After seven years of apparently futile corporate engagement with Caterpillar over its business practices in Israel/Palestine, the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee is recommending that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) add the company to its divestment list.
MRTI is also recommending that the 220th General Assembly (2012) add Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard to the list.
The move toward divestment is the “logical conclusion to what the (General Assembly) asked us to do,” said the Rev. Brian Ellison, chairman of MRTI. The committee implements GA policies on socially responsible investing by engaging corporations in which the church owns stock.
“We are telling them, ‘(Corporate engagement hasn’t) been successful, and we don’t think it’s going to be successful,’” Ellison said.
At MRTI’s recommendation, the 219th GA (2010) denounced Caterpillar for profiting from the non-peaceful use of its products in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
MRTI has been engaged with Motorola since 2005. The company split into two companies in 2010: Motorola Mobility, which markets cell phones in civilian markets, and Motorola Solutions, which conducts business with the Israeli government. Since the split, MRTI has been engaged with Motorola Solutions.
MRTI has also been engaged with Hewlett-Packard about its’ products role in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. “The company sells hardware to the Israeli Navy that is used for its operational communications, logistics and planning including the ongoing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip,” reads MRTI’s report from its Sept. 9 meeting.
The committee discussed continuing engagement with Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard, but ultimately voted to recommend adding those companies to the divestment list.
“I just think we need to take bold action,” said MRTI committee member Terry Dunning.
She added that focusing on two well-known consumer brands might alert people to their connections to human rights violations, and that she doesn’t believe further corporate engagement with the companies will be productive.
“What good did it do us to keep talking to Caterpillar for seven years?” she said.
Another MRTI committee member, Joanne Rodriguez, said that she would have supported continuing engagement if the companies were more open to communication, but they have shown total disregard.
According to MRTI’s report, Hewlett-Packard provided faith-based shareholders with “vague answers” in writing, repeatedly delayed conference calls and participated in unproductive dialogue. Motorola Solutions is “unresponsive to all efforts by religious shareholders to engage in serious discussions about its involvement in non-peaceful pursuits,” reads the report.
“You can’t bring about positive change if there’s no relationship, if there’s no communication — and there isn’t,” Rodriguez said.
The Rev. John Hougen, committee member, said that MRTI’s recommendations are a statement about the companies, not Israelis or Palestinians. Human rights violations should be opposed in any part of the world, but because the Middle East is a political hot button, MRTI’s recommendations could be taken the wrong way.
“I’m voting to divest because it’s the right idea, not — absolutely not — because of the people involved,” he said.