Shareholder activism is the conscience of corporations according to the New York Times
… Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. … the slight, soft-spoken nun had a few not-so-humble suggestions for the world’s most powerful investment bank.
Way up on the 41st floor, in a conference room overlooking the World Trade Center site, Sister Nora and her team from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility laid out their advice for three Goldman executives. The Wall Street bank, they said, should protect consumers, rein in executive pay, increase its transparency and remember the poor.
In short, Goldman should do God’s work— something that its chairman and chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, once remarked that he did. (The joke bombed.)
Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.
Eventually, they developed a strategy combining moral philosophy and public shaming. Once they took aim at a company, they bought the minimum number of shares that would allow them to submit resolutions at that company’s annual shareholder meeting. (Securities laws require shareholders to own at least $2,000 of stock before submitting resolutions.) That gave them a nuclear option, in the event the company’s executives refused to meet with them.
Unsurprisingly, most companies decided they would rather let the nuns in the door than confront religious dissenters in public.
“You’re not going to get any sympathy for cutting off a nun at your annual meeting,” says Robert McCormick, chief policy officer of Glass, Lewis & Company, a firm that specializes in shareholder proxy votes. With their moral authority, he said, the Sisters of St. Francis “can really bring attention to issues.”
The Sisters of St. Francis are hardly the only religious voices challenging big business. They have teamed up on shareholder resolutions with other orders, including the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth and the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, both in New Jersey. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the umbrella group under which much of Sister Nora’s activism takes place, includes Jews, Quakers, Presbyterians and nearly 300 faith-based investing groups.
The Episcopal Church Executive Council is a member of ICCR.