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Shareholders Urge Nike to Leave U.S. Chamber Over Anti-Climate Bill Efforts

<p>A small group of socially responsible investment firms sent a flurry of letters to Nike today to pressure the company to cut ties with the chamber because of its opposition to the Waxman-Markey climate change bill. PG&amp;E, PNM Resources and Exelon announced over the last week their intent to leave the group.</p>

Shareholders have begun urging Nike to leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce following the recent departures of three utilities over the last week due to the chamber’s opposition to climate change legislation.

A small group of socially responsible investment firms sent a flurry of letters to Nike today to pressure the company to cut ties with the chamber. The chamber recently courted controversy when it threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if it didn’t hold a public trial on climate science, similar to the notorious Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s that focused on the teaching of evolution in U.S. schools.

At least three investor groups, Green Century Funds, Newground Social Investment and the Basilian Fathers of Toronto, commended Nike’s leadership in environmental stewardship and its role in founding Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), a coalition of consumer-facing companies advocating aggressive climate change regulations.  The company’s track record runs counter to the chamber’s efforts to derail the Waxman-Markey climate change bill now working its way through Congress, the groups contend. 

“This misalignment of its positions is something we see as a risk and something we are encouraging this company to move beyond,” Emily Stone, Green Century Funds’ shareholder advocate, told Monday.

Green Century Funds, which owns roughly $200,000 in Nike shares, has used its influence to engage more than 90 companies on a variety of social issues, including climate change, Stone said. The Boston-based SRI firm has never asked a company to leave any organization.

“In this particular case, this seems like the action that makes the most sense,” she said.

In response to a request for comment, Nike directed to a statement (PDF) issued last week criticizing the chamber's climate change stance.

"NIke fundamentally disagrees with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's position on climate change and is concerned and deeply disappointed with the U.S. Chamber's recently filed petition challenging the EPA's administrative authority and action on this critically important issue," the company said. "Nike believes that climate change is an urgent issue affecting the world today and that businesses and their representative associations need to take an active role to invest in sustainable business practices and innovative solutions to address the issue."

Bruce Herbert, chief executive of Newground Social Investment, pointed out in his letter sent to Nike that other companies, including PG&E, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) and Exelon, have responded to the chamber’s anti-climate bill efforts by withdrawing during the last week.

“These companies’ withdrawal sets a new standard for corporate responsibility in the face of profoundly unsustainable actions,” he wrote in the letter obtained by “Now is the time for Nike to join these companies, and withdraw from membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

Climate change action is urgently needed, wrote Margaret Weber, corporate responsibility director of Basilian Fathers of Toronto and board chair of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibillity (ICCR).

"It is critical that companies such as Nike take a position of industry leadership to address this life-changing problem," Weber wrote. "We hope Nike can be a hero in leading companies on the climate issue by terminating its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In Nike's own words, 'Just do it.'"

Other high-profile trade group defections include Duke Energy and Alstom Power leaving American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity earlier this month over its opposition to climate change legislation, in addition to Duke Energy dropping its membership in the National Association of Manufacturers.

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