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MRTI approves shareholder resolutions

Group hears from ECPAT-USA about efforts to combat human trafficking

February 12, 2013

NEW YORK

With one eye on an approaching blizzard and the other on its meaty agenda, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) approved a host of shareholder resolutions Feb. 8 designed to put the denomination’s investments where its beliefs are.

MRTI’s resolutions guide PC(USA) investors — chief among them the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation — in voting their shareholder proxies consistent with the church’s social policies.

This year’s shareholder resolutions address such issues as executive compensation and pay equity, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency, corporate financial and banking practices, applying movie and television ratings to programming that depicts smoking, Internet “neutrality” and the security of personal data acquired by Internet-based companies such as eBay, and the policies by which corporations determine their political contributions, which reached record levels in the 21012 election cycle.

MRTI works ecumenically with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) to coordinate its shareholder efforts with other faith-based organizations and investors. ICCR held its annual meeting here earlier in the week.

The committee also reviewed its current work plan, which focuses MRTI’s work around:

  • Environmental responsibility
  • Community investment, banking and financial issues, particularly mortgage lending and servicing
  • Global corporate accountability and human rights
  •  access to health care
  • for-profit prisons
  • media standards and family issues
  • weapons production
  • Israel-Palestine and the Western Sahara region of Africa.

Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes-USA), briefed MRTI on her organizations efforts to combat human trafficking and sex tourism. ECPAT-USA also works closely with Presbyterian Women.

In 2004 ECPAT-USA initiated a “Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism” (The Code) to enlist companies in the travel and tourism industry — travel agents, airlines, hotel chains, cruise lines — in taking steps to ensure that their practices do not encourage trafficking and sex tourism.  

Smolenski said that one of the first signers to The Code was Carlson, owner of the Radisson hotel chain, “but there was kind of a long dry spell since the first round of signers.” That changed, she said, when ECPAT-USA began partnering with ICCR and its large coalition of investors a few years ago.

In 2011 at least three “huge” companies — Delta Air Lines, the Wyndham hotel chain and the Sabre Company, owner of Travelocity — endorsed The Code, and Smolenski said “the ballgame has largely changed.”

ECPAT-USA has expanded into two additional areas, Smolenski said: “advocating for policies to protect child victims of trafficking to make sure they receive the services they need to recover from their abuse,” and training of employees in companies that subscribe to The Code.

“Training of personnel is the most important part of The Code,” Smolenski said, “because too many employees don’t know what to look for and how to report” suspicions of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.

“Another new trend for us is engaging [property] management companies,” Smolenski added. “They can really make a difference because they’re on the ground and know what’s happening when corporate owners of these properties do not.”

Tourism-related companies should know about the issues of human trafficking and sex tourism, but sometimes don’t, Smolenski said. “They have bad stuff going on and have to take responsibility for it. We’re trying to work with them to help them find the best ways to take that responsibility.”

In other conversations held at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations office here, the committee heard from:

  • John Lind of CANICCOR, the pre-eminent research institution into the banking and mortgage lending practices of U.S. banks. Lind, a longtime partner and consultant with MRTI, outlined current developments in efforts to clean up the mortgage-lending fiasco that triggered the economic collapse of 2008.
  • U.N. officials Rob Gaylord, Humanitarian Affairs Officer for the Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs), and Wolfgang Grieger, Department of Political Affairs-Palestinian Rights Division on the current human rights situation in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

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