Friday, February 16, 2007

Citizens Funds (a Socially Responsible Investing firm): inquiries on activities in Sudan

Citizens Funds is an SRI firm which invests only in companies that pass social and environmental screens. SRI is a growing trend worldwide. SRI firms will exclude companies that fail their screens, will engage as shareholders with companies to improve their social and environmental responsiveness, and will sometimes make investments targeted at low-income communities with low access to credit.

Many Americans are concerned with the genocide in Sudan, as they should be. Fidelity has blatantly refused to engage their clients and their fund shareholders who have demanded that they cease investment in companies that enable the genocide by providing funds (usually through oil royalties) to the government. They didn't answer my email, not even with a form letter.

Citizens, on the other hand, has queryed companies it believes may derive some revenues from Sudanese operations. The following companies have responded to their requests for information:

3M (Ticker MMM, diversified industrial)
Metlife (ticker MET, insurance)
Bank of New York (BNY, does what you think it does)
Ingersoll-Rand (IR, industrial machinery)
Baker Hughes (BHI, oil exploration)
Mellon Financial (MEL, financial)
Northern Trust (NTRS, financial)
Pepsico (PEP, you know what they sell)
Coke (KO, you know what they sell, too)
Volvo (VOLVY, sells automobiles and trucks)
Medtronic (MDT, medical devices)
Stryker (SYK, orthopedic devices)
Toyota (TM, cars, including the Prius, which I want someday)

Citizens has argued that instant divestment would deprive them of the ability to engage the companies as shareholders. Yes, it's a one dollar, one vote sort of deal, and there are firms out there that are a lot larger than Citizens. But the best companies do listen to their shareholders' concerns. Either way, there's value in both approaches to engaging corporations to align their behavior with human rights.

Of course, some corporations won't listen (like Exxon Mobil, Millstone Award recipient for March, and I doubt the Chinese oil companies involved in Sudan will listen, either). And most institutional shareowners (Fidelity, Vanguard, etc) don't consider these decisions their purview, which is monumentally irresponsible. But, we do try.

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