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July 26, 2006
Nuns and Priests File Depleted Uranium Bunker Buster Resolution at Three Weapons Companies
    by Bill Baue

The resolution goes to vote next week at Alliant Techsystems, and already received more than double the support needed to re-file next year at Lockheed Martin and Textron.


Depleted uranium (DU), the radioactive byproduct of uranium enrichment, is in the headlines as the US recently agreed to send 100 Guided Bomb Unit-28 bunker buster bombs containing DU warheads to Israel for use against targets in Lebanon, as reported by Reuters and others. Shareowner activists are also placing DU on the corporate agenda by filing a new resolution expressing health and environmental concerns and asking for a report from three companies on their involvement with DU. Concern centers on the pyrophoric properties of DU, which burns and loses much of its mass upon impact, dispersing a fine radioactive dust that can be carried long distances by winds or absorbed by soil and groundwater--not to mention human bodies.

The resolution received 6.4 percent support at Lockheed Martin (ticker: LMT) and 9 percent support at Textron (TXT), according to the EthVest database maintained by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responibility (ICCR)--both well over the 3 percent threshold required by the SEC for re-filing next year. The proposal goes to vote next week at Alliant Techsystems (ATK), which manufactures 120 mm rounds containing DU for penetrating tanks and light armor vehicles.

"It's one thing to make a weapon that 'does the job' on the battlefield; it's another to manufacture and use one that destroys not only tanks, armored personnel carriers and underground bunkers but may also leave a potentially poisonous legacy in the bodies of the people who return to those areas after hostilities have ceased," said John Celichowski, head of the corporate responsibility program for the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order, which filed the resolution at Alliant along with other ICCR members. "We believe that the choice to use particular weapons in areas that are bound to be inhabited or re-inhabited by civilians raises serious moral questions which need to be addressed by our policy-makers, our armed services, the society they claim to be defending, and the companies that make such weapons."

"The pyrophoric qualities of these weapons also creates potential risks for our own soldiers," he told SocialFunds.com.

The resolutions make not only a moral and ethical case, but also a business case against DU.

"The business case against DU centers around the potential liability for human and environmental impacts and damage to the companies' reputations," said Valerie Heinonen, a corporate social responsibility consultant to the Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Detroit Charitable Trust, which filed the resolution at Lockheed. "Rather than seeking a market for radioactive waste, the federal government and corporations should work with NGOs to find solutions for long-term storage."

PROXY Governance, one of the three major proxy advisory firms, recommends voting for the resolution at Alliant

"PROXY Governance acknowledges that there are serious concerns regarding the health effects of using munitions containing depleted uranium (DU)," states PROXY Governance. "While we are not aware of significant litigation involving the health and safety of workers at DU munitions production facilities at this time, the potential for future such litigation exists."

In fact, Richard David of the UK filed suit against Honeywell (HON) in 2004 claiming adverse health effects from working at a munitions factory during the first Gulf War where DU was used in manufacturing, according to an article in The Observer.

"And while the World Health Organization and others have stated that there is no conclusive medical evidence linking DU to health problems, reports by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights have suggested that the weapons may well be illegal under The Geneva Conventions, The Hague Conventions and other international law," continues the PROXY Governance report. "Such a finding could complicate efforts by DU weapons manufacturers to defend themselves against potential future litigation involving health effects or environmental clean-up efforts."

The Alliant board argues in its proxy statement that the company discloses information regarding its military- and defense-related contracting in its SEC filings, but PROXY Governance notes that these filings do not discuss the specific matters brought up in the resolution.

PROXY Governance also recommended voting for the resolution at Lockheed, but against it at Textron, as the company's board points out in its proxy statement that the company is not involved in DU production and has no plans to be. Both ISS and Glass Lewis recommend voting against the resolution at all three companies.

"We were in conversation with Textron management following the filing of the resolution, but we did not get satisfactory answers and therefore the lead filer, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary decided to leave the resolution on the ballot," Sister Valerie told SocialFunds.com. "The vote at Textron may lead to further, more satisfactory conversation."

 

 
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