Social Investing Victories of 2017

Rocio Jimenez courtesy of Self Help Credit Union

Impact investors and responsible banking institutions across the country have made a big difference this past year, advancing causes ranging from climate change to board diversity to immigration justice. Green America celebrates these 2017 victories and identifies how you can keep the economy moving in a greener direction.  

Shareholders Win Big 

Every year, shareholders have the ability to put forth requests to company management, in the form of shareholder proposals, on which all investors vote either in person at the company’s annual meeting or remotely via a paper or electronic proxy ballot. 
While shareholder proposals don’t need to earn a majority vote to push a company to change, the 2017 proxy season saw a number of high and even majority votes on environmental and social-justice proposals. 

“What was different this year was an increase of support on a few climate proposals,” says Sustainable Investments Institute executive director Heidi Welsh. “The high votes at oil and gas utility companies on climate-related resolutions were very substantial.”

At ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum, a majority of investors (62 percent and 67 percent respectively), urged the companies to share more information about how action taken by governments around the world to cut greenhouse-gas emissions will affect the market for fossil-fuel products. Exxon also appointed an atmospheric scientist to its board last year—following several shareholder requests that it do so. 

Investors also successfully pressed several companies to take action for people and the planet. In January, the world’s third largest consumer-goods company, Unilever, announced that it would transition to 100 percent recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging by 2025. As You Sow, a nonprofit corporate-responsibility organization, had urged the company behind the scenes to incorporate recyclable packaging for several years. Likewise, in response to a proposal filed by As You Sow, KFC agreed to only purchase chicken raised without antibiotics deemed important to human medicine by the end of 2018.

“Proxy season is usually a mirror of public-policy debates in society at large. I think all the resolutions focused on economic inequalities and pay disparities illustrate that point,” says Welsh.

Workplace diversity was also a major focus, as shareholders at Aflac, Dentsply Sirona, EOG Resources, Fifth Third Bancorp, Jones Lang LeSalle, Verisk Analytics, and Visa all successfully withdrew proposals due to companies’ agreement to take action on the issue. Aflac, Fifth Third, Jones Lang LeSalle, and Visa committed to increased workplace-diversity data reporting. Dentsply, EOG, and Verisk agreed to include protections against sexual orientation or gender discrimination in company policy. 

Take Action: If you own company stock, vote your proxy ballot to let executives know your stance on important issues. Look for your proxy ballots to arrive by mail, usually in the spring. 

If you are unsure about how you can become engaged in shareholder activism, consult Green America’s Guide to Social Investing & Better Banking. You can also view our annual Shareholder Resolution Focus List. Look for it to be updated for 2018 in the spring. 

Putting a Dent in DAPL

In spite of fierce opposition, Energy Transfer Partners and its development company Dakota Access, LLC have been given the green light from the US Army Corps of Engineers to continue with the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)—a crude-oil pipeline that threatens to endanger the water supplies of millions, as well as traditional sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux. 

Green America and allies have been calling on the 40-plus banks financing the DAPL to pull out—and calling on the banks’ customers to divest from them until they do so. In the last year, two banks helping to finance the DAPL have bowed to this pressure. In November 2016, Norway’s largest bank, DNB, announced that it sold its assets in the DAPL and would start its own fact-based investigation of Indigenous rights’ abuses. In March 2017, the Netherlands’ ING Group also sold its loan to the DAPL.

Take Action: You may have seen hashtags like #DefundDAPL circulating around social media in the last few months. That’s because several major banking corporations like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, Citi Bank, and Goldman Sachs are still funding DAPL. 

Breaking up with your mega-bank is a sure way to make your voice resonate. The best way is to move your money and write them a letter telling them why. Visit defunddapl.org and Green America’s BreakUpWithYourMegaBank.org for further steps on breaking up.

Find out if your bank supports DAPL on our full list

Supporting Young Immigrants

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an immigration policy, formed by the Obama administration via executive order, that guarantees protection to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. In September, President Trump announced his decision to repeal DACA while giving Congress the green light to come up with a replacement immigration policy before some DACA recipients—the ones whose authorization expires before March 2018—become eligible for deportation. 
Trump’s unsympathetic decision forced DACA recipients into a race against the Department of Homeland Security’s hard October 5th deadline to renew their DACA applications. In response, green credit unions stepped up to ensure that individuals who needed to renew their DACA application were not turned down because of a lack of funds. 

The DACA application fee was $495 dollars, an amount many young people do not have just lying around, and the extremely short notice offered by Trump’s administration created a greater strain for individuals and families. So, Self-Help Credit Union introduced the DACA Loan, which offers undocumented immigrants a way to pay for their DACA application without any interest or fees. 

According to its company website, Self-Help has granted over 1,200 loans to people renewing their DACA applications. In addition, it has made 4,605 loans amounting to over $132 million to immigrant members last year for first-time home buys and other major purchases. The North Carolina-based credit union has become increasingly involved in assisting immigrant borrowers with the educational and financial resources they need to achieve financial wellness and live the American Dream. In addition to providing affordable loans, Self-Help also offers checking accounts and wire services.

“We believe it is critical to provide access to affordable, high-quality banking and credit services to all families, particularly those that are typically left out of the financial mainstream,” says Self Help’s vice president and director of secondary marketing, Deborah Momsen-Hudson, who is also a member of Green America’s board. “Self-Help has spent the last 37 years furthering our mission of creating economic opportunity and especially working to shrink the wealth gap in this country.” 

The NYC DREAMer Loan Fund, 21 Progress, Latino Community Credit Union, and a handful of others have also provided loans for DACA recipients.

Take Action: Trump left the fate of 800,000 DACA recipients to Congress, which only has a few months to pass legislation before young undocumented immigrants become eligible for deportation. Trump has said that he wants the DACA deal he strikes with Congress to include funding for a US/Mexico border wall, which, in addition to promoting hate, will cost an estimated $21.6 billion, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Other sources say it could cost twice that much.

Tell Congress not to back a wall built on anti-immigrant sentiment, and remind them that they can pass the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would reinstate DACA protections. Find contact info at Senate.gov and House.gov

Green America is ready to call for divestment of any company contracting with the government to build the border wall, should construction begin. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter to keep informed of our efforts. 

From Green American Magazine Issue