Talk of divestment is very much in the air on campus. Divest from fossil fuels! Divest from Philip Morris! Divest from Nestle! Divest from divestment (see http://apps.carleton.edu/governance/cric/divest/)! Pushing for divestment is one way students, staff, and faculty try to get the College to approach its endowment in an ethically responsible way.
There is another group on campus that approaches similar concerns, but from a different practical angle. This group tries to get the College to actively engage with the companies in which it does in fact invest (whichever they may be), and to exert pressure on these companies to adopt more ethical practices. You might be surprised to hear that there’s an official campus committee---consisting of students, staff, faculty, and even the Vice President of the College---that is dedicated to this goal. The committee is CRIC (the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee), and, as its charter states, its purpose is “to advise the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees via the Vice President and Treasurer regarding ethical, social, and environmental issues that arise in the management of the college endowment.”
CRIC was chartered about a decade ago at the behest of students who wanted the College’s Investments to reflect the community’s shared values. One of its principal activities has been to review the public stock portfolio of Carleton’s endowment and to suggest opportunities for the College to advise and influence companies in the portfolio by voting in favor of socially responsible shareholder resolutions. These shareholder resolutions are (as the term suggests) initiated, and voted on, only by shareholders in the relevant companies. Thus they, like divestment efforts, attempt to exert ethical pressure “from the inside” (one can’t divest from something which one does not own). Unlike divestment, however, the ethical pressure so exerted can be continuing and incremental, as long as the shares are held. (This, by the way, is not intended as a criticism of the divestment strategy; it is intended only as an observation concerning how these two ways of exerting ethical influence are similar, and how they differ.)
CRIC suggests votes on shareholder resolutions to the Investment Committee of the Trustees in order to promote values and objectives of the College. What are these values of the College? This is not an easy question to answer! The Committee confronts it by gathering data from surveys, conducting Town Hall meetings, and studying Carleton’s published policy statements. It then attempts to influence the companies in Carleton’s investment portfolio to adopt policies that are more in line with what the committee takes to be Carleton’s core values.
In addition to suggesting votes for certain shareholder resolutions, the Committee has also begun to write directly to companies, in order to state our reasons for voting in favor of resolutions and to create the potential for direct dialogue with the companies. This has already led to some interesting and thought-provoking exchanges with executives of some of the corporations. In addition, CRIC has begun to send letters to the organizations that initiated and filed the resolutions, in order to become a more active part of the national network of such groups.
As noted above, CRIC’s official role is to advise the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees of the College. Vice President Fred Rogers, an ex-officio member of CRIC, assists greatly with communication between CRIC and the Investment Committee, and CRIC usually meets with the Committee at the Winter Board of Trustees meeting. At the most recent meeting in February, CRIC described (and received approval to continue with) the activities outlined above. For example, a Voting Policy was renewed that was instituted last year, delegating to CRIC responsibility for choosing, on behalf of the College, which resolutions in the following six areas to vote for: Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Goals, Use of Toxic Chemicals in Hydraulic Fracturing, Shareholder input into Executive Compensation, Political Contributions, Separating the roles of corporate Chair & CEO, and Equal Employment Opportunity. The Investment Committee also approved votes on three additional resolutions not falling under any of the six pre-approved categories. The additional resolutions concerned: Genetically Modified Organisms (Dow Chemical), Electronics Recycling (Walmart), and Payday Lending (Wells Fargo).
At the meeting, CRIC also successfully asked the Investment Committee of the Trustees to cosign a letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), requesting the mandatory disclosure of corporate political spending by publicly traded companies. This letter, sent by CRIC on behalf of the College, expresses our stance on transparency and responsiveness, and contributes to a national effort advocating for a clear and consistent standard on political disclosure to be applied to corporations across all jurisdictions.
CRIC will continue to seek opportunities to directly influence the companies we own to advance the goals of global sustainability and other Carleton values. With an eye toward the future, CRIC is interested in community-suggested topics or directions. Keeping in mind its advisory rather than policy-making role, CRIC will consider topics concerning, but not limited to: transparency of the investment portfolio; the ethical nature of particular stocks; investment in socially responsible funds; filing of shareholder resolutions; and community investment opportunities.
If you would like more information about CRIC, check out the website or contact one of its members. Also, consider joining CRIC, as the committee is now looking for additional members.
**CRIC members Melissa Thomas, Special Events Associate and Administrative Assistant for College Relations, and Joel Weisberg, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, wrote this update on behalf of and with the assistance of the Committee.