The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has been involved with Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) for many years. In 1966, the UUA, the United Church of Christ, the Methodists, and the Teachers Investment Annuity Association/College Retirement Fund (TIAA/CREF) made the first successful attempt to influence corporate behavior. As stockholders of Eastman Kodak, they convinced Kodak’s board of directors that they had a responsibility to the African-American residents of Rochester, NY, and should provide them with a proportionate share of Kodak’s available jobs. This proved to be the first time shareholders were able to sponsor a socially responsible resolution and to influence a company’s public policies at an annual shareholders meeting.
In 1967, the UUA passed two resolutions regarding the Eastman/Kodak dispute with the organization FIGHT. That year the General Assembly also passed a business resolution, creating an Investment Policy that requested the UUA Board of Trustees “exercise the power represented by the Association’s ownership of common stock as an effective instrument for promoting social justice.” (See The Register-Leader, January 1968 for additional information) The GA Resolution also required the “affirmative use of funds” through intentional investment in companies evidencing ethical policy and practice – what is now more relationally though no less effectively practiced as shareholder advocacy.
In 1968, the UUA’s Investment Committee was created; some of the responsibilities of the Committee included ensuring that socially responsible investing remained a part of the UUA’s investment procedures. In 1970, it set aside $500,000, or just over five percent of the UUA’s endowment, to be invested in “enterprises which make a high social contribution” – now called community investments.
During this time, G. Rober Hohler, executive director of the Laymen’s League, went on a six day liquid fast to protest UUA holding securities which were “morally out of line” with “liberal religious ideals – specifically those which take advantage of the consumer, produce materials of war, pollute our natural resources, and promote racist policies.” (UUA NOW article, April 28, 1969) Hohler ended his fast “not because all of the demands have been met, but because the administration shows a new understanding of the problem and a willingness to move swiftly…”
It wasn’t until the early 1970s, however, that investment boycotting made any significant impact on corporate America. When the mainline religious community recognized how much economics influenced government decisions, it decided to address the immorality of apartheid in South Africa. An interfaith investment boycott of those firms doing business in South Africa was organized. The religious community was joined by hundreds of universities, colleges, and public pension funds. As a result, tens of billions of investment dollars were systematically diverted from firms doing business in South Africa, depriving the South African economy and its businesses of revenues. The boycott’s success was widely recognized as America’s largest corporations discontinued their operations in South Africa.
1972’s General Assembly called for “Social Responsibility in the Investment of Endowment Funds,” in yet another business resolution. The next year, in 1973, a resolution entitled “Corporate Social Responsibility and UUA Investments” was passed, urging the UUA “to promote better corporate social policies and practices in areas such as equal employment opportunity for women and minorities, environmental protection, consumerism, foreign investment and military production.”
In 1997, a renewal of ethical concerns was reflected in the “do not invest’ list of companies – primarily tobacco and weapons – in the UUA Investment Policies and Guidelines adopted that year by the UUA Boards as part of a UUA philosophy of socially responsible investing and general screening criteria. Two years later, then Moderator Denny Davidoff established the Task Force on Socially Responsible Investing, which subsequently became what is now the UUA Socially Responsible Investment Committee in October of 2000. The UUA Board of Trustees established SRIC to advise and assist UUA investment decisions; consider community investments and shareholder advocacy; and, to conduct education. Extensive investing criteria written by that group in 2000 were couched in terms of the impact UUA investments had on employees, customers, communities and the environment.
Over the years the General Assembly has passed several resolutions having to do with socially responsible investing. They are available by going to the Social Justice Statements page and searching the online database.
[Thanks and credit are due to Rev. Bill Gardiner, former Director of Congregational Justice-Making, and Rev. Dr. Sydney A. Morris, former co-chair of the UUA SRIC for each providing some of the information and text in this summary].