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US Unitarian Universalist Assembly decides to invest in accord with human rights

The socially responsible investing policy of the Unitarian Universalist Assembly, with 1000+ member congregations in the US, places "the human rights of Palestinians squarely among the human rights that all human beings share"

On June 26, 2020 delegates to the virtually held General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) voted to adopt the Business Resolution “Embodying Human Rights in Our Investment Decisions”. The vote in support of the resolution was overwhelming with 95% of the delegates voting for adoption.

The General Assembly is the governing body of the UUA and adoption of the resolution by the UUA General Assembly means that it now becomes official policy of the UUA, augmenting existing guidelines on socially responsible investing. The resolution as adopted can be read here.

The resolution calls on the UUA to strengthen the human rights guidance that applies to corporate investment/divestment and shareholder advocacy, including in the management of the Unitarian Universalist Common Endowment Fund (UUCEF). The UUCEF holds the UUA’s endowment as well as the endowments of several hundred Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations.

The resolution is in profound agreement with the values of UUs, for whom the first of their seven principles is respect for the worth and dignity of every human being, and was cosponsored by several UU social justice/human rights groups acting in accord with those values, including: Black Lives UU, UU Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education, UUs for Justice in the Middle East, UU Ministry for Earth and UU Peace Ministry Network. “We must stop supporting products and services that cause harm (oppression and repression) in our communities” said Rev. Kimberly Johnson, minister of the UU Congregation of South Fork in Bridgehampton, NY, and member of the Organizing Collective Board of Black Lives UU.

The resolution was developed in association with the UUA Investment Committee and the UUA Socially Responsible Investing Committee, which manage the funds of the UUCEF in alignment with UU values. These UUA investment committees are in full support of the resolution, which provides a basis for bolstering the UUCEF’s existing Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Guidelines with regard to human rights.

Specifically, the resolution calls on the UUA:

  1. To cease purchasing shares in corporations that are consistently, knowingly, and directly complicit in egregious human rights violations and violations of international law, and to divest from shares directly held in such corporations (if any); and
  2. To undertake a comprehensive review of the UUCEF’s SRI Guidelines with regard to human rights concerns, identify significant gaps, if any, and amend the guidelines as necessary; and
  3. To formalize mechanisms for communication between the UUA investment committees (UUA Investment Committee and UUA Socially Responsible Investing Committee) and UU social justice groups, UU congregations and UU individuals concerned about social justice regarding development and implementation of the UUCEF’s SRI Guidelines and the impact of UU SRI initiatives.

The resolution also encourages UU associated organizations, UU congregations and UU individuals to examine their investments and corporate engagement plans to ensure support for the human rights of all people with a view to taking action to end human rights violations.

The coming together of different social justice groups is an important feature of the resolution. “Human Rights are universal and working together for them across specific issues makes all of us stronger,” said Curtis Bell, President of Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME). “UUJME is pleased that the ‘Whereas’ statements of the resolution place the human rights of Palestinians squarely among the human rights that all human beings share – Black people, people of color, Indigenous people, LGBTQI people, disabled people, Uighurs, prisoners, refugees, religious minorities and others,” said Bell.

Building a strong connection between UUA investment committees and UU social justice organizations is also an important feature of the resolution. As Katia Hansen, President of UU Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education, says, “This resolution creates a mechanism for investment specialists to get guidance on social justice issues from social justice specialists.”

This resolution may also inform the use of investor power by other religious denominations and coalitions of faith- and values-based investors such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the Investor Alliance for Human Rights. Features of the resolution such as the concern for all human rights and violations of international law affected and enabled by the activities and policies of private corporations, the long-term commitment to strengthen and publicly promote the use of investor power to advance human rights, and the formalization of communication channels to facilitate greater collaboration between those who are responsible for the denomination’s investments and those in the church most directly involved in social justice will be of broad interest beyond the UUA.

Our nation is now in deep turmoil over the racism, militarism, poverty and inequality endemic in our country. This resolution provides us with a powerful tool in the struggle against these social evils here in the United States and in the world as a whole.


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