Shareholder Rights and Social Change

So, you are concerned about children in poverty, consumerism, nutrition, and the harmful effects of fossil fuels on the environment? Why place your hope in politicians, administrations, and government institutions that swerve back and forth with each new Congress or administration? Try doing what we do: buy stock and become a shareholder in some of the more progressive corporations on the exchange. As a shareholder, you have rights and the ability to move those companies in the direction of positive social change.

This constructive way forward to influence culture and policy came to me through exposure to the divestment movement and its questionable effectiveness. I’ve never felt good about boycotts, even during my involvement in the 70s with Evangelicals for Social Action and the boycott of Nestle. I have found a positive approach to solving problems by becoming a shareholder in major corporations that sympathize with my concerns. Rather than try to punish someone whose business does not have the same convictions about, say, gambling, alcohol consumption or smoking through divestment or boycott or political action, why not rather get on board with a business that promotes good health, fairness, and a clean environment in order to see change happen in a positive, less contentious way? I asked myself, “why not put my money into businesses where I have a voice, where the people at the top are on the same team and will lend me a sympathetic ear?”

Recently, we purchased stock in Whole Foods Market and Costco because they are progressive corporations with common goals and the ability to address some of my greatest concerns on a grand scale. Here are just a few of the ways I would like to influence Whole Foods and Costco for social good:

  • Inner-city and poor rural families often lack access to nutritious food, because their choices are limited. While stores like Walmart, KMart and the occasional Target will build stores in those areas and provide employment, as well as goods and services, it has long been the policy of stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and Costco to avoid those low-profit markets. I would be willing, as a shareholder, to see Whole Foods and Costco place unprofitable outlets in those areas in the interest of justice and compassion.
  • Many people are concerned about our nation’s addiction to fossil fuels and climate change. Costco is one of the nation’s largest vendors of gasoline and new or used cars. I think Costco needs to take a more progressive stance and quit selling gasoline and vehicles altogether.
  • The use of plastics is ubiquitous and some are very concerned about plastic pollution in the oceans and fresh water. I will be encouraging both Whole Foods and Costco to eliminate the use and sale of products made from plastic or packaged in plastic, over time. I know it would be impossible to completely eliminate plastic, but these large chains have the ability to pressure their suppliers to use alternative materials and we could see a dramatic decline in plastic pollution through these two eliminating as much as possible.

Those are just a few of the things I’d like to see happen and owning their stock gives me a voice. When I make my opinions known to the officers by voting and communicating with them directly, I can more effectively address the problems above because:

  • I am not coming at them as an adversary, but to them as a fellow human being with an interest in the flourishing of people and the planet
  • They are rewarded through my investment for their entrepreneurial spirit and desire to provide quality goods and services, at a fair price, for the benefit of all people
  • We receive monetary benefits through dividends and share value that I can, in turn, put into our local economy and charitable causes

This is a strategy for change that takes direct action, bypassing plodding and ineffectual government agencies or NGOs, offering a less contentious solution that seeks to build partnerships and form new relationships based on optimism and hope. And, it’s probably a lot more effective than posting a meme, waving a sign or arguing with friends and relatives — it’s certainly more congenial.



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