purchasing a gun.

Sr. Reg McKillip, O.P.

It was very well-planned like all IAF and CG [Common Ground] events, and I was impressed with all the partners they’d brought into the campaign, like the Medical College of WI, and all the elected officials who were present. It is definitely not the whole answer as far as gun control, but it may be the only approach that has a chance in the current political climate. I’m not a gun owner or user, but if I was I think I would have been very interested in some of the products that were either in development or already on the market.

Mark Peters

[The event] was very interesting. I think they had the right players in attendance. The law enforcement presence was especially impressive (WI, IL and OH). The trigger locks make a lot of sense for the existing guns. I think the Biofire presentation and his fingerprint stock was the best idea at the show. I hope his smart gun technology turns into the new standard for weaponry in home safety/security and law enforcement/military application. I hope the gun manufacturers take this into consideration going forward. I agree with the speaker that said incentives will help promote the use of these devices. Government (local/state/federal) use and demand for smart guns by law makers will hopefully cause less accidental shootings and suicides.

Dan Tretow
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Among the public officials present were: Tom Barrett (mayor of Milwaukee), Chris Abele (Milwaukee County Executive), John Chisholm (Milwaukee District Attorney), and Barry Weber (Wauwatosa Chief of Police). Vendors included: Biofire, Everwatch, Gun Guardian, Identilock, Ignis Kinetics, SAAR, Safety First Arms, and Vara. These represent companies demonstrating user authenticating guns, personalized locks and gun tracking products. The Oak Creek campus of Milwaukee Area Technical College hosted the event. As home to the Regional Police Training Center, a shooting range was available to allow for live demonstrations.

Some additional coverage of the event:

ICCR provides an excellent, detailed list of coverage of investor action around gun safety here.

A hearty welcome to Riverwater Partners

As you likely know, last year, SGI added 5 new members, and we are grateful for the efforts of our members, in particular Mark Peters (an SGI board member, chair of our development committee, and director of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation for the Priests of the Sacred Heart), to encourage more organizations to join SGI and to make us genuinely an interfaith organization. We’d like to introduce our newest member, Riverwater Partners, to the broader SGI family.

Our members may have learned a bit about Riverwater Partners from a recent article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Wisconsin’s B Corporations want to be a force for good, not just profit.

Additionally, they describe their work in the following way:

Riverwater Partners, an employee-owned registered investment advisor, believes it is in the best interest of our clients, our firm, our communities, and our world to consider the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) policies and practices of the firms in which we invest our clients’ assets, as we do at Riverwater Partners. Therefore, we evaluate potential investment candidates on the basis of their ESG efforts, alongside their more traditional investment characteristics of Superior Business, Exceptional Management, and Reasonable Valuation.

Riverwater Partners uses a Three Pillar Approach to evaluate the ESG efforts of companies being considered for inclusion in client portfolios:

Research

Riverwater Partners analysts and portfolio managers research the ESG efforts of companies, gathering information provided in sustainability reports, financial statements, corporate disclosures, and press releases. In addition, we inquire about ESG efforts when we speak with management directly.

Engagement

Riverwater Partners engages company Executives and Boards regarding their ESG efforts, or lack thereof, in order to assist them in understanding the benefits of, and in initiating and/or improving their ESG efforts. It is our goal to promote greater impact over time with respect to improved corporate governance, fair treatment of all stakeholders, enhanced environmental impact, and ultimately, superior financial outcomes and real economy benefits.

Collaboration

Riverwater Partners collaborates with organizations that promote ESG efforts to inform our practice. Riverwater is a member of US SIF, CDP Worldwide, Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment, and is a signatory of United Nations PRI. In addition, Riverwater is a Certified B Corp. Membership in these organizations provides us with thought leadership on best practices, current trends, impact, etc., which enables us to focus our ESG lens effectively.

Many believe one must sacrifice financial gain to achieve real economy gain; however, history has shown that companies that incorporate ESG policies and practices into running their business have generally outperformed companies that do not. The fact is that these practices often result in meaningful financial gain in the form of increased revenue (as customers want to support the efforts) and/or decreased expenses (as a result of lower energy consumption, for example) or potential liability. Our commitment to investing in companies that consider impact on all stakeholders will likely generate superior investment returns for our clients and will surely lead to a better world.

Again, we offer a hearty welcome to Riverwater Partners and look forward to their collaboration with us in the work of building a more just and sustainable world.

