How Far Does Faith-Based ‘Shareholder Right to Know’ Go?
Religion & Liberty Online

How Far Does Faith-Based ‘Shareholder Right to Know’ Go?

On January 31, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility issued a press release, announcing the organization’s “2013 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide.” A quick read of the release and ancillary materials, however, reveals that these resolutions have very little to do with issues of religious faith and everything to do with the progressive political agenda.

The ICCR guide “features 180 resolutions filed at 127 companies” that call on shareholders to “promote corporate responsibility by voting their proxies in support of investor proposals that advance social, economic and environmental justice.”

The ICCR boasts that “nearly one third” of this year’s resolutions (52) focus on lobbying and political spending, with the remainder aimed at “health care, financial and environmental reform.” The release ominously asserts: “Shareholders have a right to know whether company resources are being used to impact elections and public policy, including regulatory legislation.”

Whatsoever the ICCR resolutions have to do with the respective tenets of their member denominations is left to the readers’ imagination.

Under the guise of faith-based “economic and social justice,” however, the ICCR is attempting to prevent corporations from engaging in entirely legal and ethical efforts to work on their shareholders’ and customers’ behalf. As noted previously, initiatives such as the ICCR’s are an effort to force corporations to disclose efforts on their part to ensure corporate sustainability and shareholder profitability – endeavors protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Forcing corporations to disclose donations to the American Legislative Exchange Council, lobbying firms, think tanks and trade groups, for example, flies in the face of U.S. law, and hinders these groups from exercising constitutionally guaranteed rights to work for the benefit of the corporations who create jobs and provide goods and services for the world’s citizenry.

All this presupposes corporations and the wealth, jobs, goods and services they generate are an inherent evil if found lacking the ICCR’s views on social, economic and environmental justice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from a few admittedly bad actors, corporations strive to benefit society as a whole – failure to do so would assuredly result in most companies winding up atop the dustbin of entrepreneurial history.

In any event, steering corporate policies to reflect ICCR’s progressive agenda would result in more of a secular rather than a spiritual victory. Such efforts, in Competitive Enterprise Institute President and Co-Founder Fred L. Smith’s words, have a tendency to transform private corporations into public utilities by forcing them “to perform whatever duties are politically attractive at any one time … To ‘socialize’ this process is to reduce the ability of individuals to advance their goals, placing the values of politicians as paramount.”

Hamstringing a company’s efforts to pursue less egregious regulatory enforcement through lobbying or draft legislation, for example, establishes more government authority not necessarily in the best interests of the corporation in question. Nor is it likely that politicians and bureaucrats understand fully the unanticipated negative consequences of realizing their goals. As Smith noted: “The corporation is an extremely valuable way of organizing large numbers of people to produce goods and services efficiently—that is, to create wealth. That wealth then flows into the hands of shareholders, workers, customers, and suppliers, who are then empowered to advance their own individual goals and values.”

The ICCR would do far better by following real religious authority rather than submitting to trendy secular tracts on what constitutes economic, environmental and social justice. Two papal encyclicals immediately come to mind: Quadragesimo anno (Pius XI, 1931) and Centesimus annus (John Paul II, 1991).

While both works identify the proper societal role of companies as working for the common good, they also acknowledge the necessity of the profit motive for all involved. Nowhere in either document, however, do the authors make a case for transparency of how corporations advocate in best interests of their shareholders and customers.

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.