SGI joins investor statement on 5th Anniversary of Rana Plaza Disaster

At the fifth anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh which resulted in the deaths of over 1,100 garment workers, SGI joins ICCR members in an investor statement assessing advancements made to improve worker health and safety in the Bangladesh apparel sector.

Within months of the disaster, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was established as a model for collective action between brands and retailers sourcing in Bangladesh, as well as global and local trade unions, and NGOs, to inspect the country’s apparel factories and implement necessary reforms to safeguard workers.

Led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Bangladesh Investor initiative, an investor coalition comprising 250 institutional investors representing over $4.5 trillion in assets under management, was formed in May of 2013 to urge a strong corporate response to Rana Plaza including participation in the Accord. Further, in their engagements with companies the investors made four main recommendations:

  • Join the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety (Accord) signed by trade unions, brands and retailers with NGOs as witness signatories;
  • Commit to strengthening local trade unions and ensuring a living wage for all workers including through their engagement with the Bangladesh government;
  • Publicly disclose all their suppliers including those from Bangladesh;
  • Ensure that appropriate grievance mechanisms and effective remedies, including compensation, are in place for affected workers and families.

The investors argue that supply chain transparency is critical to safeguarding worker safety and employer responsibility since visibility into extended supply chains, including sub-contractors, is a precondition to identifying risks, including safety, forced labor, harassment, discrimination and denial of freedom of association.

“Stakeholders, including investors, rely on transparency as a tool for evaluating corporate performance on a range of social, environmental and governance issues,” observed Lauren Compere, Managing Director of Boston Common Asset Management. “The Accord has been very transparent in requiring disclosure of each of the 1,600 factories it covers which helps investors track progress. This disclosure requirement is a ‘best practice’ that all companies need to implement, beginning with 1st tier suppliers, then throughout their extended supply chains.”

The Accord model has proven to be effective due to the binding nature of the agreement, and a governance structure that has equal representation of brands and trade unions with an independent chair from the International Labor Organization.

“We applaud the Accord for Fire and Building Safety for establishing safer factories through collective action at an unprecedented level, with 220 brands using their leverage to change supplier behavior in partnership with global and local trade unions,” said David Schilling, Senior Program Director, ICCR. “This transformative model should be applied and adapted to at-risk supply chains in other sectors and countries.”

Investors have been pressing companies and their boards to take the ‘high road’ when setting prices to enable factories to pay fair wages and comply with workplace human rights standards, including freedom of association and collective bargaining.

“Investors have the ability to influence company directors. This means that moral responsibilities accompany the rights we enjoy as shareholders,” said Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer, Aviva Investors. “The casual disregard for employee welfare demonstrated by the directors involved in the Rana Plaza catastrophe should be unacceptable to anyone. As institutional investors, we should challenge corruption and exploitation in all its forms wherever we find it. Ensuring we motivate the right kinds of corporate behavior is part of our own duty to our clients.”

While the investors are pleased with progress made by the Accord, they emphasize that the job of remediating all the issues is far from done and will continue to urge those companies that have not signed on to the 2018 Accord and its three-year extension to do so.

“It has been five years since the nightmare that took place at Rana Plaza, and while significant progress has been made by the Accord to address the root causes of the tragedy, we must not forget that these workplace risks persist in many sectors across the globe,” said Sr. Barbara Aires of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, NJ. “The moral and business imperative for corporations to preempt these risks by implementing comprehensive safeguards throughout their supply chains is clear. As investors and stakeholders, we will continue to monitor progress on these concerns in the Bangladesh apparel sector and beyond.”

To see the full statement, please visit here. See more from ICCR here.

ICCR and SGI: Shareholders Committed to the Rights of Immigrants

Four SGI members participated in ICCR‘s Spring Conference: Sr. Ruth Battaglia, C.S.A., Chris Cox, Frank Sherman, and Friar Robert Wotypka, O.F.M., Cap. This post from Sr. Ruth is another report of what we heard and learned at the conference.

The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes has a strong connection to immigrant communities and their needs. The congregation was founded in 1885 in response to the faith needs of German immigrants in Wisconsin. When Hmong, who were allies of the United States in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and later stages of the Laotian Civil War, started seeking asylum as political refugees after the communist takeover in both nations in 1975, the Sisters of St. Agnes were instrumental in welcoming them and helping them resettle in Fond du Lac, WI. Today, sisters in Arizona provide legal aid and other forms of assistance to the immigrant population along the Naco border with Mexico. Recently the congregation has been advocating on behalf of Dreamers and for a just US immigration policy. They are pleased to join ICCR’s effort to invite companies to look at their policies and practices around immigration.

