Jesuit Success on Human Rights at O-M Group

O-M group recently announced a new human right's policy after dialogue with Jesuits from around the country, including Loyola University of Chicago. Special thanks to Fr. Kafarhire who is a member of the Shareholder Advocacy Committee at Loyola.

(Dec-20) The Jesuit Conference of the United States said it was encouraged by today’s announcement that OM Group (NYSE: OMG) approved a corporate human rights policy on November 15. Jesuits have been engaged with the company since October 2007 on issues related to safety concerns of artisanal (hand) miners around the company’s cobalt smelter in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Jesuits and other religious investors asserted the need for a comprehensive human rights policy and operational guidance to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for adverse human rights impacts.

“We appreciate the commitment OM Group has put forth in recognizing the risks that their cobalt operations pose in the DRC,” said John Sealey, provincial assistant for international ministries and socially responsible investing representative for the Chicago-Detroit Province. “And in turn, the adoption of a human rights policy reflects their commitment to mitigate safety concerns for the people of the DRC and protect shareholder value.”

“We believe that this is a good beginning but there is much work to be done to make this human rights policy comprehensive,” said John Kleiderer, policy director for the Jesuit Conference of the United States. “We look forward to the opportunity to work closely with OM Group on its implementation and to have an ongoing dialogue around their human rights performance.”

Sealey noted, “OM Group is a good corporate citizen in the DRC with the smelter operating according to high technical and safety standards. Additionally, the company provides good wages and regularly contributes to local charities. However, global expectations of businesses to respect human rights also confer a responsibility on the company to have its joint venture partners remediate human rights risks like the unsafe conditions around the Lubumbashi smelter where artisanal miners are routinely injured.”

A significant source of OM Group’s cobalt is from the DRC. Jesuit representatives from the United States and Europe visited Lubumbashi multiple times and were concerned to learn of the safety hazards posed by the company’s adjacent property belonging to the OM Group’s joint venture partner. In 2007, three children were killed when a large mound of material collapsed on them.

The Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus was the lead filer of a 2011 shareholder proposal petitioning the company to create a human rights policy that conforms to standards set forth by the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The proposal received 43% support of the shares voted at the OM Group annual meeting held May 10, 2011. Endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council this summer after six years of development, the Guiding Principles now set the authoritative framework to respect human rights for all business enterprises, both transnational and others, regardless of their size, sector, location and operational context, ownership and structure.

The Jesuit-led shareholder proposal was co-filed by nine other Jesuit provinces in the United States and Canada, Loyola University Chicago, Regis High School (New York), Creighton Prep, Catholic Health East, Mercy Investment Services, Inc. and the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk. Additionally, this engagement received assistance from the Jesuit-run Center for Social Action (CEPAS) in Kinshasa and the Jesuit European Office (OCIPE).

Anna Bradley, Jesuit Conference consultant on socially responsible investing, noted “the shareholder coalition particularly benefited from the participation of Jesuit Father Murhula Kafarhire of the Central Africa Province and a citizen of the DRC. At the 2009 annual shareholders meeting, Fr. Kafarhire stated shareholders’ concerns maintaining that mitigation of human rights risks will benefit all stakeholders and serve to create a competitive advantage for the company.”

OM Group, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, is the world’s leading producer of cobalt-based specialty chemicals. Cobalt is a small but essential component of many electronic devices. In August, the company completed its acquisition of Vacuumschmelze GmbH & Co. KG of Hanau, Germany. The combined companies will have approximately 6400 employees and operate manufacturing facilities in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.

In addition to the work with OM Group, the Jesuits were the lead shareholder proponents in the engagements that led to corporate human rights policies by Chevron, Occidental Petroleum and Monsanto.

Original press release here.

National Jesuit Committee on Investment Responsibility:

OM Group’s Human Rights Policy:

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