March 3, 2005
A UMNS Report
By Neill Caldwell*
United Methodist Church’s pension agency is supporting about 20
shareholder resolutions aimed at getting corporations to address such
diverse concerns as the AIDS crisis and ethical management.
want to focus corporate management’s attention on issues such as
HIV/AIDS, climate risk, global warming, workers’ rights on an
international level and issues of diversity at home,” said Vidette
Bullock Mixon, director of corporate relations and social concerns for
the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
safety is an emerging issue,” she continued. “And we want to continue
to focus on corporate governance, that companies be open and transparent
in their reporting information to investors.”
the nation’s largest faith-based pension fund, the Board of Pension and
Health Benefits has nearly $12 billion in total assets, giving it the
kind of clout that corporate executives listen to, Bullock Mixon said.
agency, based in Evanston, Ill., has more than 66,000 participants in
its coverage plans and invests in more than 3,000 companies. The board
practices socially responsible investing and seeks to influence
corporate behavior in a manner consistent with the United Methodist
Church’s Social Principles and Book of Discipline.
2005, the board is sponsoring or cosponsoring about 20 shareholder
resolutions for companies such as Rite Aid, Kellogg, Corning, Dow,
Safeway, Best Buy, Office Depot, Apple Computers, Merck, Pfizer,
Wal-Mart, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Those resolutions will be
considered at the companies’ annual shareholder meetings, many of them
set for spring and early summer.
pressure is something that churches can use to effect change, said
Sister Pat Wolf, executive director of the Interfaith Center for
Corporate Responsibility in New York. The board is part of the center’s
consortium of 275 faith-based institutional investors.
leadership of the General Board of Pensions is vast and very
influential, and has done groundbreaking work in equality and diversity,
in human rights, and in labor standards,” Wolf said. “A number of the
United Methodist Church’s individual divisions are also very active.
important issues—things like global warming, the price of
pharmaceuticals and access to health care—are of great concern to people
in the pews,” Wolf said. “These big issues have an impact at the local
level. Students on campus, for example, know they don’t want to wear
sports uniforms that are made in a sweatshop.”
The Board of Pension and Health Benefits achieved several milestones in
2004. Cintas Corp. shareholders gave 91 percent approval to a
board-sponsored resolution that the company publish a report on its
implementation of global standards. And at TJX Corp.—parent company of
TJ Maxx, Marshalls and other retailers—a resolution directing the
company to elect members of its board of directors annually received 77
percent of the shareholder vote.
|Photo courtesy of the Board of Pension and Health Benefits
The Board of Pension and Health Benefits is backing about 20 shareholder resolutions, staffer Vidette Bullock Mixon says.
Bullock Mixon said the board is pleased with its 2004 successes and wants to build on those this year.
Several global issues top the list of concerns this year.
board is asking companies to acknowledge that global warming and other
climate-related issues will impact investor returns, especially in such
industries as oil and gas, Bullock Mixon said.
assume that top management will have oversight in making policy
decisions and that they will practice good environmental stewardship,”
she said. “They should establish goals to reduce emissions, and increase
the practices of conservation and recycling.”
Much of the work done in 2004 dealt with the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.
we deal with the pharmaceutical companies because they are in the
business of providing the products that address these health issues,”
Bullock Mixon said. “Can these companies work together to solve the
problems? We’re including malaria and TB, too. The needs are
so great that we’re also broadening the number of companies we’ve
reached out to. We’ve also worked with the United Nations and with the
governments of certain countries.”
the start of 2005, companies have turned their attention to relief for
the tsunami victims in South Asia, “and rightfully so,” Bullock Mixon
said. “But the issue of HIV and AIDS deserves companies’ long-term
attention. I just read a report about decreasing corporate awareness and
response to the AIDS crisis. We will be doing our best to encourage
companies to be persistent in their efforts.”
major component of the board’s work has been related to practices that
led to the corporate scandals of recent years. Bullock Mixon said she
has seen increased accountability in large corporations in the wake of
the Enron collapse, and noted that the stock exchanges have updated
lot of that comes from a legislative mandate,” she said. “We’re seeing
some movement in reporting aspects of business that will have an impact
not only on investors but on society.”
Board of Pension and Health Benefits has called on Wal-Mart to improve
its reporting on company practices, and Wal-Mart has taken out full-page
ads in major newspapers to tell its story, she said.
the largest company, perhaps they’re held to a higher standard in areas
like community outreach, the environment and diversity,” Bullock Mixon
said of Wal-Mart. “We would encourage United Methodists to be vigilant
in calling all companies to higher standards of accountability.”
is an example of a corporation that collapsed because of poor
leadership, Bullock Mixon said. The board is focusing on
“sustainability” or business practices that ensure a company will
survive long into the future.
board is a long-term investor; we want to invest in companies with a
good track record over the long haul,” she said. “No one does business
in isolation. You depend on employees, on the community business
environment and on the natural environment.”
board magnifies its impact by working with such partners as the
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, whose member agencies
have more than $110 billion in total assets. Bullock Mixon is vice
chairperson of the center’s board.
center’s organizations “are able to ask questions that might not
otherwise be raised, since an individual often does not have the power
to address the CEO of a corporation,” Wolf said.
at the issue of HIV/AIDS in Africa, which is decimating that
continent,” she said. “At the ICCR, we would think about how to address
companies on this issue. How will the HIV/AIDS pandemic affect business?
It sounds like a non-spiritual issue. But when you talk to Coca-Cola
and say that nobody will be around to drink Coke unless they do
something, they understand.”
*Caldwell is a freelance journalist based in High Point, NC.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.