ICCR believes that just and equitable immigration policies are critical to a stable and prosperous business environment and will promote sustainable communities. At its recent conference in New York, an ICCR session was devoted to the topic of immigration. While some companies claim that immigration does not affect them, they need only look down their supply chain to discover how immigration impacts them. They also will discover that immigrants are very vulnerable to injustices.

In engagement with companies on immigration investors must ask:

  • Who is responsible for corporate risk oversight on labor/immigration issues?
  • What risks face immigrant workers? Are all workers covered by company policies on worker health and safety, fair wages, benefits? Do workers have a way to report grievances without fear of retaliation?
  • How does the company assess engagement with the community when it hires immigrant labor, addressing fears, reducing tensions? How does it relate to ICE? If the number of immigrants decline, where will the company look for qualified employees?
  • What are the company’s public policy positions on immigration? Does it publicly support comprehensive immigration reform? Is it supportive of the “Agricultural Worker Program Act” which was introduced in Congress to provide a path to lawful permanent residency for agricultural workers?

One breakout group grappled with guidelines for companies that rely on immigrants in the workforce (beauty, agriculture, textiles, farm-workers) asking them to prohibit passport retention, exactment of fees, harassment and discrimination. Also, the group suggested asking companies to provide contracts and to grant the right to assemble and to bargain collectively. Another group asked, “What is the role of investors in tech companies and airlines who are involved in immigrant surveillance?” And another dealt with the question “Who finances the harm?” Can the financial sector engage in pro-immigrant practices?

It was evident that this newer area of endeavor for ICCR, while complex and involving hard work, was well received by conference attendees ready to accept the challenge of engagement with companies on behalf of immigrants. In accord with a strong theme of the conference, it would be a collaborative effort with immigrants whose voices and experience would shape the efforts.

In February Seventh Generation hosted a very informative webinar, Immigration and the Shareholder. Check it out. https://seventhgenerationinterfaith.org/2018/02/17/sgi-webinar-recording-immigration-and-the-shareholder

Sister Ruth Battaglia is the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Coordinator for the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes.

Shareholders work for racial justice

Four SGI members participated in ICCR‘s Spring Conference: Sr. Ruth Battaglia, C.S.A., Chris Cox, Frank Sherman, and Friar Robert Wotypka, O.F.M., Cap. We will report back what we heard and learned in a variety of ways in the coming weeks.

Today’s tweet from Pope Francis reminds us that preventing evil is not enough; we must take positive action together. Since its inception, SGI has endeavored to make the voices and concerns of those who suffer injustice the center of our reflection and action. I see it reflected as well in the work of the new Racial Justice Investing group within ICCR.

National events in 2017 intensified focus on racial, ethnic, and gender equality. The #MeToo movement, protests concerning the Confederate Flag and Confederate statues, the Women’s March, and the Black Lives Matter movement all contributed to this shift in focus. While personal conversion is vital to change, it is not enough. Addressing systemic injustice requires changes in structures at the level of policy, economics, and worldviews.

A session at the recent ICCR conference included a session from the newly formed Racial Justice Investing group. Pat Tomaino of Zevin Asset Management chaired the session. We also heard from Lisa Hayles of Boston Common Asset Management, Susan Baker of Trillium Asset Management, and Mari Schwartzer of NorthStar Asset Management. Hayles spoke of The 30% Coalition (that corporate boardrooms reflect the gender, racial and ethnic diversity of the United States workforce). Susan Baker discussed workforce diversity and the case for pressing companies to make the composition of the workforce transparent. Schwartzer voiced concerns about prison labor (NPR reported on some of the issues). Finally,  Tomaino addressed diversity and inclusion, especially within the tech workforce.

Pat Tomaino

The Racial Justice Investing group has monthly/semi-monthly calls and has a webpage within ICCR’s member area where SGI members can sign up to participate and to receive regular updates. Previously, the group drafted a Mission Statement:

Racial Justice Investing is a group of socially responsible investors and others in the business community who are taking action for racial justice within our own organizations, as well as in our engagements with portfolio companies.

This important work will contribute to our corporate engagements. We heard about success from Johns Hopkins in hiring of ex-offenders. We talked about resolutions asking tech companies to tie portion of executive compensation to diversity and inclusion goals among other sustainability goals. We also heard about work from the American Friends Service Committee investigating corporate investments in the prison industry. Much remains to be done, but it is exciting to see our partners deeply engaging this issue.

