By Geeta Aiyer
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced” – James Baldwin
Today, as we observe Juneteenth, we heed James Baldwin’s call. We face the uncomfortable truths of institutional racism and the unacceptable complicity of our financial system.
The killing of George Floyd, among the most recent names infamously added to a tragically long list, has caused us all to reckon with our own failure to do enough to fight racism, police brutality, and systemic injustice. It would be easy to limit our efforts to the reform and redesign of policing and criminal justice, but unjust, unequal outcomes are embedded in the economic and social fabric of our existence. Their very ubiquity normalizes them.
Mindful that enslavement was first and foremost an economic enterprise, and that inequity, discrimination and racial injustice still reside in our corporate and financial systems, we see a clear role for engaged investors. We must use our power to disrupt this inertia, leveraging our reach, our capital, our voice, to enable better solutions.
At Boston Common, we have sought to do this from our inception. Persuading corporations to make changes in pursuit of social justice has been a cornerstone of our approach. Active anti-racism has been central to our mission and our identity. We considered ourselves a diverse group of tenacious, justice-seeking investors and impactful change-makers.
Yet, it is clear, at every level of our endeavor, we are called upon to do more.
As individuals, as a company, as investors, engaged shareholders, as citizens and movement builders, we rededicate ourselves to rebuild our shared future, to be one of fairness, inclusion, and collective wellbeing.
This is how we’re getting started:
- We are challenging our own perspectives, deepening our empathetic understanding of Black experience, through education and discussion, books, films, training and action. We commit to bringing this awareness into every aspect of our firm’s functioning, from employee management to purchasing, strategic giving and volunteering.
- For many years, we have challenged the institutional racism that is built into products and services offered by corporations. These are the foundations for lasting racial disparities in wealth and income. Examples include racial bias in lending or credit scoring, predatory lending, participation in the prison-industrial complex, and operations with exploitative models that offer precarious jobs in dangerous conditions. We have testified and written against private prisons. We have pursued accountability on corporate lobbying, to end membership support for ALEC – authors of the Stand Your Ground legislation infamously used to exonerate George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
- Raising the ambition and urgency of our Workplace Equality initiative, we are targeting meaningful change in racial and gender equality, beyond strong Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies. We will challenge portfolio companies to deliver, by requiring measurable results on hiring and promotion, particularly into leadership teams. This complements our long-standing efforts to seek living wages, equitable access to health care, and robust environmental protections, especially for low-income and communities of color.
- Since 2003, we have voted against corporate boards without at least one person of color in the US. We will escalate this effort by filing shareholder proposals if we don’t see progress. We will progressively increase this threshold in the years to come as we have done with gender diversity, where we require at least 30% female representation on boards in the US and Europe.
- We have joined our partners at Confluence Philanthropy and 48 other organizations representing $137B in AUM in calling for community-wide action to advance racial equity among values aligned investors, committing to discuss and identify industry barriers to racial equity lens investing and to taking action to break down these barriers.
- Going forward, we will actively seek collaboration with civil rights and racial justice organizations in our engagements, to accelerate change by bringing their deep understanding of the barriers and solutions to systemic racism.
We will be bold and imaginative as we fight for our interconnected future. Today, we resolve to do our part to hasten the fulfilment of Juneteenth’s promise of freedom and justice.