Rev. Séamus Finn, OMI, was the keynote speaker at Marquette’s first symposium on Socially Responsible Investing. Finn’s keynote explored the history of socially responsible investing, drawing on personal stories from his background and work as board chair of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR).
The event also sparked fruitful knowledge sharing and networking among Marquette students and faculty, and Milwaukee investment professionals. A wide-ranging panel discussion examined a variety of strategies and challenges on the minds of socially responsible investing practitioners and advocates.
Talk of socially responsible investing permeated campus as Finn guest lectured in Theology and Finance classes during his three-day visit to campus.
Socially Responsible Investing from the 1970’s to today
Finn noted two events as the genesis of the modern movement toward socially responsible investing: apartheid in South Africa and the use of chemical weapons in Vietnam. Shareholder advocacy was the method the ICCR used to combat these injustices. In each of these cases, shareholders demonstrated the ability to influence companies such as General Motors, Ford, and various legacy banks for their role fueling apartheid in South Africa, and Dow Chemical for manufacturing Napalm and Agent Orange used in Vietnam.
Since then, the ICCR has engaged with numerous corporations to improve human rights, food safety and sustainability, environmental health, water safety and sustainability, financial services, and global and domestic health. Though ICCR is not an exclusively Catholic organization, the influence of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is evident in these priorities. Finn singled out the USCCB’s 1986 Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy titled “Economic Justice for All.”
So, how does ICCR do this? Through a variety of forms of shareholder advocacy, including stockholder resolutions, voting proxies, corporate dialogues, and other strategies.
Some tools Finn offered for promoting socially responsible investing are positive and negative screening, international norms-based screening, proxy voting, integration of environmental, societal, and governmental (ESG) factors, sustainability themed investing, and impact/community investing.
Contemporary issues in Socially Responsible Investing
Finn shared what he sees as some of the most important issues among socially responsible investors today:
- Climate change
- Private prisons
- Access to firearms
- Opioid addiction
- Artificial intelligence and robotics
These are not only concerns within the financial/corporate sector, Finn noted, they are a result of societal concern and shareholder interest. Furthermore, he noted that public interest in climate change is unique in that its impact reaches across all sectors.
Finn concluded his remarks with a poignant statement on what is at stake across all of the issues socially responsible investing targets.Despite the unprecedented standard of living present for most people in the United States, Finn cautioned against simply accepting the United States as a “promised land of political freedom and economic opportunities.” It’s imperative to remember the cost of this, Finn said, as we must recall with a sober humility the bloodshed that has contributed to the prosperity we enjoy today.
The importance of recognizing those who have suffered and working to prevent future suffering is integral to participating in SRI and to promoting peace through the business sector.
Socially Responsible Investing Panel
Following Finn’s speech, the symposium transitioned into a panel of professionals from the Milwaukee area. The panel was moderated by Christopher Merker, an adjunct professor of finance at Marquette who teaches a course on sustainable finance. The panelists were Laura Gough (Baird — Investment Consulting), Nadelle Grossman (Marquette University — Law & Governance), Joe Henzlik (ISS — Sustainability & Governance), Leo Harmon (Mesirow Financial — Asset Management), and Conner Darrow (Marquette University — AIM Student).
They discussed a variety of topics including:
- Individual definitions of SRI
- Screening and the importance of ESG in SRI
- Thoughts on the Business Roundtable
- Fiduciary law and obligations
- Driving forces in SRI
- Using SRI in small/mid-cap funds
- Trends in shareholder engagement
- Linking pay to ESG results
- Fossil fuel divestment
- Actionable ideas to implement SRI
The event concluded with a reception, where the attendees, panelists, and keynote speakers continued to discuss SRI and the variety of implications that it has in the promotion of peace and justice on a local, national, and international level.
The Socially Responsible Investing Symposium was organized by the Center for Peacemaking, College of Business Administration, and Finance Department. The event was sponsored by Baird, CFA Society Milwaukee, Mesirow Financial, Sage Advisory, and Federated Investors.