Capuchin friar offers remarks at ICCR conference opening

This past week, four from SGI participated in ICCR‘s Spring Conference: Sr. Ruth Battaglia, C.S.A., Chris Cox, Frank Sherman, and Friar Robert Wotypka, O.F.M., Cap. We will report back what we heard and learned in a variety of ways in the coming weeks– here on the blog, at our May member meeting, to name but two channels. To lead off, we want to share the contribution of one of our members: Robert was asked to deliver some remarks in the Interfaith Session during the conference’s first day.

I begin by living out my desire to be inclusive and to acknowledge my theological, my cosmic presupposition maybe, by sharing the best definition of the Franciscan movement that I ever heard. I don’t remember who said it, but it is this: “The Franciscans are the Protestants who never left the Church.” So I am one of you.

And that’s relevant for our purposes here because of the movement’s first days – which could have gone differently than they did. Saint Francis of Assisi formed a new way of living out the Gospel, he wrote a Rule and he took his Rule to Pope Innocent III, who gave it verbal approval. To study the context of pope’s decision is to know that he preferred to have Francis within the Church, advocating for change and introducing these new things and shaking things up, than to banish him and treat him as an outsider. Isn’t that a starting point of the ICCR? That it’s better that we sit down together and work things out than to separate from each other in this work?

The heart of the Gospel as I have been formed to hear and proclaim it – and none of this is original – is to build up the Reign of God. What is that? I have best heard this defined as God’s rule working in human relations – and what defines God’s rule? These values: Peace, Freedom, Justice, Sister/Brotherhood. That’s what the Gospel is all about, that is how Jesus lived. So before there was a rule, before Saint Francis, before Jesus proclaimed the Reign of God, there was the Covenant.

And what is a covenant? A covenant is a way for two unequal parties to enter into and sustain a relationship. And I think about the work of ICCR, as I am slowly coming to understand it, and I come to see it as a covenantal work. ICCR does not have the voice, the resources, the pull of the parties we’re engaging with. We are equal in dignity, equal in potential, equal before the law … but we are not equal in resources or influence. And I say this out of my first direct experience of dialogue with a corporation. A company rep told us on a conference call, referencing a Greenhouse Gas reduction regime that we were advocating his company enter into, that no other of his investors was coming to the company about this.

What did that show? For me it felt to me that this company rep was showing us mercy, which is the fuel of the work of the Reign of God. Mercy, as I have heard it defined, is to meet people where they are, be ready to offer your gifts, and to be ready to respond to the gifts of others. And that is how this rep met us and greeted our work.

Which brings me to another Francis, a 21st century Francis, Pope Francis, and his vision and desire that the Catholic Church be the Church of Mercy for the world, which above all points to above all point to and to carry on the mission of Jesus, who Pope Francis calls “the face of God’s mercy.” Pope Francis loves three words – he’s a Catholic, he likes Trinitarian imagery – and he loves these three words: mercy, encounter, and conversion.

And I see these words, these values, these energies, building up the mission and the work of ICCR, and I feel so grateful. Encounter requires collaboration, I continue to be astonished by the profound and peaceful encounters that occur here between parties with different pre- suppositions. Encounter: encounter is the presupposition of collaboration, and here we are, doing collaborate work to build up peace, freedom, justice, sister/brotherhood. And conversion – conversion says we don’t take small steps, we don’t fiddle around the edges, we see and we say: things are not as they could be, things are not as they should be. Pope Francis calls this “not as the should be” “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

Pope Francis reminds us, or awakens us, to the fact that “purchasing is always a moral and not just an economic choice,” he writes, this also from his encyclical Laudato Si that “…we still lack the culture needed to confront …” the crises that are afflicting life on earth.” He says, “We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations.” I consider this forum, these engagements, this ministry of ICCR, the very place where such leaders can be and are being formed. And I give thanks to God for the chance to walk with you in your work. I close the way Pope Francis closed his encyclical on care for creation, Laudato Sí: “Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.”

ICCR 2018 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide

A key tenet of socially responsible investing is the voting of proxies. Proxy voting gives shareholders a say in the workings of corporations, allowing those who own the company to decide on matters of corporate governance. Reviewing both company and shareholder sponsored resolutions is critical in supporting good governance and effective socially responsible practices.

ICCR recently published their 2018 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide (download here). This annual Guide has been published since 1974.  This year’s Guide outlines the proxy season, contextualizes the 10 issue areas, and provides the language of the 266 resolutions that were filed by ICCR members. It also describes shareholder advocacy and the proxy process (pg 213). They hosted a webinar (slides here; listen here) to provide an overview of the proxy season and profile a few of most important campaigns including: gender pay gap and paid family leave; ethical labor recruitment; methane emissions; pollinator decline; and drug pricing and the opioid crisis. ICCR members have already negotiated 33 substantive agreements with companies, and have withdrawn their resolutions as a result. Successes include:

  • Costco agreed to disclose its gender and race-based pay gaps;
  • T. Rowe Price has hired a new responsible investing official;
  • AT&T agreed to its first-ever disclosure on key sustainability goals;
  • Marten and Saia agreed to begin training their drivers to spot human trafficking;
  • WEC Energy Group agreed to prepare a 2 degree scenario assessment report (led by School Sisters of Notre Dame).

