The Magazine of Corporate Responsibility

Why a Muslim Investment Company Thinks Shareholder Activism is What the Country Needs Now

by Joshua Brockwell
Azzad Asset Management

Stock Market Screen_000005720299XSmallAs President-elect Trump goes about the task of putting his administration and cabinet in order, one thing looks certain: corporate lobbyists are setting their sights on the political novice and his team. I read with great concern a recent article on the influence peddlers lining up to sway the new administration. Doubtless the pernicious influence of lobbyists was present during the Obama years, but for the anti-establishment candidate who staked his political reputation on "draining the swamp," the hypocrisy is particularly striking. 

It is not surprising that corporate interests exercise power whenever and wherever possible in order to maximize profits, and by extension, value for shareholders. That value can take many forms, however, and there are often competing definitions of the word itself.

Corporations make many of the most consequential decisions in today's society, and in a Trump administration the private sector may well take on an outsized role. Those who feel disempowered after last week's election result may want to turn to shareholder advocacy as a way to work for the social and economic progress they would like to see. 

I'm proud that on Election Day my firm, Azzad Asset Management, submitted its first shareholder resolution, calling on Exxon Mobil to increase transparency in its lobbying spending. The United Steelworkers (USW) union is the lead filer, and Azzad and other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) are co-filing. We took this action following reports alleging that Exxon had funded organizations that promoted climate change denial and that it intentionally misled the public and its shareholders about the risks of climate change.

Given Trump's infamous campaign statement about banning Muslim immigrants from entering the U.S., it's important to note that Azzad is a socially responsible investment firm founded in 1997 by a Muslim immigrant from Jordan.

We shouldn't take for granted that people have recourse to act on issues they care about. Much like voting in a general election, investors making their voices heard through the corporate resolutions process should be considered an essential action, as we all benefit when diverse opinions compete in the marketplace of ideas and are put to a vote. Each resolution is a brick in the edifice of social justice, keeping the forces of unchecked corporate power at bay.

The fact that a financial services firm like Azzad, informed by the principles of Islam and Islamic finance, has stepped into the arena and cast its lot with individuals who value the principles of fairness and equality is a powerful symbol in a country where the future is less certain today than we believed it was last week.

Our shareholder resolution is the first of what we hope will be many. It's a small but important contribution to the betterment of men and women from all walks of life in this country, each of whom benefits from transparency and upright corporate conduct. Whether seeking lobbying disclosure, environmental protections, worker safety, or minority representation, shareholder advocacy on social justice issues is one way to work for the reforms many people were thinking of when they cast their ballots last week.

That's part of what makes investing--and more importantly, America--great.

Joshua Brockwell is Investment Communications Director at Azzad Asset Management, a socially responsible registered investment advisor located in Falls Church, Virginia. He can be reached at joshua@azzadfunds.com.

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