Category Archives: Act


CRS Ethical Trade: A Broader Vision

March 03, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Act

Nyaamah Abena (32) weaves a straw basket by hand in Awaradoni village, Upper East Region, Ghana. Women in her CRS-supported SILC group (Savings and Internal Lending Communities) have begun weaving straw baskets ever since interrupted weather patterns related to climate change have inhibited their abilities to earn livelihoods through farming. Awaradoni village, Talensi District, Upper East Region, Ghana, West Africa.

Nyaamah Abena (32) weaves a straw basket by hand in Awaradoni village, Upper East Region, Ghana. Women in her CRS-supported SILC group (Savings and Internal Lending Communities) have begun weaving straw baskets ever since interrupted weather patterns related to climate change have inhibited their abilities to earn livelihoods through farming.
Awaradoni village, Talensi District, Upper East Region, Ghana, West Africa.

In January, Catholic Relief Services re-branded what was their fair trade program as CRS Ethical Trade. It now includes a shopping guide, with categories like home decor, desserts, religious items, jewelry, apparel, and coffee and tea. The new expanded CRS Ethical Trade Program builds upon the strong principles of fair trade while also engaging with other business models that have a positive impact on workers, the environment and local communities. Not all of the companies CRS partners with are designated fair trade but rather they fall into a larger category of companies that are doing business responsibly.

The CRS program has grown to ensure that a consumer can purchase goods that have a positive impact both on producers and on the environment. As well, CRS maintains current resources for faith formation in schools, parishes and faith communities to form people in ethical consumption and to advocate for a more ethical world.

CRS was a part of the initial conversations that launched The Human Thread. With this re-branding, CRS provides useful, improved tools for purchasing ethically.

A win for shareholder activism

February 02, 2017

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Act

Crosby

Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an extended article about Fr. Mike Crosby and his efforts in corporate social responsibility. The article can be found here: For Milwaukee friar, win vs. ExxonMobil is biggest since ‘Joe Camel’.

Below is the press release from the ICCR:

SHAREHOLDERS WELCOME APPOINTMENT OF CLIMATE EXPERT TO EXXONMOBIL BOARD

Appointment of Susan Avery, atmospheric scientist, to board of directors responds to investor concerns regarding need for board with climate change competence.

NEW YORK, NY – Thursday January 26, 2017 – Members of the Interfaith Center and long-term shareholders of ExxonMobil were encouraged by Exxon’s decision yesterday to appoint a climate scientist to its board of directors.

In a company press statement yesterday, ExxonMobil announced that Dr. Susan K. Avery was elected to its board of directors, effective February 1, 2017. Avery, an atmospheric scientist, is the former president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Her appointment is responsive to  a long-standing request from shareholders to appoint a climate expert to its board.

For three years, led by the Midwest Capuchins, ICCR shareholders and other groups have filed a resolution calling on ExxonMobil to elect an Independent Director with Climate Change Expertise. Until now, the company has opposed this effort. Investors were informed of the election of Avery by company representatives in a phone call yesterday and requested a dialogue to discuss withdrawal of the resolution.

The lead proponent of the resolution, Fr. Michael Crosby of the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order and Executive Director of Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment, has helped to lead an ongoing shareholder campaign at ExxonMobil on climate-related issues  for nearly two decades.  Crosby made clear that he viewed the board appointment as a noteworthy breakthrough given the company’s early resistance to action on climate change.

Said Crosby, “We’ve seen Exxon’s gradual evolution from active denial of climate change to reluctant acknowledgement of its risks and now, its elevation in priority as an essential component of board management. Apart from the enormous environmental and social risks facing Exxon management, we, along with many other investors, believe a failure to adequately respond to climate risk disadvantages Exxon financially. This critical step demonstrates that the board recognizes the need for expertise in board discussions to address climate change.”

In its opposition statement to the same resolution on last year’s proxy the company argued against a climate specialist on the board “Because each director must possess a breadth of expertise and experience, setting aside a seat for an environmental specialist or other single-issue candidate who lacks other important attributes would, in our view, not be in the best interests of the Company or its shareholders because it would dilute the breadth needed by all directors to make informed decisions for the Company.”

