Wed, Feb 07, 2007 - Page 9 News List

A nun's crusade on corporate America

Sister Patricia Daly is a nun with a fund, a thorn in the side of corner cutters, child exploiters and polluters

By Richard Wray  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

All campaigners claim to have right on their side, but one New Jersey-based adversary of corporate America can go one better: God's in her corner. Sister Patricia Daly, a Dominican nun, has made it her near-30-year mission to persuade, cajole and sometimes threaten US businesses into doing the right thing.

But this is no one-nun campaign. She is merely the most visible face of a network of faith-based organizations that have pooled US$110 billion of funds and flexed their financial muscles by investing in companies and then tabling resolutions to push their case at annual shareholder meetings.

Sister Patricia, a feisty Brooklyn-born New Yorker with a penchant for comfy cardigans, is the executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, which brings together Catholic institutions from across the New York metropolitan area.

The coalition is in turn part of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), which includes Jewish and Protestant bodies among 275 faith-based institutional investors. The investors have a combined portfolio that dwarfs those of many a European fund manager.

Recently ICCR scored a victory that has been a long time coming, as many of the US' largest carmakers -- including Ford and GM -- finally agreed to exert pressure on their suppliers to improve working conditions. The move was the result of years of lobbying by sister Patricia and her colleagues.

Religious investing is a growing industry in the US, packed as it is with evangelical churches. Money managers such as the Timothy Fund and Pro Vita Advisers engage in what has become known as morally responsible investing, basing investment decisions on right-wing fundamentalist tenets.

They take money from churches or more usually individual believers and invest it in companies that agree with their position on certain "moral" issues. They exclude businesses they reckon are "polluting America" through actions such as backing planned parenthood or supporting gay and lesbian groups.

Sister Patricia and her network, in contrast, are engaged in socially responsible investing, which owes its origins more to socially aware college campuses of the 1960s and 1970s than to the sort of "charismatic" hellfire and damnation preaching spawned by the 1980s tele-evangelist movement.

"I see myself as being faithful to the gospel and the gospel needs to be preached in the context of the economic and political environment of today, not just in families, local neighborhoods and communities," she said.

At Catholic school in the politically charged 1960s and early 1970s there was much debate about how religion related to the outside world.

`Context of religion'

"Our religion class was the primary place where we dealt with issues like the Vietnam war, poverty in the world and violence in the city -- it was really in the context of religion that we had most of those discussions," she said.

After study at Connecticut's Sacred Heart University she joined the sisters of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, in 1976.

The following year she heard a talk given by a visiting priest who was involved in the one-year-old Tri-state coalition.

Her congregation joined up and with no previous training or interest in business she started filing shareholder resolutions about South Africa and labor issues while teaching at local high schools.

This story has been viewed 3891 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top