Ministry to corporate world

November 21, 2011 by  
Filed under newsletter-world, USA, World

Corporate culture needs evangelization

Corporate culture needs evangelization

USA, November 16, 2011: Nuns as corporate activists may sound an improbable proposition.

But not in the United States where some religious groups have formed a corporate responsibility committee to combat “troubling developments” at the businesses.

Flexing their financial muscles on issues from investment returns to workplace violence, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia have become one of the groups of corporate activists around.

The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices.

They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.

“We want social returns, as well as financial ones,” said Sister Nora Nash of the congregation.

“When you look at the major financial institutions, you have to realize there is greed involved.”

Sister Nash and her team from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility are an unusual example of the shareholder activism that has ripped through corporate America since the 1980s.

The nuns also plan to use the investments in their retirement fund to become Wall Street’s moral minority.

In 1980, Sister Nash and her community formed a corporate responsibility committee to combat what they saw as troubling developments at the businesses in which they invested their retirement fund.

A year later, in coordination with groups like the Philadelphia Area Coalition for Responsible Investment, they mounted their offensive.

They boycotted Big Oil, took aim at Nestlé over labor policies, and urged Big Tobacco to change its ways.

Eventually, they developed a strategy combining moral philosophy and public shaming.

Unsurprisingly, most companies decided they would rather let the nuns in the door than confront religious dissenters in public.

Sister Nash and her cohort have gained access to some of the most illustrious boardrooms in America.

Robert J. Stevens, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, has lent her an ear, as have other big names.

The Sisters of St. Francis are hardly the only religious voices challenging big business.

They have teamed up on shareholder resolutions with other orders, including the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth and the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, both in New Jersey.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the umbrella group under which much of Sister Nash’s activism takes place, includes Jews, Quakers, Presbyterians and nearly 300 faith-based investing groups.

The Vatican, too, has weighed in with a recent encyclical, condemning “the idolatry of the market” and calling for the establishment of a central authority that could stave off future financial crises.

“Companies have learned over time that the issues we’re bringing are not frivolous,” said Fr. Seamus P. Finn, a Washington-based priest with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and a board member of the Interfaith Center.

“We’re not here to put corporations down. “We’re here to improve their sense of responsibility,” Sister Nash concluded.

– ucan

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