Said Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management, who has helped lead engagements with ExxonMobil, “This action by the Board is encouraging for shareowners and we want to commend Exxon for this prudent and forward-looking decision. We are hopeful that Dr. Avery’s appointment will assist the company as it works to systematically embed climate risk into decision-making and address its implications throughout its operations and supply chain. Increasingly investors are calling for “climate competency” and a disciplined system of review and accountability in company boards.  New directors like Dr. Avery significantly strengthen such climate oversight.” 

About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
Celebrating its 46th year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of shareholder advocates who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for social change. Its 300 member organizations comprise faith communities, socially responsible asset managers, unions, pensions, NGOs and other socially responsible investors with combined assets of over $200 billion. ICCR members engage hundreds of corporations annually in an effort to foster greater corporate accountability on questions such as climate change, corporate water stewardship, sustainable food production, human trafficking and slavery in global supply chains and increased access to financial and health care services for communities in need. www.iccr.org

Georgetown Students Occupy President’s Office

December 12, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Act

(Photo from Facebook: Georgetown Solidarity Committee)

(Photo from Facebook: Georgetown Solidarity Committee)

This morning, students from Georgetown University occupied the office of university president, John J. DeGioia. According to the students’ press release (georgetown-usas-press-release):

twenty student activists at Georgetown University began an occupation of University President John J. DeGioia’s office demanding that the school’s administration refuse to renew their licensing contract with Nike. The students, led by members of worker solidarity organization Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC), a United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) affiliate, are vowing to stay in the President’s office until he takes action.

Recipient of Nike’s largest Air Jordan contract, Georgetown was notified in October 2015 of abuses of worker’s rights at the Hansae factory in Vietnam, a likely site for the production of Georgetown collegiate apparel. The violations, confirmed two days ago in a report by the Workers Rights Consortium, include work in extreme heat (factory temperatures above 90 degrees), inducing severe fainting. Additional abuses profiled in the report include “the systematic firing of pregnant workers, wage theft, and other unsafe working conditions.”Occupying the president’s office is a significant action that comes on the heels of more than a year of dialogue with the university administration. This is not the first attempt by the students to convince the university to change their practice:

  • An April 2016 article from The Hoya outlines the history to that point, referencing a letter from the President of Georgetown to Nike, not available to the public, that threatens Nike with a non-renewal of the contract if the code of conduct for licensees remains unsigned.
  • Professor John Kline published a letter to the editor last month asking why Nike was the only exception to the university’s code of conduct for licensees. Professor Kline, an expert in garment factories, has studied Alta Gracia, the world’s only living wage, unionized garment factory since 2009.
  • Here is the Worker Rights Consortium study of the Hansae factory that was released Tuesday. The first full paragraph on page two is critical as it notes how Nike has not facilitated access to factories to independently investigate claims from workers since October of 2015.

The timing of action from these students is critical as Georgetown’s contract expires on December 31. Even as the Vatican commits to “slave-proof” its supply chains, we do not want Georgetown to roll back its commitment to the rights of workers. Without going into all the specifics, the issue amounts to this: if Georgetown signs the agreement, without a commitment from Nike to the licensee code of conduct, then other Catholic universities with Nike licensing agreements (or with other companies) may follow suit in a way that would do grave harm to the rights of workers and roll back progress made in 2000 by an earlier generation of college students and university administrators.

Georgetown, which has acknowledged and repented its historical involvement in the slave trade, should not get renewed in any form of complicity in what Pope Francis has called “slave labor.” We admire the witness of solidarity of these university students, who, risking arrest, seek to stand with the workers who make the apparel that bears the name of their university. We see them living the highest ideals of a Jesuit education “women and men for others.” We, too, want their university put its words (the code of conduct for licensees) into action. While essential for any university, this is vital for a Catholic university. Georgetown is a leader in Catholic higher education, and we hope it will witness to its purported high standards. When students and student athletes wear Georgetown sportswear, we agree that they should be clothed in compassion, rather than exploitation.

