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Environment, Pornography And Health Care Access Climb To Top Of Catholic Investor Issues List In 2004

No Movement Seen on Stem Cell Research and Abortion Issues;
Media Violence Breaks Into the Top 10 List, While Sweatshops Slip.

According to those responding to a new survey conducted by Christian Brothers Investment Services, Inc. (CBIS), the top issue priorities for Catholic investors in 2004 are:

1 - abortion

2 - environmental justice

3 - pornography production
    universal access to health care (tied)

5 - military weapons contractors and 

6 - fetal tissue/embryonic stem cell research

7 - violence in the mainstream media 

8 - responsible operations in developing countries 

9 - sweatshops/contract supplier issues 

10 - mainstream media: sexually explicit entertainment/distribution of pornography 

11 - affordable AIDS drugs in developing countries.

Christian Brothers Investment Services, Inc. is the leading U.S. investment manager exclusively serving Catholic institutions. They manage approximately $3.5 billion and combines faith and finance in the responsible stewardship of Catholic financial assets.

The survey of 151 Catholic institutional investors – including dioceses, religious orders, hospitals and educational facilities – that are CBIS participants showed some movement from a 2001 investor poll that had abortion and stem cell research in identical #1 and #5 positions, but also featured as top issues: sweatshops (#2); military weapon contractors (#3); and universal access to healthcare (#4). 

In addition to the shifts in the top five issues, the CBIS survey also uncovered other changes in the top 10 issues for Catholic investors. A new issue – violence in the mainstream media – came in this year at #7, even though it did not appear in the top 10 rankings for 2001. Conversely, the issue of sweatshop labor fell from the #2 spot in 2001 to the #9 issue in 2004. The new #2 issue for 2004 – “environmental justice” (the rights of neighborhoods and communities (particularly in disadvantaged areas to have meaningful involvement in the corporate decisions that impact their cultural, environmental and economic lives) – was not included in the 2001 survey. In another major jump, the production of pornography went from the #10 issue ranking in 2001 to a tie for third place this year.

Francis Coleman, executive vice president, Christian Brothers Investment Services, said: “What we do see are some unchanged issues and some elevated priorities among Catholic investors over the last three years. We go through this exercise to ensure that our socially responsible investing policy is aligned with the views of our participants. As a result of these findings, we will be looking to increase our emphasis on promoting environmental justice and also curbing violence in the media.”

John Wilson, director of socially responsible investing, Christian Brothers Investment Services, said: “The survey findings clearly show a growing Catholic institutional investor emphasis on socially responsible investing. Of those surveyed, more than four in five (83 percent) indicated a goal of investing all of their assets in a SRI fashion. A nearly identical 82 percent said that they believed shareholder advocacy – what we refer to as ‘active ownership’ – has a meaningful impact on corporate behavior. And CBIS was gratified to see that our participants gave us a strong 92 percent satisfaction rating for our efforts on their behalf.”

The CBIS survey detected strong support for "active ownership," a strategy that aims to change corporate behavior through shareholder activism in the form of proxy voting, dialogue and/or filing shareholder resolutions with corporations – on such issues as protecting the environment, ensuring wider healthcare access and battling AIDS in Africa. 

The survey also found solid backing among the Catholic investors for what CBIS refers to as "principled purchasing," a strategy that restricts and excludes investments in certain companies generating goods or services – such as tobacco and pornography – that conflict with Catholic values. Coleman stressed that while the survey was limited to the CBIS institutional investor universe, it may provide useful insights into the thinking of Catholic investors as a group.

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