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major corporation changed its written policy statement prohibiting
discrimination based on sexual orientation. This action resulted from efforts by
the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) through its endowment fund investment in the stock of Home Depot in
of stock have the right to ask the companies in which they invest to change
their policies. This right is provided by Federal regulations promulgated by the
Securities and Exchange Commission. The process includes several types of
actions, including dialogs with corporate managers, publicity related to issues
of concern, and filing of resolutions to be voted on at corporate annual
meetings ("proxy resolutions").
UUA is a member of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
("ICCR"), a coalition of some 275 religious-related organizations. A number of
investment firms who are active in the field of socially responsible investing
are "partners" with ICCR. The efforts of ICCR and its members and partners have
made significant, identifiable impacts on corporate policies and practices. ICCR
has played a unique leadership role in shareholder advocacy in a range of areas,
beginning with investments in South Africa. Currently, ICCR Issue
Groups and members are challenging companies around issues of environmental
accountability, human rights, negative impacts of globalization, American
Indians and other indigenous people, diversity by race and gender on governing
boards, and equality of opportunity, among others.
UUA has participated in many of these challenges over the
a few states require non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, yet
a number of major corporations have included such a prohibition in their written
policies on equal opportunity in employment. Research by not-for-profit
organizations, including Project Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task
Force among others, has identified a number of other major corporations that
have not. Thus, efforts are being taken to bring this matter to the attention of
a number of such corporations.
UUA principles commit us to "affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity
of every person." Accordingly, the issue of equal employment opportunity has
been a central concern of ours and, because we are a welcoming denomination to
all people including gay, lesbian and transgender folks, we were eager to add
our voice to these efforts.
first step with Home Depot was a telephone call to a Vice President of Public
Affairs with whom we had contact on a previous issue. After several discussions,
they took the position that they were not discriminating against people based on
sexual orientation and believed they did not need to change their written policy
then informed Home Depot we would be filing a proxy resolution on the subject. After several weeks, the
Company informed us of their official opposition to our resolution saying,
essentially, their current position does not tolerate discrimination on the
basis of sexual orientation and that they pride themselves on maintaining an
"inclusive environment." Further, they stated that the current written policy
statement [which does not explicitly include sexual orientation as one of the
prohibited discriminations] is all that is required by Federal laws. They
provided us with the text of how their opposition would appear in the annual
proxy statement, and that the Directors would formally recommend to all
stockholders to vote "No" on our resolution.
Depot management had a change of heart, however, and called us in early May
after the proxy statement had been mailed to all stockholders. They said they
had further considered their position in light of the negative reaction from
their employees who had learned that the Directors opposed the UUA resolution.
They inquired about the terms and conditions under which the UUA would be
willing to withdraw the resolution.
two intensive conference calls, they proposed that the Home Depot CEO Robert
Nardelli promptly announce to all associates that the policy had been changed.
They further proposed to substantially implement the new policy with a series of
actions to make it clear that one of the core values of the company was, and
continued to be, "respect for all people." We agreed and exchanged letters
documenting the agreement.
representative of the UUA, the Reverend Kurt Kuhwald, attended their annual
meeting in Atlanta, and thanked them for their action in
making the issue of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation an official
part of their corporate policies.
resolutions were co-filed by the UUA with two other companies in 2002—American International Group ("AIG") and ExxonMobil. AIG agreed to
modify their policy before their proxy statement was mailed, but ExxonMobil
fought the resolution at its annual meeting. Even so, stockholders with 13% of
its shares voted for the resolution—a very credible showing on such matters.
The level of this vote will permit a similar resolution to be submitted to Exxon
you can see, a combination of moral suasion and the threat of adverse publicity
is sometimes successful, and sometimes not. We need tenacity and perseverance to
continue to assert and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all
For more information contact responsibleinvesting @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Friday, June 17, 2011.
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