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Mainline church groups take aim at companies trading with communists

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In a new departure for churches in the corporate-responsibility movement, two stockholder resolutions have been filed this year on corporation trade with communist countries.

The Episcopal Church has filed a resolution with IBM regarding computers for the Soviet Union. And the United Church of Christ Board for World Ministries has filed resolutions with 21 corporations seeking data about trade with all the communist countries of Eastern Europe.

These are among some 90 resolutions church bodies have filed for action in this year's annual meetings, most of which occur in the spring.

A compilation published by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility here shows that, as in past years, many resolutions challenge corporate activity related to South Africa and the third world, in addition to such domestic issues as employment practices, activity endangering health and the environment, bank redlining, and military sales.

The center, an agency related to the National Council of Churches but operating under its own board, lists the resolutions pertaining to communist countries among those filed "independently."

But Timothy Smith, the center's director, said this was only because the sponsors developed them after his board decided which issues the staff would work on this year. The center itself has no policy, he said, but only assists its member bodies -- 14 Protestant denominations and more than 180 Roman Catholic religious communities -- with whatever issues they choose to pursue.

Church involvement in the corporate-responsibility movement took its present form toward the end of the 1960s, largely as an outgrowth of concern about racial justice and the Vietnam war.

As churches protested corporation employment practices, involvement in white- ruled areas of southern Africa and manufacture of war materials, they began reassessing their position as part owners of corporations.

Though the total is unknown, the churches have developed fairly substantial stockholdings through pension, endowment, and reserve investments. The Episcopal Church owns some 20,000 shares of IBM, for example, and several church portfolios include thousands of shares in dozens of other companies.


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