CHURCHES can use their shareholdings to influence large companies on issues of social justice provided that they are prepared to co-ordinate their small and often scattered investments and devote the necessary time and effort to co-ordinate their policies.
This is the message that Fr Michael Crosby, project coordinator of the National Catholic Coalition for Responsible Investment, the body which co-ordinates the investment policies of Catholic institutions in America, will be giving to diocesan financial secretaries in England and Wales.
Fr Crosby's visit to Britain comes at a time when the financial secretaries of the 20 dioceses of England and Wales are considering the report of a working party on investment set up by the Bishops' Conference.
This report, which is.expected to go back to the bishops for decision in April, is understood to deal with the criteria which should govern investments by Church bodies and with the use that can be made of such investments to put pressure on companies pursuing socially harmful policies.
Fr Crosby talked to the diocesan financial secretaries at their annual meeting in Liverpool this week, and will also be meeting
bursars and representatives of religious orders.
Among other things he will be able to explain how in the United States something like 150 dioceses, religious orders and other Catholic institutions have since 1974 been able to work together and with their Protestant counterparts, who were the first to be active in this field, to exert influence on corporate policy.
As he explained at a London Press conference this week, this was not achieved through possessing any real financial "clout".
In America only 4.7 per cent of the total shareholdings in companies were held by charities, Churches and other non profit making organisations such as the Rockefeller Foundation. Influence was achieved by raising social issues publicly and thus making corporations aware that their public image was at stake.
Such efforts had had some effect in America, said Fr Crosby. Gulf Oil decided to vote a nun on to the board a year after urging shareholders to reject a resolution calling for a women director.
Companies selling baby foods to developing countries had also been persuaded to stop their mass advertising campaigns.
• Next week: a fail length interview with Fr Crosby.