United Church Funds (UCF) has recently joined two investor initiatives aimed at protecting human rights, domestically and abroad. As responsible investors, UCF is concerned with environmental, social and governance factors that contradict its clients’ values and the associated risks to the reputation and value of their portfolio holdings.

The first initiative – developed with the support of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) – seeks to end forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. More than 80 percent of China’s cotton, and almost 20 percent of all global production, is grown in the Uyghur Region.[1] The Call to Action states that brands and retailers across sectors face a grave risk of benefiting from human rights violations, including forced labor, both in and from the Uyghur Region. It calls on global apparel brands, including Under Armour, Nike and Ralph Lauren, to commit to auditing their supply chain ties in and withdrawing from the region.

“Brands and corporations have responsibility to uphold internationally recognized human rights, even when state actors do not. As a faith-inspired organization, we see this work as a recognition of the divine dignity of every human being,” said Matthew Illian, UCF’s Director of Responsible Investing.

The second initiative seeks to protect dairy workers in Vermont. This effort, led by a worker-driven nonprofit called Migrant Justice, calls on grocery stores to buy milk from farms that commit to joining the Milk with Dignity program. Migrant Justice reports that in a survey conducted between 2018 and 2019, 40 percent of surveyed workers earn below minimum wage and only 16 percent had medical insurance coverage.

And as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, workers in this industry face more stressful work and questionable safety conditions than usual. The Milk with Dignity program helps ensure that compensation is just and that workplace conditions are safe.

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has already committed to joining this effort, and UCF is joining Migrant Justice in asking one of the largest grocery chains in the Northeast region, Hannaford Supermarkets, to join as well. To read more about Migrant Justice and the Milk with Dignity campaign, click here.

“Supporting human rights efforts across international markets is part of UCF’s commitment to responsible investing and to upholding the United Church of Christ’s General Synod resolutions on human rights and economic justice.[2] This is an important way we live out our motto: Investing with a Mission,” said Charles Buck, UCF’s President and CEO.

Click here to download the press release.

[1] “The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Exposé on Forced Labor in Xinjiang,” Jernigan Global, 1028, 22 July 2019, https://www.gujcot.com/upload_files/news/Jernigan%20Global%2022-July-2019.pdf.

[2] Human Rights (Pronouncement) (79-GS-31), Affirming & Supporting Human Rights in the People’s Republic of China (95-GS-47), A More Just Economy: $15 Minimum Wage, Living Wage and Job Creation (17-GS-47)