Nuns at forefront of corporate activism

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Not long ago, an unusual visitor arrived at the sleek headquarters of Goldman Sachs in Lower Manhattan. It wasn’t some CEO, or a politician from Athens or Washington, or even a sign-waving Wall Street occupier, reports the New York Times.

It was Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St Francis of Philadelphia. And the slight, soft-spoken nun had a few not-so-humble suggestions for the world’s most powerful investment bank.

Way up on the 41st floor, in a conference room overlooking the World Trade Centre site, Sister Nora and her team from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility laid out their advice for three Goldman executives. The Wall Street bank, they said, should protect consumers, rein in executive pay, increase its transparency and remember the poor.

In short, Goldman should do God’s work - something that its chairman and chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, once remarked that he did. (The joke bombed.)

Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.

The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.

”We want social returns, as well as financial ones,” Sister Nora said, strolling through the garden behind Our Lady of Angels, the convent here where she has worked for more than half a century. She paused in front of a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. “When you look at the major financial institutions, you have to realize there is greed involved.”

The Sisters of St Francis are an unusual example of the shareholder activism that has ripped through corporate America since the 1980s. Public pension funds led the way, flexing their financial muscles on issues from investment returns to workplace violence.

 FULL STORY Nuns who won't stop nudging (New York Times)

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