VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 10/9/12)—At its annual special event last week, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) featured a panel of national thought-leaders and activists who shared stimulating and inspiring perspectives about shareholders’ responsibilities to corporations, the inequality represented by CEO salaries and democracy in America today.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS)—a founding member of ICCR—was a sponsor of the New York City event. More than a half dozen ABHMS staff and board members attended “Valuing Questions, Questioning Values,” including Executive Director Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III, Treasurer/Chief Financial Officer Michaele Birdsall and board President the Rev. Dr. Clifford I. Johnson.
Moderator Randy Cohen— creator and host of the public radio show “Person Place Thing” and former ethics columnist for The New York Times Magazine—posed questions of particular interest to ICCR members and the corporations represented. A critical question—“What moral responsibility do investors hold?”—created a wake of animated discussion.
“Peace, poverty and planet Earth,” was the charge from Bob Edgar—a former six-term U.S. representative and general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, now president and CEO of Common Cause, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit citizens lobby.
Sister Simone Campbell—executive director of NETWORK in Washington, D.C., where she lobbies on issues of peace-building, immigration reform, healthcare and economic justice—said it’s important to consider goals: “As an investor, are you trying to suck all you can out of the system? Or are you trying to create change?”
Ultimately, Campbell, who was instrumental in organizing the recent “Nuns on the Bus” tour of nine states in opposition to the “Ryan Budget,” said investors have a multi-level responsibility to corporations; they must consider not only the corporation as organization, but also a corporation’s employees along with its policies and practices as they affect planet Earth.
Raising the issue of income equity, Cohen pointed out that the ratio of CEO compensation to that of the average worker, 41 to 1 in 1980, is 380 to 1 today.
CEOs are as dependent on the janitor as the janitor is on them, Campbell said, but the CEO never sees the janitor, and the janitor sees only the CEO’s trash. “This is agonizing for our country,” she said.
During the economic tsunami of 2008, Campbell continued, we missed the chance to have a discussion about the economy: “Why do our ball players make more than our teachers? How can we be economically healthy without everyone wanting, needing more? Those people who make excessive salaries owe the world some of their resources to help those who live on the margins.”
Cohen closed the exchange of ideas and opinions by asking panelists to name questions most important for ICCR members to ask themselves and corporate leaders.
For Campbell, the questions were these: “In the U.S., how do we reclaim the constitution so that we form the most perfect union, for us and our posterity?” and “How do we develop an advocacy strategy that gets us out of our silos?” So many organizations’ concerns are common, she said; we need to form a new model for sharing agendas so that we are all working together to make greater impact.
Key questions for the ICCR community and the community of faith- and values-based organizations, said Edgar, are: “What is our prophetic responsibility?” and “What is God asking us to do more courageously?”
We must capture the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Edgar said, adding, “We need their courage and passion today.
“We are the leaders we have been waiting for,” he continued, before reminding those gathered of Margaret Mead’s famous assertion that a handful of people can change the world. “I have watched average people doing extraordinary things,” he said.
Edgar challenged the group with a favorite African proverb: “If you want to walk fast, walk alone; if you want to walk far, walk together.”
Said Edgar: “Let’s all walk together!”
ICCR seeks a global community built on justice and sustainability through transformation of the corporate world by integrating social values into corporate and investor actions.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies—the domestic mission arm of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA)—ministers as the caring heart and serving hands of Jesus Christ across the United States and Puerto Rico through a multitude of initiatives that focus on discipleship, community and justice.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with 5,500 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.