A number of churches and other religious organizations will use their combined leverage of more than $20 million worth of stocks in American businesses this spring to combat racism in Southern Africa.
A record number of church groups -- 52 in all -- has filed shareholder resolutions with 30 American corporations doing business with South Africa, Rhodesia and Namibia. All three countries have been the focus of criticism from churches and others for racially discriminatory policies and practices.
The resolutions will be considered in annual corporate meetings coming up this spring.
One series of resolutions asks such major American banking institutions as the Bank of America and Wells Fargo to establish policies that would put an end to bank loans to the government of South Africa as long as that country continues its racially restrictive laws.
While some of the resolutions merely ask for information on company practices relating to Southern Africa, others specify actions to be taken.
Seven religious groups and one college, for example, are demanding that Eastman Kodak agree not to sell photographic supplies "which can be used for oppressive purposes" to the government of South Africa. The requirement by the South African government for blacks, but not whites, to carry identity passes at all times has long been under attack by religious groups.
Other resolutions, backed by more than $4 million worth of stockholdings, demand that Ford and General Motors refuse to sell vehicles to the South African military and police.
Still other resolutions are aimed at cutting off oil shipments to Rhodesia and the sale or lease of computers to South Africa.
The use of investments to battle social ills is being coordinated by the New York-based Interfaith Center for Dorporate Responsibility.
"The crucial role of U.S. banks and corporations in strengthening white minority rule needs to be challenged as never before," said Timothy Smith, the ICCR director. He expressed the hope that other institutions -- foundations, universities, pension funds -- would cooperate with religious groups in their challenge to racism.
The use of the stockholder clout of established institutions of religion as a tool to effect social change got under way more than a decade ago.
It allows churches to make their investments, some of which are very substantial, do double duty: first to provide income to support organizational programs, and second as a launching pad for attacks on the social policy of major corporations.
The tactics were developed during the Vietnam war era, when religious and other groups realized it was more fruitful to oppose war profits from within the corporate structure than to sell stocks.
More than 150 Roman Catholic orders and dioceses and 14 Protestant denominations cooperate through the ICCR. They have filed more than 80 resolutions for the coming round of meetings of 62 U.S. corporations.
In addition to Southern Africa, resolutions deal with a variety of issues, including television advertising of highly sugared products to children, the health and safety of workers in nuclear weapons plants, bank loans to Chile and insurance redlining practices in inner cities.