Monday, July 02, 2012

Statement at SRI Debate

[Socially Responsible Investing]
SRI  tends to choose among investment opportunities by applying moral categories to the products that companies produce.  This is an important first step, but it is incomplete.

Benedict XVI  in “Caritas in Veritate” (2009)  challenged us “not only to create ‘ethical’ sectors or segments of the economy or the world of finance, but to ensure that the whole economy – the whole of finance – is ethical, not merely by an external label, but by its respect for requirements intrinsic to its very nature.”   A complete approach, which does respect those requirements,  must focus primarily on the working person. John Paul II wrote: “(the) human person is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission… This, and this alone, is the principle which inspires the Church’s social doctrine.”[1] The economic morality  which will create wealth and spread it universally is based on the attention that must be given to the working person, his painful mastery of and gift of self to God in the service of others.

I would critique SRI in that – by and large - it enters into the world of work from without only to apply pre-formed moral categories to specific types of actions. It abstracts from persons and their work who are the core of the economic moral center.

Benedict XVI has pointed out that Catholic Social Doctrine “is based on man’s creation ‘in the image of God.”   Moral and socially responsible investment has to go beyond applying moral categories to what a company produces, and focus on the morality of the working person created in the image of God and therefore called to give himself to others. 

            Let me offer a contemporary example of the working person as moral center of economic life. Michael Winn, retired CEO of Hollister Corp., a billion dollar a year healthcare company  wrote in his “President’s Vision:” 
 “Developing, manufacturing and selling medical products is not our business. Our business is to serve customers, both inside and outside. Developing, manufacturing and selling medical products are the activities we engage in in order to serve. We do not exist to make a profit. This is not an end, but a means by which we can continue as a strong, independently owned company. Our business purpose is to serve our customers and the community as a whole.. Hollister will also be more personal as a working environment… I view work not to be an occupation, but a vocation… not a necessary chore for making a living, but an opportunity for personal development and fulfillment.” Winn says, “I see… Hollister associates to be persons in relationships of service to one another. They’re all united in a common cause, each contributing his or her indispensable work, well done, so that the individual efforts add up to a collective world-class result.”   

I recognize, of course, that it is difficult to identify companies that are actually inspired by   a person-centered approach like that described by Winn,  but an investment philosophy that ignores that aspect and judges the morality of investments solely or primarily on the moral quality of the objects companies produce is merely re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. 

[1] Centesimus Annus #53. 

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