September 28, 2011
ICCR Celebrates Forty Years of Shareowner Activism
by Robert Kropp
More than 300 attend event that included a panel discussion on corporate responsibility and an
eloquent address by Paul Neuhauser on shareowner action to end apartheid in South Africa.
In its forty years of existence, the faith-based member of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) have
revolutionized the practice of shareowner action for sustainable investors. From leading the charge
on apartheid in South Africa to calling financial institutions to account for subprime mortgage
lending and rehypothecation (the practice by financial institutions of taking in collateral as
guarantees on derivatives trades, and then using it as collateral for their own transactions), ICCR
members created a template for engagement on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG)
issues from which investors and society as whole have benefited.
As Laura Berry,
Executive Director of ICCR, said of the organization's members last week, "They often determine the
breaking news, the issues that are appearing just on the horizon, while others continue to carry
forward issues that were brought to the fore decades ago by this very ICCR community."
Berry was speaking in New York City at a celebration marking ICCR's 40th year of existence.
Titled Taking Stock: Shaping a New Age in Corporate Responsibility, the event was attended by more
than 300 people.
At the event, two longtime members received ICCR Legacy Awards. Sister
Valerie Heinonen was recognized for 35 years of productive dialogue with corporations on issues
relating to human trafficking, the rights of indigenous persons and workers, militarism, the
environment, and fair access to capital.
Attorney Paul Neuhauser, a co-founder of ICCR,
was recognized for his contributions to the groundbreaking shareowner action targeting apartheid in
The centerpiece of the event was a panel discussion on corporate
responsibility moderated by former Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schulz. The panel
members were Max Anderson, author of The MBA
Oath; Gara LaMarche, former President and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies; and David Miller,
Project Director of the Princeton Faith & Work
Having interviewed Laura Berry on a number of occasions, this reporter
knew enough not to expect the straightforward discussion on corporate responsibility that the title
of the event implied, such as a meeting of shareowner advocates and corporate sustainability
officers in which matters of sustainability reporting and hot topics like executive compensation
Those in attendance who knew enough to expect the unexpected were not
disappointed, as the usual topics were dealt with only lightly. Instead, the panelists focused on
their personal, often faith-driven journeys, for the most part converging on a consensus of how the
concept of ethics in business and society came to be central to their visions.
Of the two
Legacy Award winners, Heinonen was recovering from illness and was unable to attend. Neuhauser,
however, was in attendance, and spoke at length about the efforts to address apartheid in South
Africa. The shareowner action on the issue is widely considered to have been a major turning point,
and Neuhauser, who was appointed to the Episcopal Church's socially responsible investment
committee when it was formed in 1969, often choked up as he recalled colleagues from 40 years ago
as well as the enormity of the accomplishment. He spoke eloquently of his experience:
that time, the Civil Rights Act had been passed in the United States, and sit-ins were no longer
the most important thing going on. Obviously there was a long way to go, but we decided our number
one priority would be apartheid in South Africa. I was asked by the committee to draft a
shareholder proposal asking General Motors to get out of South Africa. Lo and behold, General
Motors tried to get the proposal excluded from the proxy statement, and I was drafted by the
committee to write a letter to the SEC defending the proposal. For my sins I've been doing the same
thing for forty years."
"We won at the SEC. Bishop Hines went to the annual meeting of
General Motors in Detroit, and personally presented the proposal that they get out of South Africa.
Down from the podium came one of the directors of General Motors to speak in favor of the
shareholder proposal. General Motors and many other American corporations agreed to the Sullivan
Principles, asking that any American corporation desegregate its workforce. It didn't deal with
the broader issues of society, but at least they desegregated. Eventually, virtually every American
Companies endorsing the Global Sullivan Principles of Social
Responsibility commit to supporting universal rights, promoting equal opportunity and freedom of
association in the workplace, and working with governments to improve the quality of life in
communities in which they do business.
"We accepted that, and then we went back to saying
that your impact is still supporting apartheid," Neuhauser continued. "We then asked companies not
just to join the Sullivan Principles but to agree to get out of South Africa. For the next four
years, for four different times, the President of JP Morgan—at a time when that was the number one
bank in the world, and it was a bank, not a gambling institution—said yes, and the Chair said we
would make no more loans to South Africa."
"And that was what did it. It started in the
churches. Eventually, cities were passing ordinances, but it started in the churches. What we
accomplished was the end of apartheid, earlier than it would have been and without bloodshed."
Neuhauser's address was a profound history lesson for the many in attendance who came to
engagement in corporate responsibility many years after the revolutionary action it described. It
was profoundly inspiring as well, as it reminded those in attendance of what can be accomplished in
the effort to awaken business to its responsibility to the society in which it operates.