What do Wal-Mart raising its minimum wage, McDonald’s limiting its use of antibiotics in its chicken and Wendy’s and Burger King removing sugary soda from their kids’ menus have in common? All are examples of recent victories socially responsible investors – a movement that the faith community, including Jews – are playing an active role in.
That is according to Laura Berry, executive director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a New York-based coalition of nearly 300 organizations with more than $100 billion in invested capital.
“I look at this as the turning point. This is the moment where interests have finally risen up enough that congregations are starting to say, ‘OK, so we know we want to do something. What do we do?’” said Berry of the increasing interest she has seen by faith-based institutions in justice and sustainability.
She spoke March 8 at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. The event was sponsored by the Reform synagogue’s Social Action Committee and Green Team and the Washington Interfaith Power & Light.
The Reform Pension Board is the largest and strongest voice for the Reform movement, Berry said. Its focus on “Jewish values investing” is guided by the two principles of tikkun olam (repair the world) and tzedek (justice).
The socially responsible investing movement began more than 40 years ago by calling on companies to not do business in South Africa because of the government’s policy of apartheid. Since then, individual and institutional investors have been pressuring companies to change through actions such as shareholder advocacy that can include dialogue and filing resolutions.
Berry said that climate change is the top priority at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Out of 172 shareholder resolutions filed since 1974, 87 have been directly related to climate change. She pointed out the success story of investment bank Goldman Sachs’ climate report that stated climate change is real, it is happening and it is a risk to investors.
There are different stages in a company’s evolution on social issues, according to Berry. She said many companies begin as defensive, caring only about making money for shareholders. The next stage involves a grudging acceptance of certain rules and regulations that put them in compliance with, for example, environmental laws. The next stage is the realization that doing things such as saving energy can save money and treating employees well can reduce turnover; that gives a company a strategic edge. Finally, there is the civil framework of raising the bar and getting the entire industry to change.
Berry doesn’t really care how a company changes, as long as it happens.
“I don’t care if you are doing it because you think it’s good business or you’re doing it because you think it’s the right thing to do,” said Berry. “Sometimes we hear too much why somebody changes instead of just saying, ‘Hey, they changed!’ Who cares why?”