It's time to hoist the black flag and start kicking some butts

Posted: Sep 09, 2006 12:03 AM

While waiting for the wind called Ernesto to make its way up the East Coast - bent on flooding our basement for the second time this year - a Google Alert blew into my inbox from the website I expected to be accosted by yet another diatribe on how Ernesto was caused by global warming, which in turn was caused by evil doer corporate polluters and their leader - the devil incarnate - George W. Bush. I was wrong.

The headline on the posted article caught my eye: “Is Capitalism Growing More Socially Conscious?” The article opined that “recent trends suggest that both corporations and investors are taking socially responsible investing more seriously.” As proof, the author cited a recent study revealing that 34 companies listed on the S&P 100 had issued Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports based on a third-party standard - the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Reporting Guidelines.

As an investor and a long-time critic of corporate socialism, my curiosity was piqued. Surely, 34 blue-chip companies would not embrace these so-called Sustainability Reporting Guidelines without first determining with whom they were getting in bed. Was this Global Reporting Initiative a counter-balance to the whacky, anti-free enterprise dogma preached by the kill-kapitalism crowd that launched the CSR movement in the first place? Was industry finally getting its act together? I fired up my turbo-charged laptop to find the truth.

Truth be told, the 34 companies that have adopted the reporting guidelines advanced by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) are either blissfully ignorant or they have joined the ranks of corporate appeasers and capitulators in the Neville Chamberlain Club.

It turns out that GRI is run by Ernst Ligteringen, a former Executive Director of Oxfam International and a past consultant to the International Labor Organization. The U.S. representatives on GRI’s board are Sean Harrigan, who previously served as an official with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and Joan Bavaria, who has served as President and CEO of the Trillium Asset Management Corporation, a social investment firm. For the record, Ms. Bavaria also sits on the boards of Earthjustice and the Earth Day Network. She is on the advisory boards of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Greening of Industry Network.

Of particular note is that Ms. Bavaria is also the Founding Chair of CERES, a national network of investment funds, environmental organizations and other activist groups. Why is this noteworthy? Well, according to its website, GRI started as a project of CERES. So, who runs CERES? Does its governing board include representatives from the blue chippers of the S&P 100? No. Not one. Zero. Zip. Nada. The CERES board is a who’s who of the anti-free enterprise lobby, including the executive director of Friends of the Earth, and officials from the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, AFL-CIO, AFSCME and, yes, the Screen Actors Guild.

H.L. Mencken once observed that, “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” As an investor and unapologetic cheerleader for free enterprise, I must admit that when American companies jump under the sheets with activists that have dedicated their lives to undermining the very foundations of our economic system, Mencken’s words take on new meaning. More than 100 million Americans have invested their hard-earned dollars in the stock market. They have a right to expect that the companies they invest in will focus their resources on maximizing the return on their investments. Corporate resources diverted for the purpose of playing footsie with the Far Left represent a hidden tax on investors and a drain on the economy.

The time has arrived when individual investors must take names and demand sanctions when corporate executives join the Neville Chamberlain Club. This is advocacy of the kind employed by the Free Enterprise Action Fund (ticker symbol FEAOX), which uses its status as an institutional shareholder to persuade companies to focus on increasing shareholder value and profits rather than vainly trying to appease outside activists. It’s time to hoist the black flag and start kicking some butts.

With over three decades in the communications business, Nick Nichols specializes in crisis management and risk communications. He teaches graduate-level crisis management at the Johns Hopkins University.