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Investment Professionals Convene at Marquette University to Discuss Socially Responsible Investing October 10th, 2019
Rev. Séamus Finn, OMI, was the keynote speaker at Marquette’s first symposium on Socially Responsible Investing. Finn’s keynote explored the history of socially responsible investing, drawing on personal stories from his background and work as board chair of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR).
The event also sparked fruitful knowledge sharing and networking among Marquette students and faculty, and Milwaukee investment professionals. A wide-ranging panel discussion examined a variety of strategies and challenges on the minds of socially responsible investing practitioners and advocates.
Talk of socially responsible investing permeated campus as Finn guest lectured in Theology and Finance classes during his three-day visit to campus.
Socially Responsible Investing from the 1970’s to today
Finn noted two events as the genesis of the modern movement toward socially responsible investing: apartheid in South Africa and the use of chemical weapons in Vietnam. Shareholder advocacy was the method the ICCR used to combat these injustices. In each of these cases, shareholders demonstrated the ability to influence companies such as General Motors, Ford, and various legacy banks for their role fueling apartheid in South Africa, and Dow Chemical for manufacturing Napalm and Agent Orange used in Vietnam.
Since then, the ICCR has engaged with numerous corporations to improve human rights, food safety and sustainability, environmental health, water safety and sustainability, financial services, and global and domestic health. Though ICCR is not an exclusively Catholic organization, the influence of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is evident in these priorities. Finn singled out the USCCB’s 1986 Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy titled “Economic Justice for All.”
So, how does ICCR do this? Through a variety of forms of shareholder advocacy, including stockholder resolutions, voting proxies, corporate dialogues, and other strategies.
Some tools Finn offered for promoting socially responsible investing are positive and negative screening, international norms-based screening, proxy voting, integration of environmental, societal, and governmental (ESG) factors, sustainability themed investing, and impact/community investing.
Contemporary issues in Socially Responsible Investing
Finn shared what he sees as some of the most important issues among socially responsible investors today:
- Climate change
- Private prisons
- Access to firearms
- Opioid addiction
- Artificial intelligence and robotics
These are not only concerns within the financial/corporate sector, Finn noted, they are a result of societal concern and shareholder interest. Furthermore, he noted that public interest in climate change is unique in that its impact reaches across all sectors.
Finn concluded his remarks with a poignant statement on what is at stake across all of the issues socially responsible investing targets.Despite the unprecedented standard of living present for most people in the United States, Finn cautioned against simply accepting the United States as a “promised land of political freedom and economic opportunities.” It’s imperative to remember the cost of this, Finn said, as we must recall with a sober humility the bloodshed that has contributed to the prosperity we enjoy today.
The importance of recognizing those who have suffered and working to prevent future suffering is integral to participating in SRI and to promoting peace through the business sector.
Socially Responsible Investing Panel
Following Finn’s speech, the symposium transitioned into a panel of professionals from the Milwaukee area. The panel was moderated by Christopher Merker, an adjunct professor of finance at Marquette who teaches a course on sustainable finance. The panelists were Laura Gough (Baird — Investment Consulting), Nadelle Grossman (Marquette University — Law & Governance), Joe Henzlik (ISS — Sustainability & Governance), Leo Harmon (Mesirow Financial — Asset Management), and Conner Darrow (Marquette University — AIM Student).
They discussed a variety of topics including:
- Individual definitions of SRI
- Screening and the importance of ESG in SRI
- Thoughts on the Business Roundtable
- Fiduciary law and obligations
- Driving forces in SRI
- Using SRI in small/mid-cap funds
- Trends in shareholder engagement
- Linking pay to ESG results
- Fossil fuel divestment
- Actionable ideas to implement SRI
The event concluded with a reception, where the attendees, panelists, and keynote speakers continued to discuss SRI and the variety of implications that it has in the promotion of peace and justice on a local, national, and international level.
