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Investor Advocate: Buy Stock, Gain A Voice

An extreme closeup of U.S. currency.
kevindooley via Flickr
An extreme closeup of U.S. currency.

In an environment where companies hold a lot of power, can you make a difference by buying just one share in a company?

Yes, said Brian Reavey, Marianist Province’s director for justice, peace and integrity of creation. Reavey will speak about shareholder advocacy on Thursday at a Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice program.

“There’s a lot of power in owning shares or just even being aware of what companies we’re buying our products from,” he told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Thursday.

“When you own a stock, even one share of a company, you have a voice. And when you’re involved with a coalition — we’re involved with several as Marianists — that you have even more of a voice. We have a coalition right here in St. Louis, the Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, and we meet with companies, and we get into boardrooms, we have these dialogues and we do see results most of the time.”  

Working with a coalition often is more effective, Reavey said. “It is harder to do by your lonesome, but you can vote by your lonesome.”

Reavey also works with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, one of the first coalitions for religious groups.

Reavey said he looks at three things with each company: environment, society and governance.

“Are they treating our water supplies with dignity? Is there pollution? Are companies meeting with community members to see how their decisions will impact the local community?” Reavey said. “And then also governance: We hold corporations to task on, say, who they vote to their board of directors. We see a lot of white-haired white men, no offense to any of those folks. We really try to encourage diversity: racial diversity, gender diversity, and just political diversity — diversity of all kinds to really make the corporations reflect who we are as consumers.”

Investigating those categories requires a lot of research, Reavey said.

“We monitor the stocks, but more importantly we also monitor the newspapers and we hear from local communities and really want to hear from the people on the ground who are affected by these decision,” he said.

If issues are discovered, it’s time to talk, Reavey said.

“The key in this work is to have a relationship with the companies,” he said. “Some people think the company is always the enemy, and that’s not true. It’s not about debate, but it’s about dialogue and finding common ground. Fortunately, it’s becoming more and more of a trend, corporate responsibility. More and more consumers are wanting to know that their products and their shares are going towards the ethical treatment of the environment and other people. So we build a relationship with members of the corporation, and then we hold a meeting. The corporate dialogues are the heart of the change.”

Meeting with company executives doesn’t always mean success, Reavey said, and systemic change is not guaranteed.

“We leave a lot of corporate dialogues deflated,” he said. “But there are even incremental baby steps that are really helpful to promoting the common good.”

Related Event

Investing for Good: Changing Corporations Through Shareholder Engagement

  • When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015
  • Where: Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road
  • More information

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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