“Change is inevitable, growth is optional”

By Frank Sherman

December is a time of hope……a time to reflect on the past and dream of the future.

As I look back on 2018, I think of Nobel Peace Prize winners Nadia Murad, 25, who became the voice and face of women who survived sexual violence by the Islamic State, and Dr. Denis Mukwege, 63, the Congolese gynecological surgeon has treated thousands of women in a country once called the rape capital of the world. I think of Time magazine Persons of the Year, “The Guardians” – a group of journalists who have been targeted for their work. I think of CNN’s Hero of the Year, Dr. Ricardo Pun-Chong, a physician who provides rooms for poor families who bring their children from the countryside for life saving surgery in Lima, Peru. These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. 

What about our members of Seventh Generation Interfaith? Are they making a difference?

This year SGI members worked with Midwestern electric utility companies to develop long term climate change scenarios and set ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. We promoted transparency in corporate political spending and lobbying. We challenged pharmaceutical companies to base their executive remuneration policies on innovation and patient outcomes rather than predatory pricing. We helped companies eliminate deforestation and reduce water pollution in their supply chain. We asked food brands and restaurants to improve their nutritional profile and follow marketing-to-children guidelines to fight obesity. We advocated for human rights policies and ethical recruitment to support workers and communities impacted by global corporate supply chains. 

Our message is growing. Over the past year, SGI added 5 new members and are developing many more prospects to diversify our faith traditions. Our quarterly webinars, semimonthly blog articles and weekly newsletters kept our members informed on our issues and trained on our tactics.

So what do we have to look forward to in 2019? Our Corporate Engagement Plan is bigger than ever including 53 companies in active dialogue with over half of our members. SGI members have filed or cofiled 28 resolutions to amplify our voice to the broader shareholder base. SGI staff and members are active in ICCR leadership and program workgroups. 

Fr. Dan Crosby said it best in his keynote speech at our 45th anniversary when he spoke of his bother Fr. Mike’s conviction to live the Gospel. He reminding us that “change is inevitable, growth is optional”. He ended saying that “…four virtues are essential to SGI’s work: collaboration, solidarity, courage, …….and hope”.

A very blessed holiday season to you and your family, and a hopeful New Year!

Battle for Shareholder Rights Shifts to the SEC

By Frank Sherman

Within the toolkit of a shareholder, the right to propose resolutions for consideration by fellow shareholders is one of the most critical to influence corporate behavior (see SGI blog article posted last year). Further, other tools may be less effective without a robust right to propose resolutions. Many companies find a dialogue preferable to a resolution. Without the risk of a resolution, more companies may choose to forgo dialogues with shareholders. Thus, efforts to restrict shareholder rights are alarming, and those rights are under attack on a number of fronts.

Last year, the House of Representatives threatened this right with passage, along party lines, of the Financial Choice Act (H.R. 10) . The bill would have replaced large parts of the 2010 Dodd–Frank Act and increase the ownership threshold for filing resolutions from $2,000 to 1% of common stock outstanding, and extend the stockholding duration requirement from one year to three years (Harvard Law School Forum). The 1% threshold means that an investor would need about $10 billion in shares to file a resolution with Apple or Amazon and would foreclose the resolution process to all but the largest shareholders. In the Senate, the companion bill (S. 2155) got out of Committee but, fortunately, never made it to the floor.

Another bill aimed to regulate proxy advisory firms like Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis. As well, the recently proposed bipartisan Senate bill S. 3614 – Corporate Governance Fairness Act (Reuters) is less onerous than H.R. 4015 – Corporate Governance Reform and Transparency Act which passed the House last year (CNBC).

Legislative gridlock means that the battle shifted to the Security and Exchange Commission, who held a Proxy Process Roundtable on Nov 15th. In addition to the shareholder proposal rules, the Roundtable had panels on the proxy voting mechanics and technology and proxy advisory firms.

Investors were well represented in the Roundtable panels by the NYC pension fund, Trillium, CalSTRS, AFL-CIO, and Blackrock. Although opposing views were voiced by the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, investor advocates had a compelling argument. In answer to the Chamber’s argument that the shareholder proposal process was one of the factors driving companies away from IPOs, Brandon Rees (AFL-CIO) noted that “the average public company receives a shareholder proposal only once every 7.7 years, and so it was preposterous to suggest that shareholder proposals were a reason companies avoided going public.” Harvard Law School Forum reported that “most panelists for this topic seemed to view the shareholder proposal system as relatively smooth functioning and didn’t offer that much criticism.”

