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Panelists Urge Increased Shareholder And Board Activism In Response To Corporate Excesses

Submitted by: Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)

Categories: Business Ethics

Posted: Sep 04, 2002 – 12:00 AM EST


Speakers At ICCR Symposium Call For Broad Reforms

Sep. 04 /CSRwire/ - NEW YORK, New York - 2002-Panelists at the upcoming symposium, "Blueprint for Change: Corporate Governance for the Future," are calling for broad-based reforms that will result in better monitoring of managers, independent boards of directors, and increased shareholder and employee involvement in corporate decisionmaking. The symposium, an annual invitational event, will be presented on September 19 in New York City by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a leader in the socially responsible investment movement.

According to panelist Bari-Ellen Roberts, a business consultant and lead plaintiff in the 1996 Texaco discrimination suit, corporations provide needed products, services, and employment, but they also have the capacity to cause profound injury. "The most important area for companies to concentrate on as they improve their own governance," says Roberts, "is accountability at all levels."

Prof. Harry Van Buren, Visiting Instructor at the University of Northern Iowa¹s College of Business Administration in Cedar Falls, says companies must focus their governance on three critical issues:
- Better mechanisms for reporting accurate financial information;
- Better monitoring of managers and the overall strategic direction of the firm; and
- The inclusion of more stakeholders‹employees and not just shareholders‹in the policymaking process.

Kenneth Bertsch, Director of Corporate Governance for Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), believes that board performance is critical. "We have learned that some boards simply do not function well," says the New York-based executive. "We need directors who will be independent and courageous in the board room, but also know how to be respectful and collegial. This is a tough balance to achieve."

Roberts urges shareholders and employees to take a more active role in challenging corporate policies and practices. "Shareholders can begin the process," she says, "by first educating themselves and others about the power of their proxy votes, and their ability to bring or join forces on shareholder resolutions."

Members of ICCR, a coalition of 275 faith-based groups, use their stock ownership position to bring and press for shareholder resolutions on a wide range of issues. "I think ICCR can be most effective," adds Roberts, "by continuing to raise our collective consciousness on new issues as it has done in its campaign against negative images of Native Americans."

Transparency in reporting practices seen as critical Panelists agree that accounting irregularities, which have devalued private and public pension plans and eroded overall investor confidence, have compromised the ability of managers to do their jobs. "Shareholders deserve the whole truth about how well a company is performing," says Prof. Van Buren, "and managers cannot perform without it." He also says that a truly independent board will recognize top performance and reward it accordingly. "Too often," adds Prof. Van Buren, "we have seen boards that think they are supposed to attend to the CEO¹s demands instead of standing in for shareholders."

Consultant Roberts is guarded in her outlook for change, however. "The possibilities for full disclosure and transparency in financial reporting in the near term are dim," she says. "I don¹t believe corporate cultures are ready to go this far for reform. The organization would cry out at every level about the competitive disadvantages of full disclosure."

Prof. Van Buren notes that ICCR members have done much to advance the debate about the place of business in society. "This is a real teaching moment," he says. "A lot of what we have been saying about pursuing profit at all costs has now come true. As investors," he says, "we need to push companies to be more open and transparent. But as activists and people of faith," he adds, "we continue to insist that business decisions have real consequences for real human beings. No corporation can, or should, survive if it doesn¹t create value for every stakeholder group that contributes to its success."

ICCR¹s symposium on corporate governance will take place at Chelsea Piers in New York City on Thursday, September 19. According to Sr. Patricia Wolf, RSM, Executive Director of ICCR, the event will help focus public attention on the faith community¹s response to corporate governance. "Our members have a history of working collaboratively with public companies. We understand and respect their goals and responsibilities. What ICCR does is use the stock ownership leverage of our members to raise certain social and economic questions that demand answers based on justice as well as profitability. Our upcoming symposium will contribute once again to that dialogue."

Panelists at ICCR¹s seminar will also include Gwenn Carr, attorney, Vice President and Secretary to the Board, MetLife, who is also responsible for the operations of MetLife¹s Shareholder Services; and moderator Bill Bell, staff writer, New York Daily News.

Founded in 1971, ICCR is a coalition of faith-based institutional investors, including denominations, religious orders, pension funds, healthcare corporations, foundations, publishing companies, and dioceses. Current initiatives include the campaign to end predatory lending practices in the U.S.; environmental clean-up of New York¹s Hudson River; an end to global warming; and support for the global anti-sweatshop movement. The combined portfolios of ICCR members are valued at over $110 billion.


To schedule interviews with Sr. Patricia Wolf, RSM, Executive Director of ICCR, and panelists at "Blueprint for Change: Corporate Governance for the Future," and to register for the seminar, "Blueprint for Change: Corporate Governance for the Future," contact Norma Vavolizza or Jeff Fogliano at 212-687-0607 or email info@nvcommunications.com.

Visit www.iccr.org to:

- Learn more about the work of ICCR and its current shareholder resolutions.
- Register online for "Blueprint for Change: Corporate Governance for the Future."

Please save the date:

What: Annual ICCR benefit event*

"Blueprint for Change: Corporate Governance for the Future"
* $25 for students of accredited business schools, colleges, and universities.


The Lighthouse, Pier 61, Chelsea Piers, New York City


Thursday, September 19, 4:00 pm, Reception follows at 6:15 pm

For more information, please contact:

Phone: (212) 687-0607


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