Religion

Has the church a place In the boardrooms of the nation?

CAROLYN PURDEN May 31 1976
Religion

Has the church a place In the boardrooms of the nation?

CAROLYN PURDEN May 31 1976

Has the church a place In the boardrooms of the nation?

Religion

Canada’s churches are pressing ahead with their campaign to change the activities and attitudes of some of the country’s corporate giants currently doing business in southern Africa. Brought together by their mutual distaste for apartheid, the rigid segregationist policy of the South African government, the churches have been causing discomfiture in business boardrooms, even if they haven’t had much impact to date on corporate policy. An ecumenical task force—supported by the Anglican, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, United and Presbyterian denominations— has zeroed in on the top management of such firms as Alcan Aluminium Ltd. (with investments in South African manufacturing and smelting operations). Falconbridge Nickel Mines Ltd. (mining interests in Namibia and Rhodesia), and four chartered banks—Montreal, Toronto-Dominion, Nova Scotia and Commerce—which have lent some $20 million to the South African government and its agencies.

The churches’ complaint is that the companies are giving implicit support to the white-supremacist policies of Pretoria and Salisbury when they ought to be working for social change. The companies’ general response has been that they must obey local laws, however abhorrent, when it comes to dealing with their African employees. The task force, under coordinator Renate Pratt of Toronto, has adopted a two-stage approach. First, it contacts companies in which the churches hold investments and seeks top-management meetings to discuss southern Africa. If the task force isn’t reassured, its members attend corporate annual meetings as shareholders and raise their concerns from the floor.

Generally the corporations have been polite, but unmoved. “It is the bank’s belief that our investment activity in South Africa ... supports the view that social development and enlightenment stems greatly from economic development,” Commerce Bank chairman J. Page Wadsworth told church spokesmen at the bank’s 1975 annual meeting. Church intervention at annual meetings—although undertaken with advance knowledge of corporation executives—has upset some company officials. It has also upset other shareholders and not a few parishioners. A letter from Eric Harrington of Montreal, published last year in Canadian Churchman, the Anglican newspaper, suggested: “You should stick to the souls, and not the boardroom . . . your display at the Alcan Aluminium annual meeting ... leave(s) me and many other nauseated.”

German-born Mrs. Pratt, 47, went to Uganda in 1953 to work with a medical research unit. While there she met, and subsequently married, University of Toronto political science professor Cranford Pratt. In I960 he accepted an appointment as a university principal in Tanzania, and his wife spent her time there doing voluntary work among Tanzanian women. The Pratts stayed in East Africa for five years. “I wouldn’t have had this sort of sympathy for what is going on without time in Africa,” Mrs. Pratt says today.

She believes the task force has had some impact. “Because of persistent questioning from us, they have had to familiarize themselves much more with the South African situation than they otherwise would have done.” CAROLYN PURDEN