Sister Patricia Daly

Executive Director
Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment

When it comes to human rights issues, the best corporate citizens – and the ones with the greatest integrity – are those companies that have very clear codes of conduct, with real buy-in and participation from top levels of management and from members of the board of directors. There has to be a deep understanding throughout the company about the implications of the code. I’m not talking about a code that simply says: “We’re going to be good people.”

An effective code of conduct must identify the company’s responsibility to its own employees, but also its responsibilities to the working conditions of the people who work within the supply chain. The code should factor in broader issues of human rights, such as water availability in stressed regions. And the code must be a living document that is pertinent to the operations of a company and that can adapt over time.

As an example, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) were among the first to raise concerns to global manufacturers over conflict minerals in the Congo. Companies need to be responsive to new information about human rights abuses within their spheres of operation and be prepared to be accountable.

Companies that prioritize human rights issues are making an investment that is ultimately deeply connected to brand value. Of course, it’s an investment whose outcomes can initially be hard to quantify. Yet, companies that run afoul of human rights issues can find themselves in trouble very quickly – especially in a 24-hour news cycle where disturbing videos can be seen by millions of people around the globe within minutes.

Ford has a reputation within the auto industry for taking a leadership role on human rights issues. For example, in recent years it’s been wonderful to see how the company has initiated addressing concerns around the accessibility and availability of water and abuses in the Congo over conflict minerals. On the conflict minerals issue, Ford is attempting to address the concerns right up front.

I’ve been working with Ford on social and human rights issues for more than three decades, but the real turning point in our relationship came in the mid 1990s when our coalition put forward our first shareholder resolution around global warming. Bill Ford understood our concerns, and he opened up a strategic dialogue for us, becoming one of the first U.S. companies to seriously engage business perspectives around greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve had a robust and engaged relationship ever since. We may agree to disagree sometimes, but we have a strong working relationship that is built in large part on trust.

Very often, investment managers will ask me to list five global companies that are tackling human rights issues and engaging openly with their shareholders and nongovernmental organizations. Ford always comes to mind.

Engaged shareholder organizations such as the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment and the ICCR want our companies to profit, but we believe that long-term profitability is clearly linked to strategies that avoid behaviors that are harmful, and in the end contribute to society as a whole. A company with a robust code of conduct demonstrates that it aims to be a company of great integrity and that it’s not simply about financial profits.

For me, it’s an honor to be partnering with employees who really want to ensure that their company is profitable and filled with integrity, and who want their company to play a role in making the world a better place.