Oral and written testimony to House Committee on Financial Services' subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade: "Investments Tied to Genocide: Sudan Divestment and Beyond" (November 30, 2010). Read a transcript of the hearing on the website of the House Committee on Financial Services.
When your investment dollars buy shares in one company and avoid another, does it really make a difference?
After three years of dialogue with investors, Toyota Motor, the world’s largest automaker, took an important step to distance itself from the brutal military regime in Burma. That step was the direct result of investors who care about how they make money.
To serve responsible investors, Domini uses a comprehensive set of social and environmental standards to select its investments. To apply these standards, our analysts must dig deeply to uncover information many companies would prefer remained in the dark. While researching Toyota Motor in 2006, Shin Furuya, one of Domini’s lead research analysts, discovered that Toyota Tsusho, the company’s major trading partner, was in partnership with the Burmese regime to sell motorcycles, light trucks and cars. The regime tightly restricts the domestic market for these vehicles to its wealthiest citizens, and those with military connections. This information was uncovered in Japanese, and was apparently unknown to both human rights activists and investors.
Based on these factors, and several other concerns, Domini determined that Toyota Motor did not meet our standards for investment. We didn’t buy their stock, but we didn’t let them off the hook. We shared our findings and, together with other investors, expressed our concerns to the company. At a 2007 meeting of the Japan Society, Shin and a colleague from Trillium Asset Management hand-delivered a letter to the chairman of Toyota Motor (Our letter is posted to the website of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre)
At first, Toyota Motor said that it did not control its trading partner and was not responsible for its actions. Our research, however, showed otherwise. Toyota Motor, Shin found, owned more than 20% of Toyota Tsusho, was Toyota Tsusho’s biggest customer, and had several representatives on its board of directors.
Working with Trillium, Boston Common Asset Management and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, we continued to pursue dialogue with the company. Gradually, Toyota’s position changed.
In March 2008, a Toyota official wrote: “I would like to reassure you that Toyota shares your concerns about the human rights situation in Burma.” That August, after three years of dialogue, Toyota Motor revealed that its trading partner had ended its joint venture with the government of Burma.
In November 2010, the Burmese regime intends to hold its first national elections in 20 years. Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of the 1990 elections, remains under house arrest, and will not appear on the ballot. The regime holds about 2,100 other political prisoners.
Domini’s research process, grounded in our Global Investment Standards, is based on protection of the environment and fundamental human dignity. Toyota Motor’s action, prompted by our concerns, sends an important message that the violent suppression of democracy in Burma is unacceptable.
Read more below:
Read press release issued by investor coalition
Read coverage in Reuters and Socialfunds.com
An interview on engagement between social investors and Cisco Systems regarding human rights in China (China Rights Forum, July 2010)
Domini officials contributed two chapters to Finance for a Better World: The Shift Toward Sustainability, a new book on sustainable investing published by Palgrave Macmillan. The two chapters focus on how socially responsible investing can address short-term thinking in our financial markets and improve corporate human rights performance, respectively.
Steve Lydenberg, Domini's Chief Investment Officer, argues that socially responsible investing can remedy the short-term thinking that has plagued our financial markets. "An excessive focus on short-term profits has various detrimental effects," writes Lydenberg. "It causes corporate managers to misallocate assets. It introduces dangerous volatility into financial markets. It means society must divert productive resources to repairing environmental and social damage done in the headlong pursuit of profits." Lydenberg suggests that social investing, with its focus on long-term social and environmental sustainability, can help to refocus finance on the long-term.
Adam Kanzer, Domini's Managing Director and General Counsel, draws on his experience as the head of Domini's shareholder activism program in a chapter examining the use of shareholder proposals to address corporate human rights performance. His chapter outlines the legal basis for these proposals and shows how nonbinding shareholder proposals have successfully influenced corporate behavior even when they fall far short of a majority vote. He points out, for example, that the shareholder proposals that helped bring Reverend Leon Sullivan to the Board of General Motors received less than 3% of the vote. Sullivan later authored the Sullivan Principles to guide businesses in apartheid-era South Africa, which played an important role in ending apartheid.
- Steve Lydenberg, "Building the Case for Long-Term Investing in Stock Markets: Breaking Free from the Short-Term Measurement Dilemma" (Read pdf)
- Adam Kanzer, "The Use of Shareholder Proposals to Address Corporate Human Rights Performance" (Read pdf)
According to its publisher, Finance for a Better World "provides an overview of current advances regarding the integration of sustainability in the financial sector. Its originality lies in the fact that it does not focus exclusively on a particular aspect of this emerging trend, but instead, presents various illustrations — or instance in the fields of SRI, sustainable banking or innovative investments — of what can be considered as the beginning of a paradigm shift in global finance."
The book was edited by Henri-Claude de Bettignies, the EU Chair Distinguished Professor of Global Governance and China-Europe Business Relations at CEIBS, Shanghai, China and François Lépineux, a Research Fellow at INSEAD, and Professor and Head of the Center for Responsible Business at ESC Rennes School of Business, Brittany, France.
McDonald's Corporation, The Walt Disney Company, and a group of organizations working to improve working conditions in company supply chains, including Domini Social Investments, announced the release of the final report of Project Kaleidoscope, a multi-year collaborative project designed to promote sustained compliance with labor standards mandated by corporate codes of conduct for manufacturers.
The project was piloted at 10 contractor factories in southern China that produce goods for McDonald's restaurants and Disney licensees. This collaborative effort developed and successfully field-tested an alternative approach to promoting and enhancing long-term, sustained code compliance.
For many years, McDonald’s and Disney have maintained strict codes of conduct for their licensees and manufacturers. These codes address a range of key labor rights issues including the prohibition of forced and child labor and the setting of requirements in such areas as health and safety, working hours, compensation, and compliance with applicable laws. In addition, both companies report that they have been active in undertaking educational, monitoring, and remediation efforts to promote compliance with these codes at the factories where their products are sourced throughout the world.
The project was launched as part of an ongoing effort to strengthen the effectiveness of these labor standards by drawing on the interest and expertise of interested investor organizations and jointly exploring means of promoting “sustained compliance” with labor codes. The project sought to foster the creation and testing of internal systems within factories in order to promote such compliance over time, including enhanced training and education for management, supervisors, and workers, and potential positive compliance incentives. The project also sought methods of encouraging remediation in facilities that demonstrate significant compliance issues, in order to minimize circumstances in which factory termination is the only business alternative.
In pursuing the project the group worked with local nongovernmental organizations as well as individual factories with the goal of developing practical implementation approaches, including training and remediation methods and tools. The project’s first Interim Report was published in January 2005.
The project grew out of mutual concerns discussed during the extended dialogue among the investor group and the two companies regarding ways to improve conditions in factories on a sustained basis.
In addition to Domini, The Walt Disney Company and McDonalds, the Project Kaleidoscope Working Group consisted of the As You Sow Foundation; the Center for Reflection, Education and Action (CREA); the Connecticut State Treasurer's Office (fiduciary for the Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds); the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church; the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR); and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Excerpt from summary of testimony to UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, March 6, 2007. A summary of Domini’s testimony is available at pp. 11-12.