Response: November 2015 Issue

For Where Your Treasure Is

United Methodist Women and the Interfaith Center on corporate responsibility work to ensure that the most do not harm the least.

For Where Your Treasure Is
United Methodist Women President Inelda Gonzalez at a rally against private prisons held at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida.

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." –Matthew 6:21

In June 2015 I traveled to Laredo Nuevo, Mexico, with a small group of members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. We were women from faith-based organizations, ICCR staff, investors and a workers' rights advocate from Mexico. Our purpose was to educate ourselves about the effects of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) on Mexican workers. I would learn of the inadequate compensation of Mexican workers and about the violence threatening them every day. I would walk through the shanty towns made of wooden pallets amid abject poverty and see hope in the perseverance of a people. I would be in fear for my safety one minute and filled with rage the next. I would use my experience as a United Methodist Women member to begin to integrate our social justice network with the issues and concerns these workers had, by putting faith, hope and love into action.

The same was true over 40 years ago, when United Methodist Women joined with other faith-based organizations in an effort to bring change to the apartheid system in South Africa. In solidarity with other faith groups who intervened on behalf of the black Africans, United Methodist Women jointly created a shareholder proposal to General Motors that until such time as apartheid was abolished, General Motors should withdraw business from South Africa. General Motors would go on to divest from South Africa. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility was born.

Insisting on a common good

Over 300 members of ICCR, such as churches, religious organizations, universities, unions, banks, foundations and asset managers from around the world act in coalition with like-minded investors to improve corporate practices on vital issues surrounding environment, social and governance concerns. United Methodist Women is a member of ICCR. Together we can be a faithful voice for justice.

The social impact of investments can bring about social change by funding solutions and responsible investment practices. United Methodist Women have committed to this through their many years of involvement with ICCR. From creating resolutions for General Conference that reflect the many impact concerns of social justice to practicing their own socially just investment policies, United Methodist Women is a strong role model for the church in bringing responsible justice full circle. The values and principles of the ICCR member organizations influence business leaders to serve the common good of all people. Faith-based organizations have the added value of having staff and mission personnel on the ground in every corner of the world. This personal relationship allows for immediate feedback of the impacts of corporate decision making. By actively seeking the feedback of all relevant stakeholders and primary community mentors, all can be included in the decision-making process.

Multi-party collaboration means the ability to gather information regarding the community needs and assets and then assess priorities, agreeing on project objectives, scope, resources and monitoring. Mutual accountability through action, ongoing reflection and feedback help ensure community needs are met.

Mutual accountability

ICCR hosts conversations with companies and members from around the globe. These conversations provide spaces to find mutual accountability through action. Roundtables bring the relevant stakeholders together with specific industry-wide issues of mutual concern. Investor statements and letters also help underscore requests for action.

United Methodist Women has been diligent concerning garment worker's rights in Bangladesh, the effects of the mining industry on indigenous peoples of Peru and Canada, the supply chain of Burmese slaves in the Thai seafood industry and fair wages for our workers in the United States. Our ICCR faith heritage embodies through our coalitions the inspiration to seek justice and act on behalf of those who are most vulnerable.

Each time United Methodist Women decides on policy it assesses the way the policy impacts others. Acknowledging this responsibility helps us live more justly and adhere to The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. Through the framework of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, United Methodists are taught to utilize scripture, tradition, reason and experience in theological reflection and doctrinal development. Uniting this framework with the governance of our organization helps keep us socially responsible.

United Methodist Women works to ensure women and children have access to health care globally. It creates studies to educate communities and develops resource and training funds. It designs General Conference resolutions that give rationale for living our Social Principles. It also takes the actions necessary to make sure that the investments it makes also reflects that same vital importance. United Methodist Women will be in dialogue with pharmaceutical companies to encourage access to affordable medicine for HIV/AIDS while also participating in roundtables of mutual concern to work out best practices and healthy bottom lines.

United Methodist Women continues to lift up the intersection of corporate responsibility and effects on our environment. Water scarcity, the human right to water, mining, the exploitation of indigenous peoples, pesticides and cross-contamination and oil industry impacts are just a few of the critical areas we are involved in. We are working together with corporations to find the balance needed to become sustainably responsible.

Working for the benefit of all

As I left the rolling hills and hollers of a recent trip to Red Bird Mission in Beverly, Kentucky, I was reminded of the ongoing vital nature of our social justice work. The coal mining industry (and also the lack thereof) has caused a void in the Kentucky community reflected in their poverty. One in three will die of cancer, and education is still not adequate. These are people directly affected by the practices of business and the consumer in which the good of one comes at the sacrifice of another. We must bring corporate injustice to bear and work with companies to create practices that benefit all.

Let the waters of justice flow — there is more work to be done.

Nichea Ver Veer Guy is director of children and family ministries at Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is chair of the finance committee for the United Methodist Women board of directors and serves on the board of directors of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Posted or updated: 11/2/2015 11:00:00 PM