The Presbyterian Church (USA) seeks to be a “socially responsible” investor and thus has a long “no-no” list in terms of business investments and holdings. The question is whether or not that social responsibility extends to companies with whom the denomination does business and from whom the denomination earns income.
The denomination is forbidden through its governing body, the General Assembly, from investing in companies engaged in particular pursuits that the PCUSA regards as socially irresponsible or morally reprehensible. The Mission Responsibility through Investment web site states that “The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) urges divestment and/or proscription of some corporations due to their involvement in military-related production (MR), tobacco (TO), human rights violations (HR), and operating for-profit prisons (FPP).”
So, if we learned that a company like Nestle has been found guilty of gross human rights violations, and the PCUSA held shares of Nestle in either its Presbyterian Foundation portfolio or its Board of Pensions portfolio, then MRTI would initiate a process of corporate engagement that could result in Nestle being added to the divestment list.
Or, if Overture 045 from Newark Presbytery “Eradicating slavery from the supply chains of vendors and other businesses which the PCUSA and its various bodies do business” were to pass, immediate divestment would be required.
The current divestment list includes recognizable names like: Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Phillip Morris, Raytheon, Reynolds and Saab. The 2014 General Assembly added Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions to the list for producing items used by the nation of Israel in what the PCUSA regards as “non peaceful pursuits.”
Overture 012 which will be before the 2016 General Assembly in Portland, Ore. in June, seeks to lengthen the PCUSA divestment list considerably by the addition of companies who own the rights to fossil fuels still in the ground. And that brings us to the PCUSA’s new tenant at its headquarters located at 100 Witherspoon Ave., Louisville, Ky.
ISCO is a pipe company whose new 35,000 sq. ft. international headquarters is now inside the Presbyterian Center in Louisville. ISCO is the denomination’s single largest tenant and provides a significant new income stream to the financially struggling denomination. That is cause for rejoicing as long as you focus on the piping they supply for ground water and golf courses. But look further and you’ll see that ISCO is the industry leader in the production of something called HDPE: high density high-density polyethylene.
ISCO’s website describes it as “a perfect choice for oil patch, and oil and gas gathering systems.” That’s fossil fuel extraction.
ISCO’s core business is mining, oil and gas, and nuclear energy production. Their website celebrates that “ISCO Industries offers solutions for various power piping applications in nuclear, fossil and renewable generation facilities. Whatever your power needs, ISCO Industries supplies pipe, fittings, fabricated fittings, related piping products and more.”
You see the rub. The land-rich cash-poor PCUSA headquarters needed a tenant. ISCO needed space, has cash and was based in Louisville. The match seems perfect. Unless, of course, the denomination’s convictions about climate change, creation care and investments are consistently applied and result in the approval of Overture 012.
Certainly there are alternatives being proposed (Overtures 032, 033 and 034) but it is reasonable to imagine that fossil-fuel divestment enthusiasts might well be protesting a tenant inside their own church’s national office building.