Focus Issue: Human Rights

Wespath Benefits and Investments (Wespath) has a separate page regarding Human Rights.

Focus Issue: Labor Standards

Globalization has demonstrated how people around the world work under vastly different circumstances. In some factories, particularly in developing countries, there are reports of forced overtime, low wages, unsafe working conditions and child labor. While these issues can be difficult to quantify, there is no doubt that their relationship to a corporation’s reputation and stakeholder support can affect performance and the bottom line.

The Methodist Episcopal Church’s first social creed, adopted in 1908, was largely concerned with labor issues. Echoing concerns still keenly felt today, the Church called for “a living wage in every industry,” “the abolition of child labor,” “the principle of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions” and, ultimately, “equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life” (¶59, Appendix, The Book of Discipline 1908).

Today, the Social Principles, published in The Book of Discipline, support:

  • “the right to a job at a living wage” (¶163C);
  • “the organize for collective bargaining” (¶163B);
  • “the right…to refuse to work in situations that endanger health and/or life” (¶163C); and
  • The right of foreign workers to “the same economic, educational, and social benefits enjoyed by other citizens” (¶163F).

Accordingly, Wespath believes that companies should maintain and enforce clear codes of conduct for their various suppliers and global facilities. These codes are meant to ensure that workers all over the world are treated humanely, compensated fairly and allowed to organize without fear of intimidation or reprisal.

By holding corporations accountable for the implementation of their codes of conduct, Wespath gives voice to the Church’s commitment to affirm humanity in all places.

Focus Issue: Diversity/Cultural Sensitivity

The United Methodist Church is committed to the rights of racial and ethnic persons and asserts the “right of members of racial and ethnic groups to equal opportunities in employment and promotion…and to positions of leadership and power in all elements of our life together.” (¶162A) The Book of Discipline also encourages United Methodist general agency membership to seek inclusive membership “based on gender, racial and ethnic persons, age, persons with disabilities…” (¶705D of The Book of Discipline)

Wespath encourages boards of directors to seek diverse representations, including more women and persons of color. A 2009 study commissioned by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) reported that “companies with more diverse boards, especially gender-based diversification, have higher performance and key financial metrics such as return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital.”

Wespath also calls upon companies to embrace equal employment opportunity, the use of minority-owned vendors and greater representation by women at all employment levels. Additionally, Wespath asks companies to publicly disclose policies and programs designed to foster diversity and to report on diversity data.

In connection with equality of opportunity, The United Methodist Church recognizes that some communities have been victimized in ways that go beyond economics. Native American communities, in particular, have seen their historic cultures devalued by the appropriation of native names and symbols and the violation of sacred sites. Resolution 3336 of The Book of Resolutions, Native American Tribal Sovereignty, rejects “stereotypes and frames that depict American Indians as less than sacred or in harmful or distorted ways,” while Resolution 4081, Economic Development for Native American People, “urges Wespath to invest funds in Native American financial institutions and community.” We have responded through our Positive Social Purpose Lending Program, investing funds in Native American financial institutions.

Wespath continues to advocate for greater corporate cultural sensitivity, specifically:

  • Discouraging the corporate use of negative Native American imagery in the marketing of products
  • Encouraging corporations to respect Native American lands and sacred spaces when making business location decisions

Focus Issue: Food Safety and Product Labeling

A safe and sustainable food supply is critical to the human population, especially given the significant population growth forecast for the next twenty years. In the United States, agricultural production has shifted from a large network of independent family farms to a concentrated system of “factory farms.” This industrialized system allows food companies to benefit from economies of scale and is one of the factors that helps provide low-cost food. However, the model also externalizes the risk related to many environmental liabilities, which may be a material factor to the company’s long-term sustainability. Wespath calls upon food companies to review their business models to ensure they are accurately incorporating material environmental risks.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms whose genetic structures have been altered by the introduction of unrelated genetic material. GMOs represent an ever-growing segment of all U.S. agricultural production. Supporters of GMO crops claim they can help eradicate world hunger, make more efficient use of farm land, reduce pollution hazards and raise nutritional levels. Opponents point out that food containing genetically modified crops has not been adequately tested for safety and may cause as-yet-unknown allergic reactions. In addition, they claim that the increasing prevalence of genetically modified crops could result in a handful of companies controlling the world’s seed supply.

The United Methodist Church supports “policies that protect the food supply and ensure the public’s right to know the content of the foods they are eating,” and calls “for clear labeling of all processed or altered foods, with premarket safety testing required.” (¶160G of The Book of Discipline) The Church also opposes “weakening the standards for organic foods” and calls “for policies that encourage and support a gradual transition to sustainable and organic agriculture.” (¶160G of The Book of Discipline) Accordingly, Wespath supports safety testing of GMO ingredients and the consumer’s right-to-know what food products contain GMO ingredients.

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