Last Tuesday, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits announced that it will be adding an investment screen targeting for-profit prisons, adding to existing screens that prohibited investment in weapons manufacturing, tobacco, alcohol, pornography and gambling. Their decision came after correspondence with the Interagency Task Force on Immigration and a petition campaign organized by the Board of Church and Society calling on the Board of Pensions to divest its shares in Corrections Corp. of America and GEO Group. These two companies recorded profits of $2.9 billion in 2010 - money made through incarcerations that disproportionately targeted immigrants, the poor and people of color.
Unfortunately, the Board of Pensions' laudable decision to divest does not mean the United Methodist Church is off the hook regarding its investments. The Board of Pensions and other UMC bodies continue to hold stock in companies implicated in serious human rights abuses, notably those taking place in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The Board of Pensions invests in companies, including Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, that knowingly profit from the Israeli occupation. Caterpillar sells specially designed bulldozers to the Israeli military, which regularly demolish Palestinian homes and help construct illegal Israeli settlements. Hewlett-Packard produces equipment for Israeli checkpoints inside the West Bank and provides data storage to illegal settlements. Motorola Solutions profits from the sale of surveillance and communications equipment to settlements and Israeli military forces inside the West Bank.
Despite years of engagement from concerned shareholders, including representatives of the United Methodist Church, Caterpillar, HP and Motorola have made clear they have no intention of changing their practices. (See a Presbyterian agency's report on failed negotiations with these companies here.) For this reason, a growing number of United Methodists are calling for the church to immediately divest from these three companies and begin to engage with any other companies in UMC portfolios that are similarly involved in the Israeli occupation. The church is poised to take this important step if delegates pass a resolution put forward by the Board of Church and Society at this spring's General Conference in Tampa, Florida. (Participants in a GBPHB plan can sign a petition to the Board of Pensions here.)
The Board of Pensions' announcement last week was a positive step, but it was also a reminder that United Methodists can't take for granted that our denomination's investments reflect our values and principles. We need to remain aware of our church's investments and engaged in shaping them to reflect our Social Principles and our faith in a God of justice and love.
Emily McNeill is a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the Project Manager of United Methodist Kairos Response. For more information about the movement to align United Methodist investments with resolutions on Israel/Palestine, visit www.kairosresponse.org.