The Tri-State Coalition invests for profits and probity
Tri-State Coalition to show documentary on investing
By Gwen Orel, for the Montclair Times
The words “shareholders” and “churches” may not seem like they belong together, but in order to raise money for missions, retirement funds and pensions, churches are big investors.
Churches want those investments to be both profitable and ethical, according to Kate Walsh, associate director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment (Tri-State CRI), and Sister Patricia Daly, the organization’s executive director.
People who are curious about how money and morality go together can learn about it next Tuesday, Sept. 18, when the organization shows the documentary, “Have you heard from Johannesburg,” at First Congregational Church at 7 p.m. at 40 South Fullerton Ave., where the organization has its offices.
The film, said Walsh, “goes to the genesis of how the shareholder advocacy work really began,” presenting the story of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. ICCR, according to its website, began in the early 1970s as a response to the Vietnam War.
The Tri-State CRI was founded in 1975, according to its website. While there are many members in the coalition, the organization itself is small. Walsh said that there are only two staffers, herself and Daly, and some interns and consultants.
Daly, a Dominican sister of Caldwell, explained, “It’s one thing not to be involved, but the other piece of this is that, as investors, we really own the company.”
Speaking from a perspective of faith can get results. “When there was an issue with Coca Cola and water rights in India, in the early 2000s, we had Sisters who had Sisters on the ground in Kerala,” said Walsh. The company had been operating in an area of known water scarcity, and community members had been reporting that their wells were nearly dry, Walsh said. Today, she said, the company is one of the most progressive in the area about managing the supply chain.
Daly is not afraid to mix it up with the heads of companies who do ignore those criteria. In 1998, during an annual shareholders meeting, she went head-to-head with John F. Welch, Jr., the chief executive officer of General Electric (G.E.), according to Walsh, over the company’s dumping of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the Hudson River. The New York Times reported that G.E. sponsored many studies claiming that dredging would be a bad idea.
Eventually, the company was mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the water, Walsh said.
One thing that has made the Tri-State CRI’s work more direct is that since 2010, federal regulations allow shareholders to ask companies about risk.
“Lending money for people to be in homes is positive, but what we saw in the 2008 crisis” were reckless banking practices, said Walsh.
While “apartheid is no longer” the norm in South Africa, said Daly, the Tri-State CRI continues to “look at human rights in many, many countries.”
Ultimately, investing ethically is not just good behavior, it’s also good business, Daly said. “Over the years, we have clearly made the link that more sustainable companies are more secure companies financially.”