Sister shareholders bring voices to boardrooms

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet | Sister Barbara Jennings at ICCR meeting about MCRI's work

Sister Barbara Jennings shares MCRI's work on right to water issues
at the ICCR annual meeting.

Mention women religious and the vision of dedicated educators, health care providers and pastoral caregivers serving everywhere from schools and hospitals to parishes and prisons comes to mind. But take another look and you will see an image of sisters responding to the needs of the times by bringing their voices to the boardrooms of corporations as shareholders.  

As members of the Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment (MCRI), sisters from St. Louis communities accept the challenge to the faith community to address issues of corporate social responsibility, by working for justice in and through economic structures and for care of Earth and its resources.

And On June 3-7, MCRI hosted the annual general meeting of the national coalition, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) at CSJ-sponsored Fontbonne University with the leadership of MCRI Coordinator Sister Barbara Jennings, CSJ and the support of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Currently celebrating its 42nd year, ICCR promotes corporate practices to build a more just and sustainable world by integrating social values into investor actions. There are more than 300 faith-based, associate and affiliate members who partner in shareholder advocacy and corporate engagement across a wide range of sectors such as global health care, nutrition, environmental health, social sustainability, human trafficking and supply chain monitoring.

During the week, the investors laid out strategies to address these issues and review progress in the past year.  Some of ICCR members’ recent successes include:

  • Engaging in a long-term dialogue with Hershey’s that lead to their pledge to use only cocoa beans certified sustainably sourced by 2020.
  • Advocating for the residents of Mossville, La. to protect them from Sasol’s industrial pollution
  • Leading ViiV Healthcare to enter into a voluntary license agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool to increase access to HIV medicines for children.

One of MCRI’s priorities is to help protect the human right to water, and one of their successes holding a  roundtable on water issues, resulting in Campbell’s adopting a right to water policy.  “St. Louis sits at the confluence of three mighty rivers, but we cannot take fresh water for granted,”  says Sister Barbara. “As faith-based people, we hold water to be sacred and integral to life on this planet.  We hold ourselves accountable for our use of water, and expect business of all types to do the same.”

Another priority for women religious is to bring an end to sex trafficking. Shareholder actions and corporate dialogues have served as an effective tool in advancing this cause. Sister Barbara notes, “One of the ways we tackle this problem of human trafficking is through hotels, airline crews, local police and employers. Without the cooperation of people who work for these corporations, we won't have any kind of impact on this terrible practice of human trafficking.”

Within each corporate dialogue and shareholder resolution are many days, months and years of member efforts in relationship building and advocacy work, making the mutual support of the ICCR members one of its greatest benefits.

Sister Patty Johnson, CSJ, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the executive director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, values the collective power the coalitions offer the sisters in furthering their Gospel mission.

“By joining with other socially responsible investors, such as those at ICCR, we are able to leverage our investments and join our voice with others to call upon corporations to act in just and sustainable ways.”

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