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December 09, 2013
Nelson Mandela
    by Robert Kropp

Not only was the late South African leader an icon for international justice and peace; his struggles against apartheid have had a lasting impact on the quest of sustainable investors for social justice in capital markets.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived,” Nelson Mandela once said. “It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Mandela, the former President of South Africa and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifelong effort to end the injustice of apartheid in his country, died last week at the age of 95. Imprisoned for many years for his activism, he became South Africa’s first democratically elected President in 1994.

“We give thanks for his life, his leadership, his devotion to humanity and humanitarian causes,” the foundation that bears his name stated. “We salute our friend, colleague and comrade and thank him for his sacrifices for our freedom.”

Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, said, “Coming from the most unequal of societies, he understood the corrosive nature of great divisions of wealth and power. And he knew that, for future generations of South Africans, political rights were incomplete without economic rights and access to equal opportunities.”

The blatant injustice of white minority rule in South Africa gave rise to a global movement for divestment that contributed to the end of apartheid. The divestment movement is considered to have been the starting point for modern sustainable investment.

“It started in the churches,” Paul Neuhauser, a co-founder of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), said in a 2010 speech. “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.”

In the years since apartheid was finally dismantled, sustainable investment has proven to be an effective strategy for managing long-term risks to portfolios. But it has never abandoned its roots in the cause of social justice as exemplified by the anti-apartheid movement. In fact, social and environmental justice remains the basis for sustainable investment.

Sustainable investment organizations offered praise and condolences on the passing of Mr. Mandela. “The ICCR community mourns the passing of Mandela, a faithful voice for justice and equality for the oppressed and champion of reconciliation and peace,” the organization stated on its Facebook page.

“Forty-three years ago, witnessing the selfless struggle of Mandela and others who rejected the inequality and racism symbolized by the apartheid system, faith-based investors continents away were inspired to partner with the freedom movement by using their collective voice as shareholders to help bring economic pressure to bear against the South African government,” Executive Director Laura Berry wrote. “It was in seeking the end of apartheid that ICCR first forged its beginning and helped give birth to the shareholder advocacy movement.”

US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment stated, “The roots of today’s sustainable investment field can be found in the efforts of investors, often undertaken with civil society partners in South Africa and around the world, to help eradicate apartheid by putting pressure on companies doing business in South Africa. Sustainable and responsible investors have continued efforts to support human rights and address inequality in the decades since. The life of Mandela will continue to influence us as we move forward.”

Calvert Investments, observing that its Calvert Social Investment Fund “was the first US mutual fund to support divestment from South Africa—and one of the first to invest in the new South Africa after Mandela’s call for sanctions to be lifted in 1993,” stated, “Among those he inspired were investors in the United States and elsewhere who heeded his call to put economic as well as political pressure on the South African government. These efforts raised the profile and demonstrated the impact of what at the time we called socially responsible investment—and helped to pave the way for the mainstream appeal of what is now sustainable and responsible investment today.”

And Leslie Samuelrich, President of Green Century Capital Management, made explicit the connection between the divestment movement in South Africa and the growing movement to divest from fossil fuel companies.

“Inspired by Mandela’s strategy, this current divestment campaign already is creating the political power and influence to secure the changes we need,” Samuelrich stated. “In hindsight the controversial strategies were some of the most successful ones. Divestment could play this role again in this generation’s most pressing issue.”

“Nelson Mandela inspired us for decades and has now helped a new generation find a way to call for a change, no matter how challenging,” she continued. “Believing in your vision and strategy despite how controversial it might be at the start is one of the most instructive parts of his long struggle for global justice.”


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