By Barbara Jennings, CSJ
After two years of discussion about the best path forward, the St. Louis-based Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment (MCRI) merged with Milwaukee-based Seventh Generation Interfaith (SGI) coalition to make both organizations stronger.
MCRI began in 1977 focusing on the issue of the day: South African apartheid. Michael Crosby, OFM Cap, the founder of SGI, visited St. Louis to explain the process of shareholder engagement and encouraged the formation of a regional socially responsible investment coalition. Several Catholic institutions in the area decided to form MCRI. Other connections between St. Louis and Milwaukee: beer towns, Midwest agriculture, defense industry, and racial disparity.
MCRI joined the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility shortly after it was formed. This connected us to many Catholic religious’ women and men congregations, as well as to representatives of other faith traditions. We expanded our tactics beyond the traditional “negative screens” (e.g. no weapons, tobacco, gambling, birth control) to include corporate engagements, proxy voting and shareholder meeting attendance.
MCRI’s first resolution in 1978 asked McDonnell Douglas to build up its commercial business over military contracts which were dependent on foreign policy and regional conflicts. The proposal was presented by Sr. Mary Ann McGivern, SL. From that auspicious beginning, the work of MCRI expanded. By 1980, MCRI had thirteen institutional members. That same year, the coalition sponsored a local conference entitled “Corporate Responsibility: Why the Churches Must Be Involved.” It was well attended by both treasurers and social justice representatives.
Under the leadership of Susan Jordan, SSND, MCRI’s issues expanded to include nuclear waste (Union Electric, now Ameren), foreign military sales (General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas/Boeing), and agricultural pesticides and GMO’s (Monsanto, now Bayer). Other issues on which we engaged companies on were infant formula in Central America, AIDS medication from the pharmaceutical industry, and labor slavery in various supply chains.
By 2007, Barbara Jennings, CSJ, who had been on MCRI’s Advisory Committee in the 1990’s, became the Executive Director of MCRI. The issues at ICCR had grown tremendously, almost too much so that the saying at ICCR meetings was “We never met an issue we didn’t like.” In 2015, ICCR adopted a human rights lens to all its’ work. Priority issues included climate change, human trafficking / labor rights, water stewardship and food justice.
MCRI continued to work with Ameren concerning their disposal of coal ash. A 2018 resolution received 53% vote, a rare majority for a shareholder resolution! The coalition worked with Monsanto for several years on water issues. The company now uses low drip and recycling of water in their labs after a 2010 successful withdrawal of a resolution. After many years of engagement with Boeing, the company hired a third party auditor to delve into their supply chain for labor infringements.
So, the work will go on….and with a more supportive business atmosphere than in 1977. What has changed? A greater awareness of the risks posed by climate change? Recognition of the liability posed by pollution? Understanding that companies can outsource manufacturing but not the responsibility associated with it? The internet and social media together with increased societal expectations has placed more responsibility on corporations to account for their environmental and social impacts.
Each of the nine MCRI members (SSND, GSPMNA, CSJ, CPPS, OSU, SJ, SM, CSJ Congregational Center, and JAG Capital Management) will continue in corporate engagements as part of SGI’s coalition. I ask that you please stay active to bring the faith-based investor voice to corporate board rooms.
As for me, I have joined the SGI Board of Directors and will continue to remain active in this work. I was proud to be part of this journey and thank you for your support.