Investor Advocates for Social Justice

Religious Investors Push Companies to Embrace Health Reform

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Jacob Goldstein
Wall Street Journal Blog

More than $100 billion worth of investment capital is pushing companies to embrace borad health reform priniciples – though the prinicples are so broad that it’s not entirely clear what that embrace would mean.

The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility said today that it has filed 26 shareholder resolutions related to health reform for the coming proxy season.

The group, a coalition of faith-based institutional investors, has been pushing this strategy for a while now. Last year, it put these sorts of resolutions up for a vote at a dozen corporations. The resolutions didn’t come anywhere near winning a majority of the votes, but that’s not really the point with this sort of thing.

“This is more symbolic than substantive,” Joseph A. Grudfest, a corporate governance guru at Stanford Law School, told the Health Blog. “But symbols can be important.”

Indeed, the ICCR points to health reform positions adopted by several big companies — such as this one recently posted by Starbucks — as a sign of its success. (Starbucks tells the Health Blog that it supported this sort of thing for several years before being approached by ICCR, but recently highlighted the policy on its corporate governance page at the group’s request.)

Here’s the resolution the group filed with Yum! Brands, owner of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. Yum told the Health Blog that its board is reviewing the proposal and will file a response with the proxy statement.

A quick glance shows that the proposal is about broad principles and doesn’t have much to do with running a business. Health coverage should be “universal,” “continuous,” and “affordable to individuals and families,” the statement says.

What ICCR really seems to want is to draw corporate America into the health-reform discussion going on in Washington — a role the group’s leaders suggested could help the bottom line and be good for shareholders, given the high burden health costs place on employers.

“As long-term institutional investors, members of the ICCR recognize recog the long-term burden providing health benefits for employees places on American corporations,” the ICCR’s David Schilling said on a press call today. “Faith-based investors believe it is in the economic interest of companies to ensure that all Americans have access to health care that is affordable and provided equitably.”

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