Given these threats, SGI and some of our members submitted letters to the SEC supporting the current proxy rules as being fair and efficient. 

The topic of proxy process and rules returned to Congress last week when the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on December 6th. The Chamber again testified that companies and their shareholders have been targeted over social and political issues that are unrelated to and, sometimes, even “at odds with” a public company’s long-term performance. Committee Chair Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID) seemed to agree, stating “it is time to re-examine the standards for inclusion of these proposals as well as the need for fiduciaries to vote all proxies on all issues in light of the proliferation of environmental, social or political proposals, and the rise of diversified passive funds.” On the other hand, Michael Garland (NYC pension funds) defended shareholder rights and the proxy advisory firms stating “Many of those who are the subject of the proxy analysis do not like to be criticized and receive negative vote recommendations...”

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton amplified these attacks on shareholder rights in a speech at Columbia University on the same day. He indicated that review of the ownership and re-submission thresholds for shareholder proposals will be a priority item for the Commission in 2019.

While some will work to erode the rights of shareholders, we will continue to work with the investor community to protect the voice of shareholders.

Opioid Epidemic: What can investors do?

Opioid addiction has become a disease that has destroyed the lives and families of millions of everyday working Americans. The epidemic is not abating.  With increasing frequency, new headlines emerge as the problem grows in scale and the consequences become ever more devastating. New data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows there were over 72,000 estimated overdose deaths last year, a 10% increase on the prior year. These estimates mean the problem is more deadly than gun violence, car crashes and AIDS.

In addition to the human cost, the massive economic cost grows daily. For example, the U.S. Center for Disease Control reports that opioids have cost the American workforce the largest portion of labor since the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. A recent report from Ohio State University also documents that the crisis is costing Ohio more than the state’s annual budget for k-12 education.

Over the last year, SGI has been working with Investors for Opioid Accountability, an initiative that joins ICCR members with other investors to engage corporations who have profited from this epidemic. We engage pharmaceuticals producers, distributors, and retailers. We believe that companies that have acted negligently should be held to account. However, we do not believe that opioid producers and distributors should be the only stakeholders considered when tackling this issue. Opioids are effective pain killers that are commonly prescribed for acute and chronic pain. To fully address the issue, we believe that regulators, pharmacists, insurers, point-of-care providers and users all have a role to play.

In 2018, IOA members filed 35 resolutions at the following 11 companies: Alkermes; Amerisource Bergen (ABC); Cardinal Health (CAH); Depomed; Endo; Insys Therapeutics; Johnson & Johnson (JNJ); Mallinkrodt; McKesson; Pfizer; Walgreens.

Below are outcomes for the resolutions that went to a vote:

  • ABC – 62% of indep. votes for board risk report
  • ABC – 52% of indep. votes for clawback
  • ABC – 49% of indep. votes for indep. chair
  • Pfizer – 25% for indep. chair
  • Pfizer – 33% corporate lobbying disclosure
  • JNJ –17.8% for stop exclusion of legal costs in executive compensation
  • Depomed – 62.5% for board risk report
  • McKesson – 39% corp. lobbying, 34% accelerated vesting, 1% GAAP, 12% withhold Audit chair
  • Rite Aid – 56.7% for board risk report

An additional 13 resolutions were settled:

  • CAH: Cardinal separates chair and CEO ahead of meeting 
  • JNJ: Indep. chair annual review of combined roles
  • ALK: Board agreed to expand corporate lobbying expenditure disclosure
  • CAH: Board published risk report, misconduct clawback and separated chair & CEO
  • DEPO: Board agreed to misconduct clawback
  • ENDO: Board agreed to risk report, misconduct clawback and expand political spending reporting
  • MCK: Board agreed to continued reporting on anti-diversion efforts
  • MNK: Board agreed to misconduct clawback and expand political spending reporting, Board elected to sell opioid business
  • Insys: Board agreed to misconduct clawback

Next year, we will have even more filings regarding this important issue. It is our hope that more SGI members can become involved in this work so critical to many communities across the U.S.

Proposed Rollback of Methane Regulations Threatens Long-term Viability of Oil and Gas Sector

SGI joined a group of investors in a letter sent to oil and gas companies to warn against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rollback of the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), a regulation the investors say is critical to the long-term viability of the oil and gas sector in the energy transition already underway.

