USA: Human Rights Impact Assessment Passed

Florence Deacon OSF

Some of you have heard me talk at VIVAT meetings about how investments can be used to encourage change in the behavior of corporations.   Today we got a HUGE win when the stockholders of a gun company, Sturm Ruger, voted in favor of our stockholder proposal urging the board of directors to oversee a third-party Human Rights Impact Assessment as a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. I can’t believe this passed after the company’s leadership worked so hard against it.

Submitting the resolution was a way to implement the Laudato Si Action Platform goals of Ecological Economics and Responding to the Cry of the Poor, which includes respect for all life and how it called on us to use our investments as a catalyst for systemic change.

I belong to the Gun Safety working group of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, and we have been engaging gun companies for several years, most recently regarding human rights. This year I was involved in strategy sessions and negotiations with two gun companies, Sturm Ruger and Smith and Wesson. Sturm Ruger gun company has a human rights policy, but we consider it very weak.    Smith and Wesson doesn’t have a human rights policy, so we urged them to develop one. It is hard to keep the two discussions separate as our issues overlapped.

When they weren’t responsive to our concerns, we filed a resolution asking for a third-party human rights assessment to help them identify and remediate any risks. (see resolution).

We were also engaging their code of conduct and their commitments to safety and environmental stewardship, which contain many elements of a human rights policy. Still, Sturm and Ruger was reluctant to frame it on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They thought this would open them up to lawsuits.

We also engaged with Smith and Wesson gun company, asking them to write a human rights policy. They had many elements in it in their code of conduct and environmental and health policies but did not put them into the context of human rights. We gave them the human rights policy of a tobacco company that acknowledged its product could be dangerous and showed how it was attempting to mitigate risks.

Notice that we put the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights into our resolutions, but they feared that due to the nature of their product, this could open them to lawsuits.   Some of our responses are in the New York Times article:



Ruger shareholders vote for a study of gunmakers’ impact on human rights

By Emily Flitter, June 1, 2022

It’s not clear whether Ruger, one of a small number of public gun manufacturers, will follow the nonbinding proposal.

Eight days after 19 children and two of their teachers were killed in a mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, shareholders of the gun maker Sturm Ruger voted on Wednesday to urge the company to hire an outside firm to study the effect its business and products have on human rights.

The proposal, put forth by a group of activist shareholders who are members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, is nonbinding. It is not clear whether Ruger, one of a small number of public gun manufacturers, will choose to follow it. Ruger would have to open itself up to scrutiny by an independent firm seeking to determine how the company’s business practices and the guns it made affected human rights on a broad scale.

The company had urged shareholders to vote against the proposal and said its proponents were using tools designed to let investors have a say over public companies’ governance to “advance the gun control agenda they have been unable to achieve through legislative and other means.”

Ruger’s general counsel, Kevin B. Reid, did not respond to an email seeking comment. Neither perpetrator of the most recent high-profile shootings, in Uvalde and Buffalo, used a Ruger-made gun. But Ruger is one of just three publicly traded gun companies and is thus more open to pressure from the public than other gun makers, including Daniel Defense, which made the weapon used in Uvalde.

“I’m elated that today, investors stood up for the safety of our children and told Sturm Ruger to do serious due diligence as to how its business will be part of ensuring that all in our country have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said Sister Judy Byron, whose order, the Adrian Dominican Sisters, was among the supporters of the proposal.

The Ruger human rights impact resolution was led by Common Spirit Health, a Chicago-based nonprofit hospital chain. It is one of several efforts by ICCR members to use their ownership of gun manufacturer stocks to urge the companies to improve the safety of their products. A similar proposal is on this year’s shareholder proxy for Smith & Wesson’s annual meeting. Last year, shareholders voted down another effort to get Smith & Wesson to adopt a human rights policy.

Sister Byron, who dialed into the virtual Ruger meeting on Wednesday morning, said Ruger executives never mentioned the Uvalde shooting or the killing a week earlier of 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo.

“I was surprised,” she said.

Josh Zinner, the chief executive of ICCR, said Wednesday’s victory for the group was “by no means a solution” to gun violence or mass shootings. Instead, he saw it as a “critical first step toward mitigating them.”