The Jesuits West Province recently helped pass a shareholder resolution to hold GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison and detention center operators in the U.S., accountable for human rights and treatment of detainees.
Working in partnership with investors and members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), the Jesuits requested that GEO “report annually…on how it implements” its human rights policy in its facilities, which include 69 in the United States.Jesuits West was one of a number of religious organizations that bought a small number of shares in GEO nine years ago with the intention of influencing corporate policy and standards, a tactic known as shareholder activism. The passing of the resolution for GEO is just one example of how shareholder activism can be used as a powerful tool in the Society’s social justice work.
The people behind the initiative explained their strategy for engagement:
Each engagement is different. Some companies have long-standing involvement with our partners at ICCR, and we can get the name of the right person to talk with and dialogues can begin immediately.
Other companies are new to us and we write a letter requesting engagement on a particular issue. If that doesn’t work, we file a shareholder resolution. This will often bring the “right people” to the table to begin engaging with the work.
Certain “asks” of a company are fairly easy to achieve such as adding language to a policy or developing a training program such as those on human trafficking, and they can basically be achieved in one shareholder season with a second to verify implementation. Other dialogues, however, go on for decades where a variety of issues are introduced. Especially as we see multinational corporations with giant supply chains, it seems some of these will be going for many years.
The engagement category that JCIR prefers to work in is one where a significant ask is made, engagement may be 6-8 years and when the company has demonstrated they are aware of and prepared to address the issue, the work is sunset.