You are encouraged to use ICCR’s Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide to vote your proxies or to ask your asset manager to vote them for you.

SGI joins investors to call on companies to stay the course on Bangladesh Accord

Statement endorsed by 147 investors representing $3.7 trillion appeals to global brands to recommit to three-year extension to fulfill Accord’s mandate to remediate fire and safety violations in apparel sector.

Members of the Bangladesh Investor Initiative issued a statement today calling on companies sourcing from the Bangladesh apparel sector to renew their commitment to protect worker health and safety by endorsing the three-year extension of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Accord).

The investors, including Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment and its members, say additional time is needed to complete the remediation plans and worker training indicated by audits at the over 1,600 factories covered by the Accord. The statement will accompany letters being sent to the 160 companies that have not yet become signatories to the three-year extension of the Accord, urging them to participate.

The investors are part of the Bangladesh Investor Initiative organized by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility to press brands and retailers sourcing in Bangladesh to join the Accord and remediate human rights risks in their supply chains. The statement was endorsed by 147 institutional investors that collectively represent $3.7 trillion in managed assets.

Said Henrike Kulmann of Allianz Global Investors GmbH, “The new agreement between global trade unions and companies ensures that the industry continues to remediate safety issues found in garment factories and build effective worker safety committees. They are an important component to mitigating risks to workers and supply chain disruption as well as reputational risks to global brands sourcing in Bangladesh. We call on all companies sourcing from Bangladesh to become Accord signatories to mitigate these serious human rights and business risks.”

For the 1,600 factories have been inspected under the Accord, 82 percent of the identified safety issues have been fixed, the majority of them electrical. “Investors have been particularly pleased to see that, in addition to fixing specific problems, the Accord has worked to address the systemic issues that led to disasters like Rana Plaza,” said Lauren Compere of Boston Common Asset Management, “It is critical to ensure that future safety problems are detected before they become life-threatening events. The detailed comprehensive work achieved by the Accord is a positive signal to investors that safety risks are being carefully and sustainably managed.”

The investor statement recommends brands undertake the following:

  1. Accord companies, who have yet to sign the 2018 Accord, do so during the first Quarter of this year.
  2. Companies that were part of the Alliance, which is disbanding in 2018, join the Accord and therefore maximize collective leverage to complete safety reforms and strengthen action to build the capacity of the Bangladesh government’s oversight of worker safety by 2021.
  3. Brands and retailers sourcing in the garment sector expand safety inspections to knitting, spinning & weaving; washing, dyeing & printing facilities; embroidery & accessories; home textiles; leather and footwear.
  4. Brands, retailers and other stakeholders strengthen the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity in Bangladesh’s garment sector to ensure an integrated approach to promoting fire safety and building integrity, and to provide a platform for stakeholders engaged in fire safety initiatives.

“To date, only 60 of the 220 signatories of the Accord have signed the new agreement to extend the program until May 2021,” stated David Schilling, senior program director of ICCR. “While much has been achieved in making garment factories in Bangladesh safer, there is more to be done, including the establishment of worker safety committees in each factory. The success of the Accord to date is built on the unprecedented collective action of brands and trade unions. Continued solidarity is needed to finish the job and prevent hard-earned gains from disappearing.”

The Guardian profiles Sr. Nora Nash

The Guardian, heralded for its independent and investigative journalism, ran a feature story on Sr. Nora Nash, O.S.F.: Sister act: how a Philadelphia nun faced up to Wall Street. Sr. Nora, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, engages in the work of corporate social responsibility through Philadelphia Area Coalition for Responsible Investment (PACRI) and ICCR.

The Guardian’s article is excellent in its outline of why and how a religious community engages in CSR work and offers considerable detail about the breadth of issues that Sr. Nora and her colleagues take on as well as significant detail about the shape of those efforts with Wells Fargo and Kroger. The Guardian interviewed not only Sr. Nora’s colleagues in CSR work but also got Kroger’s communication chief to speak about the experience of working with faith-based investors.

Please, visit the article. Perhaps you may even share it with others who may wish to learn more about socially responsible investment. Again, the article is found here: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/17/philadelphia-nuns-capitalism-activism