Faith-based groups have long championed screening weapons manufacturers out of their investment portfolios, but some are seeing promise in combining shareholder engagement and gun control advocacy alongside some of Wall Street’s biggest investors.
Rather than exclude gunmakers from their portfolios, some religious groups have purchased shares in specific stocks explicitly to file shareholder resolutions demanding increased reporting and public safety measures.
“We chose to hold shares [in the companies] so that we could engage them in dialogue on the critical role they can play in addressing the epidemic of gun violence in our country,” said Sister Judy Byron of the Sisters of the Holy Names. “If you’re a shareholder, you do have a voice.”
Gun Control in the Spotlight
Gun control has remained a priority for impact investors in the aftermath of tragic mass shootings in schools, music venues, places of worship, and office buildings across the country. The killing of 17 at a high school in Parkland, Florida stoked action from investors, including some of Wall Street’s major players.
Byron said the group is seeing new momentum as big investors including State Street, BlackRock, and Bank of America have announced similar measures. She hopes that these firms will support resolutions that will be brought to a vote at shareholder meetings in the spring and fall of 2018.
Asset manager State Street Corporation said it would push gunmakers on safety improvements and responsible gun use. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with $6 trillion in assets, announced that it would engage gunmakers on issues including their methods to monitor gun sales. BlackRock will also seek to offer clients new index-based portfolios that exclude such companies.
In a statement responding to BlackRock, American Outdoor Brands said that it engages in responsible business practices and promotes safety through greater enforcement of existing laws. “We support a comprehensive discussion regarding preventing violence in our communities and we are committed to reviewing all reasonable proposals with an open mind.”
Shareholder Engagement and Gun Control: A Path to Change
Sister Byron said her group’s work began about two years ago when the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of faith-based investors and institutional shareholders, decided to take action by purchasing shares at civilian arms manufacturers in order to encourage change. Byron is the director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, a regional group of religious orders based in the Pacific Northwest and a voting member of ICCR.
After their stock purchases, they reached out to both gunmakers, hoping to talk to them about reform measures. But when they didn’t hear back from them, they filed resolutions in January 2018.
The resolutions call for the companies to report on how they’re monitoring shootings where their weapons are used, what they’re doing to develop safer weapons, and how they’re addressing reputational and financial risk.
Byron believes that shareholder engagement and gun control hold potential for faith-based investors. She noted that the ICCR was able to push ExxonMobil to appoint an independent board member—a climate scientist—following a shareholder resolution that was part of a two-year battle to support climate change.