2016 Advocacy Report
JLens provides long overdue representation for the Jewish community at responsible/impact investing forums organized by the United Nations, interfaith coalitions, the Vatican, universities, NGOs, and other convenings. The Jewish Advocacy Strategy enables JLens to advocate on behalf of Jewish communal concerns - social, environmental, and support for Israel - in the responsible investing field. Examples from 2016 listed below.
Ethical recruitment to avoid human slavery - Jewish tradition recognizes that any forced employment is odious. In the words of the rabbis, we are servants to God, not slaves to other humans. The Global Slavery Index estimates 45 million people are victims of forced labor and slavery today. As electronics and technology companies continue to receive a low score on ethical recruitment, JLens joined the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility to encourage the sector to provide more transparent and ethical recruiting practices.
Fair treatment of agricultural workers – What the Western world calls ‘workers’ rights’ could also be called in Jewish thought ‘employer obligations.’ Rabbis, from the Talmud through modern-day Israel, have noted the obligation of employers to treat their employees with fairness and goodwill. JLens joined with the Coalition of Imokalee Workers to encourage Kroger to join the Fair Food Program, an initiative that improves the treatment of workers in the agricultural sector. Major retailers including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Walmart, have already signed on.
Worker safety in Bangladesh – On the third anniversary of Rana Plaza, where nearly 1,200 garment factory workers lost their lives, JLens collaborated with over 250 institutional investors from twelve countries with over $4.5 trillion assets under management to promote continued reforms of the global apparel sector and guarantee the safety and well-being of workers. A deadly fire at another factory in Bangladesh in 2016 highlights the urgency of this issue.
Antibiotic resistance and public health - Overuse of antibiotics in our food system contributes to antimicrobial resistance, a significant human health concern. JLens joined a global investor coalition representing over $189 billion in assets under management to call on meat and food companies and restaurants to end the use of antibiotics that are so important to human medicine in their operations and global supply chains.
Food waste - 23% of US methane emissions come from food decomposing in landfills; and meanwhile, 50 million Americans are food-insecure and could benefit from food recovery programs. While there is a general injunction in Jewish tradition to avoid wasting (bal tashchit), there is also a special emphasis on food going to those in need (Kesubos 67b - Mar Ukba’s wife; see also Rav Huna, Ta’anis 20b). JLens co-filed a shareholder resolution at Costco to encourage the company to make strides in its diversion of food waste from landfills. JLens remains in discussions with Costco and other responsible investing institutions on this topic.
Support for the Paris Climate Accord – Beyond general Jewish obligations to care for the earth (l’ovdah ul’shomrah), there are specific mandates from the rabbis about limitations on the use of one’s land, because of how it might impact neighbors. Today, climate change is a global version of this ancient teaching. JLens joined more than 400 investors, major corporations and businesses to affirm the business and investment community’s commitment to the Paris climate accords and the goal of reducing global carbon emissions.
Reduce methane emissions - JLens joined a coalition of investors with $3.6 trillion in assets under management to encourage the EPA to adopt strong regulation of methane from the oil and gas industry. This advocacy effort contributed to the successful strengthening of the EPA’s standards around methane emission.
Deforestation – Starting with the Torah, Judaism has recognized the need for a communal effort to preserve our trees and green spaces. Ancient Israeli cities had a ‘green belt’ (migrash) around the outside, where trees could be planted but no construction could occur. We can learn from this Biblical example the power of joint efforts to preserve forests and green space. JLens supported an investor coalition calling for more than twenty companies to create a joint action mechanism to fight deforestation in Latin America.
Support for Israel:
JLens is the only investment organization speaking out against the abuse of responsible investing by the anti-Israel BDS movement. Jewish tradition sees all Jews as bound together to care for one another (kol yisrael arevin zeh bazeh). We must work together to fight anti-Jewish oppression, including unfair singling out of Israel by the BDS movement. While many of our conversations with corporate leaders, responsible investors, and faith-based organizations are private, public examples include:
Methodist Pension and BDS – JLens wrote an editorial detailing how the $21 billion Methodist pension violated their responsible investing policy in order to support BDS and divest from Israeli companies. As a result, the Methodist pension plan’s treasurer Rhys Read objected to the Israel divestment decision and called on the pension to reverse course. In response to the growing controversy surrounding the Methodist pension's support of BDS, in 2016 Methodist leadership voted to not pursue additional BDS tactics for now, including divestment from US companies with ties to Israel.
Anti-Israel Shareholder Resolutions – A number of companies faced Israel-related shareholder resolutions this year. For example, Cisco faced two campaigns, namely the Holy Land Principles and the Heartland Initiative. JLens’ Executive Director spoke against these resolutions at Cisco's annual shareholder meeting and encouraged shareholders to vote NO. Both resolutions were defeated and Cisco's CEO Chuck Robbins stated that "Cisco partners with countries around the world, from the US...to Israel...to Saudi Arabia to improve GDP, job growth, healthcare, education, inclusion, and more."