The Socially Responsible Investing Symposium was organized by the Center for Peacemaking, College of Business Administration, and Finance Department. The event was sponsored by Baird, CFA Society Milwaukee, Mesirow Financial, Sage Advisory, and Federated Investors.
Where You Bank Matters April 20th, 2016
Where You Bank Matters, by Fr. Seamus Finn, OMI
In collaboration with the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition (SRIC), ICCR sponsored an informative and engaging roundtable on sustainable banking at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio on April 6th. The idea for the roundtable was part of the vision and mission of the ICCR financial services caucus and was realized when the group found an accomplished and energetic partner in the Global Alliance for Banking on Values.
Recently, a Catholic parish of St. Mary of Sorrows in Virginia,United States donated to the local community in Bhomela in Zimbabwe. This generous gift has enabled people of Bhomela to get a borehole for clean water supply and help in development of local farming initiatives during the prolonged dry season. Bhomela community is a mission church for the Zimbabwe Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
“Many children suffer from water-born diseases as well as malnutrition in Bhomela area. This borehole project will go a long way in alleviating these problems and developing ‘self-help’ initiatives in solving local problems,” says Zimbabwe Missionary Oblate, Fr. Charles Rensburg, OMI speaking on behalf of the local community.
“Words cannot begin to describe the community’s joy in having received a ‘life-line’ of water for the whole village. The borehole will be maintained by the local Catholic community whilst at the same time, complete access has been given to the whole village of over 3000 people.”
Fr. Séamus Finn, OMI participated in the 10th Harvard University Forum on Islamic Finance held in Cambridge, Massachusetts on March 24-25, 2012. He was a panelist in the plenary session on Faith-Based Investment and Social Responsibility.
The Forum brochure offered this summary of the proceedings:The Tenth Forum features three main parallel sessions, which reflect three major themes within the topic of economic development. These include the Islamic financial sector’s contribution to global economic development, Islamic finance and the development of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), and faith-based investment and social responsibility. Apart from these three main sessions, there are also parallel sessions on Islamic finance and the Arab Spring movements, global perspectives on Islamic finance, Islamic finance and alternative economic thinking, and current academic research on product development in the Islamic finance industry. With over 50 speakers and 30 nationalities represented, the forum attracts the leading practitioners from academia and the industry to critically discuss the issues highlighted above with a view to proposing sustainable developmental plans for the Islamic finance industry in general. There is no doubt that this rapidly developing field of the global financial system requires a close scrutiny to maximally harness it for the development of the global economy.
Land Grabs in Africa Leave Communities Impoverished April 5th, 2012
The problem of land grabbing in Africa and Asia by investment firms and multinational corporations is a serious and growing problem. Governments make deals with large multinational companies while thousands of poor farmers are left with inadequate compensation, low wages, polluted water and exposure to toxic agricultural chemicals that cause health problems.
While problems with land grabs abound, SOCFIN Agriculture. Co. is a particularly egregious company. Owned by French billionaire Vincent Bollore, SOCFINAF Group owns and operates plantations of rubber, oil palm and coffee in Indonesia, Cambodia, Kenya, Cameroon, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Liberia. SOCFIN recently has secured 6,500 hectares of farmland for rubber/palm oil production in Sierra Leone.
The Oakland Institute, a California-based think-tank, has detailed a pattern of coercion, lack of consultation, and failure to fairly compensate Sierra Leonean landowners who have been pressured into ceding their land to the corporate giant. Watch this video on SOCFIN’s Sierra Leone’s operations:
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Reflections from a Recent Trip to Asia February 14th, 2012
Seamus Finn, OMI reflects on his experiences and observations during a recent trip to Asia and the implications for the Oblate work with corporations. He looks at questions raised by the realities of life experienced by ordinary people, from Bangladeshi tea plantation and garment workers, to Burmese refugees in Thailand, and Cambodians dealing with the long-term impacts of land mines.