Presbyterian Church USA Urges Phillips 66 — a Major DAPL Investor — to “Reconsider”

This is the second in a series of blogs exploring how religious communities who are Standing with Standing Rock are reviewing their investments for ties to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Part I reviewed ELCA investment policies. Today we look at the Presbyterian Church’s investment policies. Will their investments change?

The Presbyterian Church USA has a formal position supporting the Standing Rock Nation and its opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). It also is taking action, showing its support is more than just words. On Dec. 7, the Presbyterian News Service published a story about how the church is urging Phillips 66 to reconsider its investment in DAPL. It starts out:

The Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) submitted a shareholder resolution to the Phillips 66 Corporation on November 22 urging it to reconsider its investment guidelines as they pertain to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and future projects.

At issue with Phillips’ significant investment in the $3.8 billion DAPL project are the environmental and human rights concerns raised by those opposed to the pipeline, including the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

This is part of a growing effort to use financial pressure to stop DAPL. It is one option outside of the political arena where people and institutions can make a difference, vote their values with their money, and bring about social change.

The Presbyterian Church is a large institutional investor, socking away money for retirement plans for its many employees. It has $1.7 billion invested through its foundation, and around $9 billion (2015) in its pension fund. It’s the kind of big investor that can help influence corporate decisions.

Shareholder Action

Rob Fohr, Director of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement at the Presbyterian Church USA, works with the church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI). They help guide the church’s investment decisions. Fohr says a subsidiary of Phillips 66 owns a 25 percent stake in DAPL.

According to the news story:

The Rev. John Hougen, a member of the Environmental and Climate Change Issue Committee of MRTI, said opposition to DAPL at Standing Rock highlights both the importance and uniqueness of MRTI’s mission. “Because we own stock in Phillips 66, we are in a position to advocate with a company directly involved,” he said. “Further, because we have developed a relationship with Phillips 66, we know who to talk to. We believe it is being in relationships that creates positive leverage for change.”

Because of its existing relationship with Phillips 66, the Presbyterian Church was the lead filer on the shareholder resolution on DAPL. It asks Phillips 66 to prepare a report to shareholders describing the due diligence process “used to identify and address environmental and social risks, including Indigenous rights risk, in reviewing potential acquisitions. The report should consider such things as “how environmental and social risks are identified and assessed”; “whether the company has an exit option in DAPL”; and “whether Phillips 66 will adjust its policies and practices so as not to become entangled with such situations in the future.”

One drawback to these kinds of shareholder resolutions is they take time. Shareholders vote on resolutions at the corporation’s annual meeting. The Phillips 66 annual meeting isn’t until the second quarter of 2017. Fohr said he hopes Phillips 66 will address the issue prior to the shareholder vote.

“This will not be the last time that the interests of corporations and Indigenous communities cross paths,” said Fohr. “We would like to see Phillips 66 lead the way by having the most transparent processes with respect to assessing and disclosing environmental and social risks so that these types of situations can be avoided on future projects.”

The Presbyterian Church’s Statement on Standing Rock

The Presbyterian Church’s shareholder action gives weight to the statement the church made supporting the Standing Rock Nation.

On Aug. 29, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson III, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), along with the Rev. Irvin Porter, associate in the Office of Native American Intercultural Congregational Support, issued a statement in support of the Standing Rock Sioux protest of DAPL.

Significantly, the statement recognizes that this issue is not just about Standing Rock and DAPL. It puts it in the context of trying to address the long history of church-related oppression of Native American peoples. It cites the Presbyterian Church’s apology to Native American’s for the its role in boarding schools and its repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

According to Nelson’s statement:

It has become clear that the PC(USA) is becoming more aware of the struggles that Native American Presbyterians and all Native Americans have faced in the past and are dealing with today. It is my hope that in discussing these issues across the church an impact can be made that not only raises awareness within the church of these issues, but also generates action by Presbyterians.

Presbyterian Approach to Corporate Social Responsibility

The Presbyterian Church has created a number of policies around corporate social responsibility. According to MRTI’s website, the church believes that investing is more than a practical question. It is also “an instrument of mission and includes theological, social and economic considerations”

According to an email from Fohr to Healing Minnesota Stories:

[The Presbyterian Church:] “first pursues a strategy of corporate engagement (through correspondence, dialogues, and shareholder resolutions) using the shares held by the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation. If after a certain point a company indicates it is no longer willing to engage in dialogue, MRTI may make a recommendation on divesting from that company. …

The Presbyterian Foundation has “positive screen” instruments including community investing and a fossil fuel free product. Starting in January 2017, the Board of Pensions will offer a fund that focuses on sustainability for its Retirement Savings Plan participants.

Fohr provided the Presbyterian Church’s divestment list, which includes the names of specific companies on the church’s “do not buy” list. It includes military-related investments, tobacco stocks, companies involved in private prisons, and companies involved in human rights violations.

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

The Presbyterian Church also is working in coalition with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility to push these important issues forward.

In an email to Healing Minnesota Stories, Fohr said: “I along with 120 other faith-based and values-based investors participated in a conference call with Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman, David Archambault II, who commended investors for their work on engaging the companies involved with the DAPL.”

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility has a page on its website dedicated to Investors Standing with the Standing Rock Sioux as well as a page dedicated to the Human Right to Water.

For previous posts and more information on the Dakota Access Pipeline, click here.

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