By Ethel Howley, SSND
Something is afoot in our world and also in the Universe. There is a growing sense that the networks involving ecology, economics, politics, and technology are all interconnected. At the same time, Laudato Si’ is calling everyone to explore our common home and respond to both the cry of the earth and to the cry of the poor. Consequently, School Sisters of Notre Dame, for many years, as shareholders with several corporations holding their retirement funds have tackled ecological economics.
Yet over the years, economics and politics make us look at the world as if we are superior to it. Today, we live with this urgent need for economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life. School Sisters of Notre Dame hold retirement funds invested with many of the largest corporations, usually small investments with the more prominent offenders. They do this in order to engage the company in conversations, and to participate in shareholder voting for just practices.
Along with other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, I have dialogued with executives of corporations calling them to make significant changes: to take care of creation by avoiding harmful drilling and pollution; to provide safe working conditions for employees and racial equity within corporate leadership; to offer affordable drug prices; to check the dangers of producing military rifles for civilian use, or nuclear weapons for nation states; to avoid harmful drilling through financial loans, and to withhold political donations and end lobbying for political leaders who support legislation detrimental to the cries of the earth and the poor. When opportunities for shareholder meetings with management are denied or when they seem unproductive, I file proposals for all shareholders’ consideration and votes.
Many of the proposals have received high percentages from all the shareholders. One company withdrew its drilling plans from indigenous land in Latin America. Two others hired law firms to carry out racial equity audits of their managers and employees, and several companies agreed to publish lists of their political contributions. Eventually we are seeing changes come to many corporations due to the influence of shareholder interactions and voting results.
Laudato Si advocates for an economy that gives life and does not kill, includes and does not exclude, humanizes and does not dehumanize, takes care of creation and does not plunder it. “We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision.” (LS 141)