In New York, Reducing the Distances Between Us

December 12, 2016

Author: Guest Writer

Category: Act

Bro. Anthony Zuba

Bro. Anthony Zuba

Our Catholic community of Holy Cross-Saint John the Baptist is situated in the Garment District of midtown Manhattan. Sidewalk plaques along Seventh Avenue memorialize the great entrepreneurs of the modern fashion industry. A few blocks to the south of the Church of Saint John the Baptist is the Fashion Institute of Technology. Herald Square, site of Macy’s flagship department store and world headquarters, is just as near. Our parish dwells in the global capital of fashion design, manufacturing, and retail.

I think of how the life of our Catholic community and the garment industry converged generations ago. How many of the faithful who worshipped at our churches made their living cutting, pressing, and sewing? German immigrants founded the Church of Saint John the Baptist in 1840 and erected the current church building in 1871. It’s a beautiful Gothic structure with stained glass imported from Innsbruck, Austria. It would be massively expensive to build a church such as this today. Yet somehow, with the treasure these Germans piled from their toil, surely much of it sweated out in the city’s garment factories, they got the job done. And the wages they earned kept the doors of the church open.

Our church is a testament to their faith. It should also be seen as a memorial to their thankless labor. Their unremitting toil enabled generations to come, both residents and pilgrims to the bustling city, to find a sanctuary. Their legacy keeps us clothed in Christ.

With one eye turned to the past and another turned to the present, I feel a special responsibility toward the people who keep us clothed in body. The women in Bangladesh and Honduras who make our shirts and socks are no different from the German immigrants whose meager earnings fed their families and raised the vaults of Saint John the Baptist.

When I learned about The Human Thread campaign from my Capuchin brother Michael Crosby, immediately I was eager to bring its mission to the symbolic center of the global apparel industry. New York City is no longer the manufacturing colossus it was over a century ago. Yet it remains very much a dominant power in merchandising. With Macy’s, a pacesetter for clothing retail, in our parish backyard, how could we refuse the opportunity to make the voices of conscientious Catholic consumers be heard?

Throughout November our parish gathered signatures for the Macy’s postcard campaign. We made announcements at Mass. We invited our neighbors who use our church food pantries—many of whom are Chinese or Latino immigrants and may have relatives who work in garment factories—to sign the postcard. Rather than have individuals mail the postcards, however, we collected all of them and left them unstamped. We decided to make a special delivery, in person, to the Macy’s world headquarters in Herald Square.

Mr. Charles Miller receives our Macy's postcards.

Mr. Charles Miller receives our Macy’s postcards.

On Wednesday morning, Nov. 30, five parishioners active in our justice and peace committee met me in Herald Square. All of them are Macy’s customers; some even have a Macy’s account! We were joined by Rosaline Costa, who organized one of the first women’s garment unions in Bangladesh, and Andrea Reyes, chair of the NYC Fair Trade Coalition. We toted 400 postcards in a Macy’s paper shopping bag to Charles Miller, vice president for social responsibility, who received them from us with appreciation and much courtesy. In our brief exchange we thanked him for accepting the postcards. We invited him to read these postcards, and the thousands more arriving in the mail from around the U.S., as anecdotal evidence of consumers’ desire for a fair-trade apparel alternative.

Encouraged by our positive interaction, we went back outside for a brief prayer service, thanking God for the fruits of all creation and raising petition that all people may receive the just rewards of their labor.

God bless the work of The Human Thread! In the year to come, I look forward to advancing a dialogue between conscientious consumers and the Macy’s executives who select what apparel brands to sell.

The souls of the faithful departed who built our Midtown church are as close to us as the clothes we wear. With God’s help, may we find creative ways to reduce the distance between us and the people who make our clothes. Likewise, let us reduce the distance between us and the people who sell us our clothes. If we can make that happen in New York, we can make it happen anywhere!

Bro. Anthony Zuba is a Capuchin Franciscan friar who serves the Parish of Holy Cross-Saint John the Baptist in New York City.