On October 16, 2019, about 125 people attended the 45th Anniversary celebration of Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investing at Marquette University in Milwaukee. My religious congregation is a member of Seventh Generation and has been working on socially responsible investing for over 30 years.
In the early 1970s, religious congregations realized that they needed to invest their monies to fund their retirement needs. To address concerns that their investments would not conflict with their values, socially responsible investing became the goal.
In 1973, Capuchin Franciscan Fr. Michael Crosby and Srs. Charlita Foxhoven and Alphonsa Puls of the School Sisters of St. Francis founded the National Catholic Coalition for Responsible Investment. This was the predecessor to Seventh Generation Interfaith. The name was changed in 2015 to recognize that, under the Great Law of the Native American Iroquois, decisions should be made by considering the effects they will have for seven generations.
When it was still the National Catholic Coalition for Responsible Investment, Seventh Generation was the first member of a larger organization, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility and is still a member of that organization, which seeks to influence corporations on issues of human rights, environment and governance.
A panel was facilitated by Rev. David Schilling from the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. Representatives of U.S. corporations Wal-Mart, Phillip Morris and Merck discussed attempts to address societal needs. Other members of the panel were an investment manager and a hospital director of socially responsible investing.
In a very civil discussion — which was quite refreshing given our current political climate in the U.S. — points were made, challenges were accepted, that is, a dialogue was held. Duane Roberts of Dana Investment Advisors reminded us that it is indeed possible to do good and do well. Socially responsible investing is not a drain on income in the long term.
Seventh Generation Interfaith currently has 29 members, including religious congregations of women and men and investment companies.
Fr. Mike Crosby died this past year. He had developed dialogues with several corporate leaders, especially around the topics of cigarettes, climate and human rights. As he was coping with his cancer, a number of these leaders, with whom he had some heated discussions in the past, would check up on him as one would a friend. "We are all God's children" was a reminder that Father Mike would always give his audiences.
His brother, Capuchin Franciscan Fr. Dan Crosby gave the keynote address for the celebration. He reminded us that the work we do is in keeping with Gospel values. We are all called to work for the common good. This is truly the point of socially responsible investing.
He pointed out four aspects of the Gospel that are important to remember in doing our work.
- Collaboration: the need for mutual respect is essential for dialogue in challenging corporations.
- Solidarity: with our brothers and sisters suffering throughout the world.
- Courage: speaking truth to those in power requires courage.
- Hope: the Kin-dom can become more fully realized on earth.
Investing in Faith
Living life as a woman religious requires me to remember that faith permeates every aspect of my life. This includes what I buy, what my community invests in, and how I treat other people. It also includes sharing that faith with others, including corporations.
Being a member of Seventh Generation Interfaith allows me to tap into the wisdom of my colleagues in order to determine how to challenge corporations to be the best they can be. We all want profit, but not at the expense of human rights, our climate, labor rights and diversity.
This is truly systemic change — the slow chipping away of systems that can oppress. Emphasis can be placed on "slow."
Dominican Sr. Judy Byron, the director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment in Seattle, has been taking the lead on shareholder resolutions regarding gun safety to Sturm Ruger and American Outdoor Brands since 2012. The resolution involved a requirement that these corporations report on their efforts. After getting minimum votes in the past, this year their resolution received 69 percent of the votes in favor. Prior to the resolution being filed, Sister Judy had offered to enter into dialogue with the corporations. They refused.
I have been involved in several dialogues initiated by Seventh Generation with corporations. It is interesting to hear the challenges that corporations have, but it does not deter us from requesting reports on sustainability and human rights. This has led to some committees being formed in the corporate structure to address our concerns.
The Future of Social Responsibility
There are signs that we in the social responsibility movement are becoming effective. Congress is trying to change the rules of what is required to put in a shareholder resolution. Currently you need to have $2,000 worth of stock in order to file, and must hold that stock for a year. The bill working its way through Congress, The Financial Choice Act, would require you to hold one percent of total stock of the corporation.
This will not change religious congregations' considerations of which stocks they purchase based on their social responsibility guidelines. We will continue to let our faith lead us in how we live, how we dialogue and how we invest. We continue to be "Inspired by Faith and Committed to Action."
[Sr. Dorothy Pagosa is the social justice coordinator for the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis. She has been in social justice/systemic change work for 33 years, most of that time also working at the 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago.]