Wall Street’s “Moral Minority”
A New York Times article has revealed that long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia were battling Wall Street over corporate responsibility. For the last thirty years, the Sisters have used the investments in their retirement fund to become Wall Street’s moral minority.
Using their status as shareholders, the nuns fought with Kroger over farm worker rights, with McDonald’s over childhood obesity, and with Wells Fargo over lending practices. They have met face-to-face with the heads of Lockheed Martin, BP, and General Electric. Most recently, they advised Goldman Sachs executives that the bank should protect consumers, rein in executive pay, increase its transparency, and remember the poor.
With their moral authority, the Sisters of St. Francis “can really bring attention to issues,” said Robert McCormick, chief policy officer of Glass, Lewis & Company, the proxy voting firm. “You haven’t seen shareholder activism until you see a nun battling it out with the CEOs. They can be devastating,” said Michael Passoff in a 2005 article on religious shareholder activists. Passoff works in the Corporate Social Responsibility Program for As You Sow, a leading organization in the strategizing and organizing of shareholder campaigns.
The nuns have been waging this war since 1980, when St. Francis Sister Nora Nash formed a committee with her community to combat troubling developments at the businesses in which they invested their retirement fund. The Roman Catholic order of over 500 nuns has teamed up with other orders and faith-based investing groups on shareholder resolutions. Much of Sister Nora’s activism takes place under the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an umbrella group which includes Jews, Quakers and Presbyterians.
Sister Nora said that she and the order “want social returns, as well as financial ones.” She added, “when you look at the major financial institutions, you have to realize there is greed involved.”
The full New York Times article can be found here.