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Shareholders Urged to Vote Proxies to Influence Corporate Decisions

April 7, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Shareholders in public corporations have a unique privilege, opportunity, and responsibility: to use their proxy ballots to shape the values and decisions of those corporations.

That was the message of Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP, Executive Director of the Religious Communities Investment Fund, in a live-streamed April 3 talk, “How One Checkmark Can Influence Corporate Policy.” Her address was given in the auditorium of Weber Retreat and Conference Center on the Motherhouse campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

She noted the strong economic influence that corporations carry: of the 150 largest economic entities, she said, 87 are corporations. Some 91 million U.S. adults own some stock, she noted, adding that most throw away or recycle their proxy votes rather than voicing their values. 

“If you own shares, you have a voice – and I’m here today to ask you to use your influence to improve corporate decision-making and creating change in the issues you care about,” Sister Corinne said. “After all, investments are your money and should be working for you.”

Sister Corinne encouraged individual shareholders to consider the values they support and the industries they would like to avoid supporting, and to ask their financial advisers to craft a portfolio that reflects these choices. Then, as individual investors, they have the right to guide the corporation’s decisions through their proxy vote.

“Proxy is just another name for a ballot that contains resolutions that are up for a vote,” Sister Corrine explained, adding that proxies also include a slate of candidates running to serve on the corporation’s Board of Directors. Resolutions can deal with issues such as environmental impacts and disclosure of the corporation’s lobbying expenses and treatment of workers. 

If shareholder resolutions receive support of 3 percent of the proxy voters, the corporation will remain in dialogue about those issues. “The proxy voting is the incentive for the corporation to stay in the dialogue,” Sister Corinne explained. When shareholders don’t vote at all, their votes are considered to be in favor of the view of the corporation’s management rather than of shareholders who are trying to make changes, she added. 

Using proxy voting to help bring more justice into the economy is not a new practice. Sister Corinne noted that the Adrian Dominican Sisters have been involved in economic justice through corporate responsibility for more than 40 years through the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB). The Congregation is also working with hundreds of other faith-based organizations, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), to ensure that the corporate world reflects values of justice, care for the environment, and concern for workers and low-income people. 

Panelists included Sisters Thérèse Haggerty, OP; Joan Marconi, OP; and Frances Lombaer, OP.

A panel of Adrian Dominican Sisters spoke on their own experience of voting proxies for the Congregation. Sisters Frances Lombaer, OP, Joan Marconi, OP, and Thérèse Haggerty, OP, encouraged listeners to vote their proxies, noting that the process becomes easier with practice. “We do proxy voting because we want to support the choices that the Congregation makes through the PAB, our Portfolio Advisory Board, Sister Thérèse said. “These choices are in line with our vision statements.”

Sister Corinne concluded her talk by giving investors some ideas on how they can both diversify their portfolio and make a difference in the world.

  • Invest in high impact community development organizations that work with low-income people and communities. “This isn’t high-risk investing,” Sister Corinne said. “This is investing for high impact, which means that it’s in low-wealth, low-income, low-asset communities, to help them, to empower them” to find security, livelihoods, jobs, housing and access to credit. She added that, over 40 years of investing, the Congregation has only lost less than 1 percent of its investment. 

  • Invest in credit unions. Sister Corinne suggested taking at least some funds or assets – such as CDs or your savings account – and placing them in credit unions. “Nobody’s making a profit off these financial institutions,” she explained. “All the profits go back to making loans to the members.” Credit unions serve populations such as low-income borrowers, people of color, women, distressed areas, and rural areas – areas that big banks don’t always serve, she said. 

“Please join us in this effort to create more justice in our economy,” Sister Corinne concluded.

To watch her presentation, click here.


Two Adrian Dominican Sisters Attend Regional Meeting of Popular Movements

March 10, 2017, Modesto, California – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters – Sisters Cheryl Liske, OP, and Mary Priniski, OP – were among 800 grassroots community representatives to gather at the U.S. regional meeting of the World Meeting of Popular Movements. (WMPM). The first such interfaith gathering in the United States was February 16-19 at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, California. 

The WMPM is a series of gatherings of grassroots people, organizers, and activists who have been called together by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to advise the pope and the world on how to meet the needs of two “fragilities” named by Pope Francis: the poor and the Earth. The U.S. regional gathering was organized by the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Pacific Institute for Community Organization (PICO) Network.

Sister Cheryl, a member of the planning team for the regional meeting, had attended the WMPM gathering in Rome to get a feel for the gathering and to meet with others to structure the regional meeting in Modesto. A community organizer, she ministers at Gamaliel of Michigan, one of 44 affiliates of the national organization. Gamaliel’s mission is to “empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social, and economic decisions affecting their lives.”

“I worked with our Gamaliel staff in various states and produced a delegation to Modesto of over 80 leaders and organizers,” including 19 from Michigan, Sister Cheryl said. The diverse group met beforehand and will meet as a follow-up on March 23, she added.

Sister Cheryl also invited Sister Mary to the regional meeting. Sister Mary ministers with the Catholic Community of the South, a “network of clergy and laity who are compelled by faith to solidarity with those on the margins,” according to the organization’s Facebook page. Sister Mary took the opportunity to engage with 11 Southern Catholic bishops about the issues involved in the gathering, and to meet with several grassroots community groups as well. 

While the world meeting focused on issues such as land, labor, and lodging, the U.S. regional gathering focused on domestic issues of specific importance. “Right now immigration is the most pressing, and something we’re all working on,” Sister Cheryl explained. “Related to that is mass incarceration. We’re working on a strategy in Michigan to reduce prison [population] by about half.” 

The gathering resulted in a document that included eight proposed actions, including the call to faith communities to establish themselves as sanctuaries for people facing deportation; bold, prophetic leadership from faith communities; state and regional meetings of popular movements; and the establishment of International Week of Action on May 1-7, 2017. 

Both Sisters Mary and Cheryl came away from the gathering energized and inspired by their experience – from the talks they heard and the commitment of the people involved. Sister Cheryl was impressed by the “great speeches, great panels,” not just by bishops and other Church leaders, but by grassroots activists. 

Sister Cheryl was moved by the talk from Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who challenged leaders to “get out there and do the work. We can’t just be praying and hoping for change,” Sister Cheryl said. Cardinal Tobin called for Catholics to work for the poor, to work for those who have been excluded from our society and in our economy, she added. 

Sister Mary, for her part, was impressed by the talk given by Bishop Robert McElroy, of the Diocese of San Diego. Bishop McElory’s talk, widely discussed in U.S. Catholic newspapers, was also described in an article in the National Catholic Reporter.

A key point for Sister Mary was the encouragement she gained from the gathering, knowing that may people are working for justice and peace. “We are not alone,” she said. “If you feel alone, you are not. There are a lot of people around the world” working to bring about justice and peace. “The pope is very much supporting the work that we’re doing to stand with those who are suffering.”


 

 

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