Like many religious communities around the world, the Benedictine Women of Madison maintain an investment portfolio. Some of the sisters’ assets are held as stocks in companies in an effort to promote socially responsible practices. The sisters are able to do this through their involvement in the Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment (BCRI).
In 2003, the BCRI was launched, and shortly thereafter the sisters joined. It is a coalition of Benedictine monasteries that invest in stocks in publicly held companies and work collaboratively to effect corporate change as investors in the companies by exercising their shareholder rights. The coalition is then able to promote just and sustainable practices as shareholders in the company.
Sister Susan Mika, OSB, is the coordinator of the effort, and is based at her monastery in San Antonio, Texas. Sister Susan sees herself as a conduit: she pulls the different monasteries together for decision-making when needed, and helps to write investment policies and shareholder resolutions. There are ten member monasteries in the coalition, and each monastery is able to maintain its own autonomy while working as a group. Neal Smith, executive director of Holy Wisdom Monastery, serves as the liaison between the sisters here and the coalition.
During Sister Susan’s time as the coordinator of the BCRI, she has had the opportunity to tour nuclear power plants to evaluate how they can be less destructive, as some BCRI members became shareholders of companies that own nuclear power plants. More recently, the BCRI members have invested in the Isaiah Fund to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast. In 2011, members of the BCRI filed shareholder resolutions at McDonald’s to address childhood obesity, Motorola to adopt a human rights policy, and Coca-Cola to study toxic chemicals in its products (to name a few examples).
The coalition is able to make a bigger impact through its participation in the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). ICCR was founded in 1971 when the Episcopal Church filed a shareholder resolution against General Motors for its financial backing of apartheid in South Africa. ICCR as a whole maintains a focus on filing shareholder resolutions related to executive compensation, tobacco, child and prison labor, human rights, discrimination and global warming.
Shareholder resolutions are effective in that they allow religious sisters and other socially responsible investors to raise issues about the way a company practices its ethics. After a shareholder resolution is filed, one of three things happens: the company is encouraged to dialogue about a resolution, the company is asked to put the resolution on their annual proxy ballot so that all shareholders can vote on the resolution, or the company might challenge the resolution at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) so that the resolution can be omitted from the proxy ballot. BCRI views raising issues as a way to dialogue and challenge unethical practices in corporate America.
To learn more about the Benedictine Women of Madison’s involvement with socially responsible investing, please contact Neal at (608) 831-9310.