Sent to 30 companies on behalf of 61 investor signatories representing US$1.9 trillion in assets under management, the letter calls upon the companies to offer public support for continued EPA regulation of methane emissions and to oppose the elimination of direct regulation of methane emissions.

More than 610 different companies accounted for 50% of U.S. oil and gas production in 2017. While most of the companies receiving the letter have responded positively to investor engagement on methane management, there are hundreds of companies that are not managing methane emissions carefully, which threatens the reputation of natural gas as a ‘cleaner’ fossil fuel.  A study earlier this year in the journal Science estimated that in the U.S., methane equivalent to 2.3 percent of all the natural gas produced in the nation leaks into the atmosphere during the production, processing and transportation of oil and gas every year.

Strong and fair methane regulations, which require companies to conduct regular inspections for leaks and report on their methane management efforts, create a more stable environment by leveling the playing field among U.S. oil and gas companies. As the U.S. is a net exporter of natural gas, and as an increasing number of countries adopt legislation and other policies to address climate change, sound methane regulation preserves the industry’s global competitiveness. According to the recent IPCC report, countries won’t be able to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, considered by some scientists and policymakers to be the “safe” limit of climate change, without immediate and rapid reductions in a wide range of greenhouse gases, including methane.

In 2015, ICCR launched a concerted methane campaign with the goal of engaging primarily U.S. companies across the natural gas value chain on improving disclosure, reducing emissions and reporting critical information on methane management efforts, such as leak detection and repair (LDAR). If the EPA is successful in rolling back the NSPS, LDAR, currently one of the most cost-effective ways to curb dangerous methane emissions, will be significantly weakened which, investors say, benefits no one. 

Apart from publicly declaring their support for the NSPS Rule, we ask companies to submit comments to the EPA regarding the benefits of industry-wide methane regulation by December 17th. 

“The companies receiving the letter are large producers representing 35% of U.S. oil and gas production,” said Rob Fohr of the Presbyterian Church, USA.  “Our hope is to convince these more influential companies to use their voices in support of sensible and cost-effective methane regulation to bring along the entire industry and mitigate the risk of an unregulated market.”

A link to the investor letter and signatories as well as a list of the companies receiving the letter can be found at this link. The complete ICCR press release can be found here. Bloomberg covered the letter in an article here.

Translating Values into Policy

By Frank Sherman

As members of Seventh Generation Interfaith (SGI), we profess to “view the management of [our] investments as a powerful catalyst for social change,” but how well do we do this? Many SGI members are reviewing their overall approach to faith or mission-based investing, beyond corporate engagements.

Robert Wotypka, OFM-Cap, reported on his efforts to answer this question for his Capuchin Province during our spring member meeting. He has asked his investment committee and their financial consultant on how they are integrating ESG criteria across their entire portfolio.

The Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, IA recently had a workshop facilitated by Chris Cox of SGI to reflect on this question. They feel they are doing an adequate job of taking active ownership by voting their proxies, participating in corporate engagements and filing resolutions; however,they want to better incorporate their values into their investment policy and practices. Anita Green, Director, Sustainable Investment Strategies for Wespath Investment Management shared how the United Methodist Church approaches this topic. Anita described Wespath’s three strategies of Avoid (ethical exclusions), Engage(proxy voting, corporate engagements, political advocacy) and Invest (external manager benchmarking, Positive Social Purpose Lending Program, and low-carbon solutions). They take a holistic approach across all asset classes encompassing their entire portfolio.

A growing strategy of socially responsible investing is community or impact investing. Pope Francis has encouraged Catholic institutions to engage in impact investing with the Vatican hosting their third impact investing conference on this topic last summer. Wharton Business School recently interviewed John O’Shaughnessy, CEO and CFO of the Franciscan Sisters of Mercy, a Roman Catholic group based in St. Louis, MO, on this topic.  “We have carved out 15% of our overall portfolio – about $10 million – and directed that towards impact investing,”said O’Shaughnessy. He described 17 impact investments that the Sisters have made from clean energy to low-income populations worldwide including sustainable timber operations, conservation forestry and detoxing of the environment. “This can be systemic change,” he said of the potential of impact investing. “This is capitalism at its best.”

We added a new section on our “Resources” page, entitled “Incorporating ESG/ SRI Strategies” with some tools that you may find helpful. We will host a webinar next spring on SRI strategies and how our members can better manage their financial assets more holistically. I hope you will be able to join us.