This spring for the first time, resolutions are appearing on several US companies’ proxy ballots asking them to adopt the Holy Land Principles, a set of employment principles for companies operating in Israel and the Occupied Territories.  One has come to a vote so far, at General Electric.

After much discussion with advocates and experts in the field, our SRI committee decided we should abstain from these resolutions when they appear on ballots of companies held in the UUCEF.  We chose abstention because we did not want to vote in favor of the Principles due to a number of concerns about how they framed specific issues; however, we also did not want to vote against them, lest this action be misunderstood as a lack of concern about fair employment practices in this complex part of the world.  To make our viewpoint clear, we joined a number of other socially responsible investors in explaining our abstention to GE, and asking the company for more information about its practices in Israel.

Specifically, we asked the company how it ensures that Arab employees are protected from discrimination, and how it promotes the employment and professional development of Arab citizens of Israel.  We also asked how the company’s existing human rights policy is applied in Israel, and in particular how the company ensures that any contracts performed for that country’s government comply with the company’s longstanding commitment to the protection of human rights.  The letter to GE was led by the United Church Funds, and the other co-signers in addition to the UUCEF were Clean Yield Asset Management; the Dominican Sisters of Hope; the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, U.S. Province; Mercy Investment Services, Inc.; and Zevin Asset Management. We are hopeful that this contact will lead to constructive dialogue, and ultimately to more disclosure by the company on this subject.

Watch this blog for updates on future UUCEF engagement with companies on this topic.