Monday, March 7, 2011

USCCB Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines - Part 3: Promoting Human Dignity

The second area covered by the investment policies of the USCCB is "Promoting Human Dignity".  This follows the first category of "Protecting Human Life".  It is not sufficient for us to protect human life, we must recognize that humanity is made in the image of God, and that we have a special dignity above all other creatures.

The 5 sub-categories under this area are:
  1. Human Rights
  2. Racial Discrimination
  3. Gender Discrimination
  4. Access to Pharmaceuticals
  5. Curbing Pornography
Human Rights
Human rights sounds almost like a no-brainer.  Of course, we need to promote adoption of human rights, correct?  Absolutely!  Everyone has the right to life, religion, freedom of speech, etc.  We should not, for example, invest in a company that uses sweatshops, which denies its employees of their most basic needs.  Most operations in the developed world will be very respectful of human rights.  However, we need to cautious of American companies with operations in developing countries, to ensure that they operate under the same standards as they would in the West.  Examples of these companies that have bad international practices include Walmart (Ticker: WMT) and The Gap (Ticker: GPS).

On the other hand, the issue in the developed world is not so much the violation of human rights, but the protection of "rights" that should not be treated as human rights.  In the past decade or so, the homosexual agenda has made headway in most western countries.  Same-sex marriage is now a reality in Canada and a number of US states.  In Canada, there is now a bill (Bill C-389) going to the Senate right now to add "gender identity" to the Canada Human Rights Act.  Essentially, if this bill is passed, it means that, for example, employers cannot discriminate based on gender identity.  So, if a transvestite comes for an interview for a teacher position at an elementary school, the school board cannot discriminate based on his "gender identity".  These progressions are a deconstruction of the society that Christianity had built in the past 2 millennia.  We should avoid investing in companies that promote this deconstruction.  In my post on Apple (Ticker: AAPL), I talked about how it was rated highly by the Human Right's Campaign, a pro-homosexual group.  This would be a good place to start your research.  Remember, if this group rates a company highly, that's a BAD thing!

Racial Discrimination, Gender Discrimination, and Access to Pharmaceuticals
I am putting racial discrimination, gender discrimination, and access to pharmaceuticals into one group.  Chances are if you dig up some dirt in the human rights category, you will also see issues in these categories as well.  If a company treats that workers like trash and provide horrible and dangerous working conditions, I don't think they would, for example, provide them with excellent access to pharmaceuticals.  These go hand-in-hand.  There's not much else to say, except: don't invest in companies that adopts these reproachable behaviour.

A good way to start your research is googling, "[company name] ethical issues".

Curbing Pornography
Here, I quote the USCCB investment policy regarding pornography, "The USCCB will not invest in a company that derives a significant portion of its revenues from products or services intended exclusively to appeal to a prurient interest in sex or to incite sexual excitement. These would include, but not be limited to, sexually explicit (X-rated) films, videos, publications, and software; topless bars and strip clubs; and sexually oriented telephone and Internet services."

The obvious companies in violation include Playboy (Ticker: PLA).  A less evident company is American Apparel (Ticker: APP).  If you haven't seen their ads before, just google, "American Apparel ads" and select images; you'll understand what I'm saying very quickly.  Although it sells very normal clothing, the advertisements are close to soft-core pornography, and the sad part is they are targeted towards the younger segments of the population.  Although the company probably passes the USCCB test, because it sells morally neutral clothing.  Yet, there is something wrong with investing in a company like such, because it essentially does what all pornography do.  That is, it reduces the subject (the female models in this case) into an object.

Other companies to avoid would be media companies that produce distasteful films, magazines, services, etc. A majority of these companies are smaller-sized, privately owned companies.  So, you may not need to worry so much.  Do keep an eye open though.

In the category of promoting human dignity, there is one question that you need to ask, "Does the company treat human beings as though they were human beings?"  The company should not exploit their employees to increase profits; they should not discriminate; they should not treat or portray people as though they were objects.  Even if their products or services were benign, but the image they portray does any of the above, I would still rather not invest in them.  Of course, it's all a balancing act.  A lot of great companies will indeed violate some of the principles discussed above.  You would need to make a judgment call on your investment decisions.