Background on the Portland Socially Responsible Investment Committee

The Socially Responsible Investment Committee spent a year discussing what companies should be on the City’s do-not-buy list with criteria of concerns about the environment, health (including weapons production), abusive labor practices, impacts on human rights, extreme tax avoidance and exercise of such a level of market dominance so as to disrupt normal competitive market forces.

A great list and one the community volunteers on the committee took very seriously, researching and discussing for hours. They brought their report to City Council last November recommending the City add ten companies to the do-not-buy list including Wells Fargo and six other banks, Caterpillar, Amazon and Nestle, as well as keeping Walmart on the list. They were not asked to discuss fossil fuel divestment but it was understood that it would remain on the list (as the Carbon Underground 200).

At the November meeting two of the recommendations were controversial: Caterpillar and Wells Fargo. The former drew accusations of anti-Semitism by conservative members of the Jewish community because the company has been targeted by human rights activists for supplying equipment for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Interestingly, the SRI committee cited Caterpillar for four other concerns as well (environmental, tax avoidance, labor practices and ethics and governance). Those testifying in support of listing Caterpillar added its contracts to build DAPL–an issue that was not in the spotlight when the committee discussed the company in March 2016.

While there was no testimony in support of Wells Fargo, the fact that they serve as the official bank for the City appeared to be a barrier to placing them on the do-not-buy list.

When the resolution came before Council again for a vote on December 21st, then-Commissioner Steve Novick, who had been deluged with pressure from citizens to add Caterpillar and Wells Fargo to the do-not-buy list, made an amendment to do so. However, Commissioner Fritz, knowing this amendment would doom the entire SRI program, proposed her own amendment to temporarily suspend corporate investments until Spring and directed the City Treasurer to bring them a new investment policy at that time. This amendment passed and brought us to the April 5th meeting.

Written by: Sandy Polishuk