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Faith and the Marketplace--Solidarity of The Worker and the Consumer

by Fr. John Rausch

After my mother died, I got a life insurance check for $1,000. On the same day in the mail I opened a solicitation from the Calvert Foundation offering me an opportunity to invest in a community fund.

Calvert loans money to community groups in poor rural and urban areas that provide affordable housing or start-up capital for small businesses. The prospectus read that the investor could choose an interest rate from 0% to 4% for one to five years. The solicitation required a minimum of $1,000. I stood by my desk with the solicitation in one hand and the insurance check in the other. I thought what a heavenly marriage made for community!

For over three decades investors have seen the potential power of their money promote community and discourage greed. Socially responsible investing (SRI) uses screened mutual funds, shareholder activism and community investing to reward good corporate citizenship and challenge bad. It also channels investment dollars to community opportunities that the market ignores.

More than 140 socially responsible mutual funds screen $529 billion or 5% of all money invested in the U.S. Frequently portfolio managers first review stocks financially looking for above-average earnings and potential stability for growth. Next, positive and negative social criteria screen the stocks. The Domini Social Equity Fund, for example, excludes companies that derive revenue from nuclear power, alcohol, tobacco, gaming and substantial military weapons manufacturing. Some of the positive social screens of Domini evaluate a company’s community relations, diversity in employment, employee relations, the environment and quality of product. Because screened mutuals like Domini incorporate both financial and social objectives, studies show on balance that screening neither limits nor enhances investment return.

The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), (475 Riverside Dr., Rm 550, New York, NY 10115, 212-870-2295, a coalition of 275 religious investors, represents $90 billion that can influence proxy fights at stockholder’s meetings. In 1997 ICCR sponsored 159 shareholder resolutions involving 116 companies. Forty resolutions were either received positively or entered a stage of dialogue with management. ICCR cites Sara Lee and Coca-Cola among its tangible successes. The former divested its tobacco business and the latter endorsed the CERES Principles, a corporate pledge to respect specific environmental practices.

SRI exists because there are limits to the marketplace. The market can offer a price, but not assure justice. Marketplace logic shows that pollution shifts private production costs to the public. Additionally, paying poor wages might increase profits, but it diminishes family options. John Paul II in Centesimus Annus warns that the market "ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities." He is referring to a whole bundle of social protections for the environment, the family and individuals.

Enlightened business people recognize values beyond the bottom line. A 1996 Cornell University survey showed that 58% of executives at major U.S. corporations agreed that companies must consider social issues. SRI offers a moral compass to an economic system preoccupied with quarterly profits.

I belong to an organization that recently decided to establish a retirement community. The bank would not loan the money, so the group asked individual members to loan them $1000 for ten years at modest interest. I dipped into my resources and sent the money. So, within one month I found two opportunities to transfer personal savings into socially responsible investments, thus making my money work for low-income communities. You probably can find a few yourself.

.Read other articles of spiritual enlightenment in theMarch 1999 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue. Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches at the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Berea, Ky. His column appears monthly in many Catholic journals and in ours beginning this month, courtesy of the Friends of the Good News. When you purchase books, videos, etc. from Amazon.com this site, we receive a referral fee from them that support the work of the Friends of the Good News.