In 1971 a small group of believers decided to establish the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility to facilitate and coordinate their efforts to engage and challenge US corporations who had a presence in South Africa. The apartheid system of government was already well entrenched and they were searching for tools and opportunities that could join the chorus of advocates that were working to dismantle the apartheid system. Their objective was very simple; ask and advocate that US companies withdraw from South Africa and therefore deprive the government of any of the products or tax revenues that enabled their system of government to continue.
Forty years later the work of ICCR has blossomed into the premier and well recognized institution that facilitates the work of more than 300 faith-based institutional investors and their collaborators to actively engage both US and global corporations about their social purpose and environmental responsibilities. In conjunction with socially responsible investors, pension funds and foundations ICCR pauses to celebrate the many individuals and institutions that have been a part of their journey and to remember the energy, courage and faith that they have brought to the work.
The footprint and impact of global corporations on the lives of millions across the world, as well as their impact on the environment, is recorded in the numerous issues and challenges that the organization has addressed over 40 years. The vibrant and personal network of relationships across all regions of the world that has allowed the members and staff of the center to put real faces and stories before the shareholders and management of these corporations is recorded in the hundreds of stockholder resolutions, letters and annual meetings that are some of the tools ICCR employs.
The engagement between faith-based investors and the cozy corporate culture that informed much of the prevailing corporate customs of the day did not immediately mesh. How could clerics and nuns and committed believers possibly appreciate the intricacies of an enterprise that was grounded in the maximization of profit and under pressure to deliver products and services to an ever expanding network of customers in a timely fashion. How could they have any appreciation for the complex negotiations with foreign governments and partners that made up their business world.
Needless to say their unwelcome intrusion was rarely welcome but it was important not to be branded as uncivil to such public figures. These pioneers were, after all, respected members of their communities and had a legal right as shareholders to communicate with management, the board of directors and other shareholders. The stories and photos of the earlier days of engagement demonstrate both the seriousness of their purpose and some of the more entertaining and challenging happenings that took place.
The intervening forty years have witnessed the emergence of numerous issues and concerns on the ICCR agenda. They can broadly be categorized under three umbrellas; social, environmental and governance. More specifically they focus on people and communities, especially those who are marginalized or living in poverty, every aspect of the natural environment and finally on the structures and processes of accountability and management.
Many of the priority issues surface through the stories of injustice and abuse that are brought to the attention of ICCR members from their networks or surface in the media. The combination of their commitment to respond to injustices and to hold corporations accountable to the social contract that is part of their charter makes them ever attuned to the responsibility of corporations. This means demanding a true cost accounting that measures not only the profit returned to shareholders but the cost and contributions that benefit corporations and are shouldered by local communities and the environment.
By exercising their rights as shareholders and employing tools that are grounded in the faith and hope that is emblematic of their respective faith traditions members have a earned a reputation for diligence and dedication. Their commitment to people and communities that extend from Bolivia to Bangladesh, from Peru to the Philippines and from China to the Congo, from Mossville to Bhopal informs and sustains them. They recognize the profound impact that corporations and their cultures can have and they are determined to bring a moral and ethical compass to bear on their exercise of that power.
This milestone legacy promises that ICCR will continue to press corporations to do their part in making health care accessible, in rebuilding a broken financial system that serves the credit needs of communities and in protecting the equitable delivery of safe and secure food and water supplies across the world. In a global marketplace ICCR also promises to work for the adoption of sustainable criteria in the exploitation of natural resources for energy, commodities and rare minerals especially in environmentally diverse regions and in the homelands of vulnerable populations.