Acton Institute Powerblog

Christian Shareholder Activism: Good or Bad?

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Over the years, Acton commentators have had reason to criticize religious groups that try to influence corporate policy through shareholder resolutions and similar activities. The criticism has revolved around two points. One, Christian shareholder activism has often focused on issues that are matters of prudential application of moral teaching (e.g., environmental practices) rather than non-negotiable moral evils (e.g., abortion). Two, such activism often seems to imply, if not explicitly proclaim, that the normal operation of business is not adequately “good,” and that business must promote a series of programs extrinsic to its enterprise in order to prove its commitment to the common good.

But there may be a valid sort of shareholder activism, which does focus on non-negotiable moral evils. This kind of activism, far from obstructing the profitable operation of a beneficial enterprise, challenges businesses to practice trade in ways that promote rather than detract from the building of a healthy moral culture. Companies that provide or promote abortion or pornography, for example, while furnishing legally permissible services to customers, are not satisfying “genuine human needs” (see Robert Kennedy, The Good That Business Does). It is reasonable for Christians to exhort such businesses to shift from the provision of harmful products to the provision of “goods,” in the full sense of the term. That seems to be the motivation behind this recent press release, for example.

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of


  • Jonathan

    If one is a shareholder of these corporations, and receives revenue from their experiments on embryos, etc., then one may be engaged in proportionalist reasoning. It seems to me that such reasoning would run “While I receive benefit from moral evils due to participation in their commission, as long as I don’t agree, and actively work against the evil, the benefits may be retained.”

    It strikes me as problematic.

  • Who make up the cells of gray matter that exercise the prudence you are so keen to defend Kevin, in the brain of your “corporation”? Lets assume for arguments sake that the nutrients that keep this “corporation” alive are similar to those it models itself on – a human person (not that it is a mere beast right?):
    __space to grow
    What part of this environment is so neurotoxic to a corporation’s prudential judgement?
    Let’s assume even sick corporations whose growth is stunted have healthy gray matter, then we can discount “space.”
    Further, let’s assume that in a deflationary market where customers become scare, a corporation’s gray matter still functions, so we can ignore “food.”
    Now, if the financial resources to continue operating, cash flow from credit, dries up, the staff including management can be excessed. we don’t expect to socialize that misfortune, so no government bailout for private gain right? So lets’ discount “water” since the shareholders still have their certificate of ownership even should its value is close to nil.

    What’s left? What makes up the “air” so necessary for the existence of the corporate person? The law, under which the Board of Governors registered the enterprise, right? The brand equity is still covered by copyright and patents of the goods and services making up the corporate memory and identity, and stockholders retain the rights to their private property (NOT the executive management were salaried employees, we discounted as not germane at point 3 in our argument, NOT pension-fund- or mutual-fund-clients of traders in futures or derivatives markets (since the asset is worthless and no longer traded and will be written off the books at the end of the current financial quarter) and NOT the board members, unless their private property includes stock certificates in the corporation on whose board they serve.

    So Kevin, if the only thing that’s neurotoxic to the moral health of a corporation is the air it breathes, the law, why can the shareholders not abort the actions of their own body? The law of the land allows human persons to do that, and we did concede that we do not think capitalism is “beastly” did we not? If your logic held water Roe v. Wade would be a figment of our imagination. In our culture, “water” is now approaching scalding temperatures as hot as steam: our money is evaporating in a fata morgana of credit …

    perhaps our Heavenly Father in sending us some advice, but we prefer to hold our noses and drink the poison than breath in his Ruach!

    God Bless Acton for trying hard, but you’re beginning to sound like Mrs Clinton “I work so hard, I deserve it”
    The Protestant work ethic is a heresy, the labor value of value is a utilitarian fantasy. The human person needs air first to breath, not water/capital.

  • Clare Krishan


    for a scholarly critique of the faulty Calvinist sotierology behind labor theory of value aka cost-price “efficiencies of scale” model opposed to the marginal price model compatible with Catholic tradition of subjective value determined by human persons endowed with free will.