Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment adopts its Mission Work Plan

MRTI members also discuss GA directives on weapons, environmental policy and other matters

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

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)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment foreshadowed its next proxy season Thursday by discussing and approving a new 2022-23 Mission Work Plan.

The committee anticipates that it will file or co-file about 10 shareholder resolutions with companies whose governance or practices MRTI would like to influence in the coming year to bring them in line with Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) values. The number is on par with the committee’s usual practice of filing nine to 13 resolutions each year, said Katie Carter, Associate for Research Policy and Information for the PC(USA) Office of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement.

As part of the proxy season, MRTI and other concerned parties file shareholder resolutions or proposals to advance significant policy matters related to unmanaged or undermanaged risks for publicly traded corporations. The resolutions usually focus on mission goals of the General Assembly such as environmental, health care and human rights-related matters and are included in companies’ proxy statements. Those statements are then voted on by all shareholders when a particular company has its annual general meeting, usually in April, May or June.

Some of the areas of concern that MRTI would be approaching companies on as part of the Mission Work Plan include greenhouse gas reduction targets; access to reproductive health; surveillance of citizens in countries like Ukraine, Russia and China; and financing of a pipeline that goes through indigenous lands.

MRTI often works with interfaith partners and other faith- and values-based investors to file resolutions and engages companies through dialogue when possible.

“We’re planning to (take the) lead on five resolutions, which is at the upper level of where we’ve been the last few years,” Carter said.

However, both Carter and Rob Fohr, director of the Office of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement, noted that the workplan is somewhat fluid, so there is room to add resolutions to cover topics such as racial justice and racial equity audits. (A General Assembly item directs MRTI to begin delving into issues like race and reparative justice.)

The Rev. Dr. Gregory Simpson, an at-large member of MRTI, asked whether the staff anticipates any coming from the environmental justice or “just transition” arena. The definition of just transition varies but sometimes refers to efforts to secure workers’ rights and livelihoods as countries work to combat climate change and protect the environment.

In response to Simpson’s question, Carter noted that MRTI is continuing to engage with utility companies, such as Entergy and PPL. Also, Fohr noted that the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) in early 2023 will convene a multi-stakeholder roundtable that will include utilities and others, such as civil society groups, and he’s optimistic about who will be attending.

In other business, the committee reviewed a handful of directives from last summer’s 225th General Assembly. Regarding ENV-09, “On Actions in Support of an Energy Transition,” Fohr indicated that there may be some difficulty in tracking down a list of “top 50 historic emitters” that are contributing to global warming, but he’s continuing to investigate. The directive asks for the Stated Clerk, in collaboration with MRTI, to reach out to those emitters to reflect on and acknowledge their part in the climate crisis and need to be part of the solution. MRTI also is to “ratchet up” its screening criteria to align with the Paris Agreement.

There also was discussion around VIOL-11: “On Directing MRTI to Place Gun-Related Companies on the Divestment List.” It calls for MRTI to engage with Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Kroger regarding the selling of guns not classified as semi-automatic or assault-based weapons. Fohr indicated that MRTI will work with the organization that does research on military and human rights related matters for the denomination’s divestment/proscription list to help provide additional details to inform future work on that directive.

VIOL-11 also calls for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) to study some gun-related proposals, including one that would “declare firearms and ammunition to be ‘a certain class of enterprise [that] will not be considered’ for investment” because the enterprise is fundamentally incompatible with the nature and purpose of the church.

The Rev. Dr. Lindley DeGarmo, MRTI vice-chair, expressed concern, saying that there has “to be a lot of Presbyterians out there that would find a total ban on any sort of guns rather draconian” and wondered if any interaction with the church was anticipated.

The Rev. Dr. Mark Douglas, MRTI’s representative from ACSWP, said that a subcommittee from that group would be looking into these issues further.

Douglas noted that it’s important “to think carefully about the types of weapons that might go onto a list, and the types that would not,” and he noted that “will be something that we will be looking very carefully at.”

Douglas also noted that ACSWP will want to work with MRTI. “How that cooperation takes place will turn a little bit on what we discover in the process of doing the study and looking at current policies and the potential impact” of shaping any new policies, he said.

The Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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