Look Back at 2019: The Difference Between Hope & Despair

By Frank Sherman

As I reflect on 2019, there was plenty of news to discourage me: wars continue in the Middle East, and nations continue the proliferation of nuclear arms; refugee and migration crisis across multiple continents; rise of nationalism and hate crimes; growing wealth and income gaps; undeniable climate crisis, water scarcity, deforestation, and biodiversity loss…not to mention the rollback of regulations and social safety nets, polarization of political discourse, and impeachment hearings in our own country. A review of the global progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals found that, despite progress in a number of areas, progress on some Goals has been slow or even reversed. “The most vulnerable people and countries continue to suffer the most and the global response has not been ambitious enough.”

But late last night, I was sent a message that woke me up. As I looked through the Capuchin Community Services 2020 calendar, a quote caught my eye. “The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts” (Alain de Botton, The School of Life, London).

I then thought of Greta Thunberg’s (Time Person of the Year) speech at the UN Climate Action Summit in September excoriating world leaders for their inaction in the climate crisis, and the student March For Our Lives demanding more gun control. I recalled watching CNN’s annual Heroes of the Year Awards honoring the top 10 men and women who are making the world a better place by helping families affected by tragedy, cleaning up the environment, protecting neglected animals, and so much more. I read that worldwide terrorist attacks actual fell by 33% compared to 2017, to the lowest level since 2011. This year scientists learned to spot Alzheimer’s earlier and got a step closer to curing diabetes. China, the largest greenhouse gas emitter, is becoming a leader in electric vehicles.  

I also find hope in the work of Seventh Generation Interfaith and ICCR. We added 10 new members with the merger with the Midwest Coalition to our coalition bringing the total to 39. This year our members engaged several companies in the food and apparel sector asking them to conduct human rights impact assessments and to develop a human rights policy. We continued our work with Midwestern electric utility companies to accelerate their decarbonization plans and ensure a just transition for employees and local communities. We leveraged the Business Roundtable’s statement on the Purpose of a Corporation to promote 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 challenged companies to trace their supply chains back to the wildfires in the Amazon and asked them to meet their 2020 deforestation targets. We asked food brands and restaurants to improve their nutritional profile and follow marketing-to-children guidelines to fight obesity. We hosted our annual conference, this year on impact investing, in October. Our quarterly webinars, blog articles and weekly newsletters kept our members informed on our issues and trained on our tactics.

How will you tell your story this holiday season?

Blessing to you and your family and a hopeful New Year!

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.