Partnerships at Work: The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)

By Laura Berry
From the Winter 2011 Edition of Values


This column highlights selected groups and organizations working to promote social and economic justice, environmental leadership, or corporate accountability. Walden often collaborates with featured groups and partners in research and engagement initiatives.

Imagine sitting in an audience full of investors, advocates, and corporate leaders as Paul Neuhauser, the attorney who drafted the first anti-apartheid shareholder proposal more than 40 years ago, steps up to the dais. As the ICCR community gathered at South Street Seaport this September to celebrate its 40th anniversary, members, friends, and supporters took stock of our accomplishments and reflected on the challenge of shaping the much-needed new age of corporate responsibility.

Paul described his awakening as a young law student when he asked Sam Wiley, then rector of The Church of the Advent in Boston, “Why doesn’t the Church do more about opposing segregation?” The stunning response he received from the Rector was simply: “YOU are the church.” Paul characterized that moment as life defining and second only in importance to marrying his wonderful wife. In the earliest days of shareholder advocacy, Paul played a major role in creating the movement known today as corporate social responsibility (CSR). Paul also reminded us of the many names of the movement’s earliest founders, including Tim Smith, now Walden’s Director of ESG Shareowner Engagement, who as ICCR’s former executive director provided inspiring and active leadership in the role I now hold. The room shifted from reverent silence to laughter and sudden bursts of applause as everyone was deeply moved by Paul’s remarks about four decades of faithful advocacy.

Today, the ICCR community includes 300 institutional investors with greater than $100 billion in invested capital. What has defined us from our inception, and continues to distinguish our work from other investor coalitions, is our social justice focus. A case in point is our emerging strategic emphasis on the human right to water. In the face of growing water scarcity globally—more than one billion people currently do not have adequate access to this life-sustaining natural resource—we are encouraging multinational companies to recognize and act on their responsibility to help ensure that all people have adequate, safe, and affordable water. PepsiCo commented recently on our water engagement collaboration:

ICCR has been an important stakeholder for PepsiCo, particularly the expertise of the UUSC [Unitarian Universalist Service Committee] and their partnership as we navigate and activate our public commitment to respect water as a fundamental human right.
(ICCR’s 2010-2011 Annual Report)

As I write I am looking out at the Hudson River from our offices here in New York City—the view is breathtaking as the days grow shorter and the last autumn leaves cling to the trees. Here at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility we are all getting ready for the holiday seasons of gratitude and light. We are especially grateful for this year of celebration. And yet we never forget that there is still so much work to be done. For 40 years, ICCR has been a pioneering coalition of active investors who have seen the result of their enduring record of corporate engagement time and time again. Through its shareholder engagement work across a wide variety of environmental, social, and governance issues, Walden has been a part of ICCR’s long-standing influence on corporate policies promoting justice and sustainability in the world.

In the course of 40 years, the CSR movement has also developed into a serious field. The demand for “green,” “fair trade,” and “ethically sourced” products helps drive that growth. Equally important, however, are the discriminating investors who buy stock in companies that are willing to work toward increasingly stringent standards of environmental, social, and governance accountability. Together we are empowered by the proliferation of organizations dedicated to promoting shareholder advocacy who envision the possibility of transforming corporate practices for the common good. Their faith has inspired generations and their wisdom continues to guide ICCR.

As Nelson Mandela said, “After climbing a great hill, one finds many more to climb.” Let us pause briefly at this 40-year summit to admire the view, and with a renewed sense of purpose, continue forward in partnership.

Laura Berry is Executive Director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. For more information on ICCR, visit www.iccr.org.