Essential Workers: COVID-19 and Racial Equity

On February 19th, SGI’s quarterly member webinar examined how the engagement season will be shaped by the pandemic and racial justice issues. We are grateful that Corey Klemmer of Domini Impact Investments and Hanna Lucal of Open MIC joined us to enrich our conversation. We had some great interaction in the question and answer period, and we added some resources that were shared in the webinar’s chat feature to a final slide in the slide deck.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans were shocked at the sight of empty shelves in stores as global supply chains sputtered to keep up with the demand for a variety of products. The fragility of these supply chains has suddenly become evident to a lot of Americans who expect them to always operate seamlessly. Global supply chains connect people worldwide, from garment workers in Bangladesh to consumers in the United States. They are built to be ruthlessly efficient, manufacturing and delivering goods exactly when and where they are needed. The ability to move quickly and seamlessly across the globe also helps companies find cheaper labor or other opportunities to make products more cheaply. While this system may be good for corporate owners and supply chain managers, it takes a toll on workers. In the face of COVID-19, poultry workers literally put their life on the line every time they punch in to work. The opportunity of 2021 is to place worker dignity at the center of supply chain transformation plans.

The Black Lives Matter movement has also created an unprecedented urgency for a more genuinely diverse and inclusive workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted devastating effects on the U.S. economy, with job losses, especially concentrated among women, minorities, and low-wage workers. It illustrates the systemic racism that lives in our financial institutions. Corporations are making statements in support of Black Lives Matter, but statements are easy. Ensuring that People of Color are hired, paid, promoted, and retained equitably is less so. We cannot allow the corporate response to be merely words. Together, we can compel action.

Again, we are very grateful for the presence of Corey and Hannah in this webinar, for their commitment to this work, and their generosity in sharing their wisdom and experience with us. As always, we welcome your feedback via a confidential evaluation found here. Slides are available here.

SGI Statement of Solidarity

Milwaukee, WI, June 1, 2020: Members of Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment are traumatized and outraged by recent incidents of police brutality in our neighborhoods and cities that manifests individual and institutional racism. We mourn the recent police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and stand in solidarity with the victims of systemic racial injustice in the United States. While recent events disclose injustice in law enforcement and our criminal justice system, we recognize that institutional racism exists as well in our corporations, our economy and throughout our society.

We lament that years of protests, demonstrations, and marches have failed to bring an end to the suffering, the dehumanization, the oppression, and the loss of so many precious lives. So many people of color who historically have been disenfranchised continue to experience economic inequities, sadness and pain; a pattern seen as well in the path of the COVID-19 pandemic, disproportionately affecting people of color in the number of cases and fatalities.

We recognize our obligation to work as institutional investors, as citizens, and, most importantly, as people of faith to address and change unjust and immoral cultural patterns and social systems. We commit ourselves to listening to the stories of those subjected to institutionalized racism to more authentically accompany them. Through the lens of faith, we will reform our investment practices and challenge companies to increase diversity and address their negative impacts on people of color. We recommit to building a more just and sustainable world for our brothers and sisters who are most vulnerable.

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.