Another area to direct your advocacy efforts is corporate decision-makers. The public can influence the behavior and values of companies and hold them accountable to improving their social and environmental impact.
B. Corporate Decision Makers
Shareholder advocacy can be used to direct the decisions of corporate interests to address environmental and social issues as well as internal policies and issues of governance. Making connections and having dialogue with companies can influence their actions and accountability.
Below, Sr. Barbara Jennings, CSJ, of Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment shares the importance or shareholder advocacy, and gives advice specific to the process of engaging with companies to encourage change.
Do your investments match your values?
The Socially Responsible Investment Movement began in the 1970’s with companies who had banks or manufacturing sites and sales in South Africa; companies who were ignoring the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks of business in an apartheid state. Investors from many faith backgrounds engaged the leaderships of the companies and warned them of drastic social upheavals that would influence their business and asked the companies to make positive changes like education and just wages for their workers. This movement eventually became the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility located in NYC. Now members of religious institutions of all kinds are engaged in even more companies and in even more issues, such as ESG.
Locally in the Midwest, members in St. Louis and Milwaukee are dialoguing and filing shareholder resolutions with sectors like energy, manufacturing, and food and agriculture. These actions require that you hold a minimum number of shares in the company.
Here are steps for the basic process:
- Write a letter to a company in a chosen sector. Ask for accountability in emissions, water pollution, supply chain human rights, or executive pay (ESG).
- If the company responds, set up a dialogue. If the company does not respond, write once more, asking for a dialogue.
- After a dialogue, decide if you will file a shareholder resolution at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), asking the Company for very specific information and accountability that they have refused to give, but could give.
- Get other investors to support you by voting yes on your resolution. Wait for the Annual Meeting to see if you receive a 51% vote; if so, the company is obliged to respond to you in a better fashion.
It’s a great learning opportunity for everyone, and a great way to hold corporations responsible for their ‘nice words’ about environmental, social, and governance practices.
In St. Louis, we achieved a 53% vote with our local electric utility on coal ash pond pollution. The company subsequently made public visits in all counties where it does business regarding their “improvements.” We are still in dialogue with them about a more responsible way to close their ash ponds.
Petitions are another method to demonstrate public support for your project. Creating a petition and gathering signatures can show support or opposition to a measure of a project. Some petitions, such as those to place a person or an item on a ballot, require a formal petition that meets the requirements of the state constitution or city charter, depending on what ballot you hope to get on. Check with the appropriate governmental authority for those requirements, including deadlines for verifying signatures. Petitions to express public opinion can be useful to influence elected officials. At a minimum, these petitions should include a place for a name, address, and signature.
For more information on the petition-initiative process to place an issue on a ballot, the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office has a guide to Missouri’s Initiative Petition Process.
An advocacy tip about petitions from Linda Fenton, Open Space Council Board Member:
If collecting signatures for a petition, you should be on public land such as a sidewalk, or get advance approval from the land owner. Also, if you are going to be collecting signatures in the immediate area of the land in question, it helps to deliver the handouts first outlining the issues and include advanced notice that you will be returning between X and Y dates with a petition (you may also inform them about the content of the petition). Explain how including their signature would serve to help.
You can also influence corporations by voting with your wallet — your purchases reflect your values and you can send a signal to companies about the values you want them to adopt.
Case Study: You can practice consumer advocacy in the St. Louis region with MCE’s Known & Grown program, which supports our local food systems. This program supports local, sustainable farmers while also helping consumers choose environmentally-responsible food. Learn more about the Known & Grown program at the Known & Grown website.