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Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment reports significant wins during this year’s proxy season

MRTI celebrates the progress it’s making with large corporations, including Meta

by Layton Williams Berkes | Presbyterian News Service

The shareholder engagement process as described by the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment

As June drew to a close, leaders from the committee tasked with responsible investment for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) report a productive season with several notable achievements.

In particular, the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment was able to withdraw several proposals, including proposals filed at Keysight Technologies, Kinder Morgan and EOG Resources, for significant commitments to improve disclosures and policies. Staff for the committee also lauded progress with Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram, and other online entities. In addition, MRTI co-filed on a workers’ rights proposal at Dollar General that received 68% of the shareholder vote.

The Rev. Kerri Allen, chair of MRTI, celebrated both the committee’s hard work and this season’s success.

The Rev. Kerri Allen

“MRTI worked hard this year to file a variety of proposals covering worker rights, human rights in conflict-affected and high-risk areas, and the climate crisis,” Allen said. “MRTI notched some significant wins for getting companies to make significant commitments, including additional disclosure and significant policy enhancements.”

MRTI was established by the General Assembly in 1971 to promote responsible investment by engaging companies in which church entities hold stock.

The PC(USA) holds investments in a number of companies through both the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation.

At its inception, MRTI was given several guiding goals: pursuit of peace, pursuit of racial justice, pursuit of economic and social justice, achievement of environmental responsibility, and pursuit of justice for women. Over the years, it’s worked toward these goals by filing or co-filing shareholder proposals or resolutions during each annual proxy season.

A shareholder proposal is a document that outlines changes that an investor or shareholder in a company wants that company to make. The proposals are then added to the proxy statement to be voted on at the annual shareholders meeting. This process is closely regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The stretch of time between when shareholder proposals are filed in the fall and shareholder meetings conclude for the year in the spring is referred to as the proxy season.

For the 2022-2023 season, the PC(USA) filed 12 proposals through MRTI. It was the lead filer on six of those proposals, which is more than typical for the denomination, according to Katie Carter, Associate for Research, Policy and Information at the Office of Faith-Based Investing & Corporate Engagement. The committee and its partners also participated in at least 49 dialogues with at least 30 different companies.

Rob Fohr, director of the Office of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and Katie Carter, Associate for Research Policy and Information (photo by Rich Copley)

A key focus of this season’s proposals was human rights in conflict-affected and high-risk areas (CAHRA). Three of the 12 proposals MRTI filed were on this topic. Carter said this issue will become increasingly important as more and more of the world becomes conflict-affected and high-risk. Of the three proposals related to CAHRA, one submitted to Keysight Technologies was withdrawn after the company agreed to update its human rights policies and continue dialogue, and another — filed with Texas Instruments — received 23% of the vote from shareholders. The final proposal, filed with Microchip Technology, will be going to a vote at the company’s annual meeting in August.

MRTI also filed two shareholder proposals related to climate lobbying. It was the lead filer for one submitted to Meta, requesting the company compose a report on its framework for identifying and addressing misalignments between its lobbying and policy-influence activity and its committee to net zero emissions across the company’s entire value chain by 2030. While this resolution received only 10% of the shareholder votes, Carter explained that Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, still owns 61% of the company, so it’s impossible to achieve a majority without his support. Among shareholders other than Zuckerberg, the proposal garnered 25.77% of the vote, which Carter said will at least apply pressure to continue the conversation.

Another big win during this proxy season was a proposal related to worker safety at Dollar General, which was co-filed by MRTI. The proposal asked for a third-party audit on the impact of the company’s policies and practices on the safety and well-being of its workers. Since 2017, Dollar General has received $12.3 million in initial penalties enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and in 2022 it was designated as a “severe violator” by OSHA. Dollar General workers nationwide have been organizing in hopes of pressuring the company to address their concerns.

Dollar General challenged the proposal before the SEC, but investors won, with the proposal receiving 68% of the vote.

While several other proposals received smaller percentages of shareholder votes, those percentages were still significant enough to keep the issues they sought to address at the forefront of conversation. Another six of MRTI’s 12 resolutions were withdrawn from consideration, but five of those were withdrawn after the company in question agreed to take some measures to address the issues raised.

As for the upcoming 2023-2024 proxy season, Rob Fohr, director of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement for the PC(USA), said, “Looking ahead, MRTI will likely continue filing proposals on the climate crisis, human rights, racial justice and reproductive rights, meeting our General Assembly directives and ensuring PC(USA)’s voice and values are heard at the world’s largest companies.”

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