Mitchell: ‘In your recent discussion of XOM shares and socially responsible investing, in my view, you missed an important part of the moral argument. Owning stock in a company makes you a part owner, and like any other business you might be a part-owner in, you are associated with its activities and sharing in its profits. So my question to you is, is there no company, no business you simply cannot be associated with for moral reasons? Would you refuse to invest in a heroin producing facility or mob-controlled hazardous waste company, even if their financial statements indicated a 200 percent per year profit? How about legal companies that encourage nicotine addiction (and lie about it) or companies that buy off politicians so they can pollute (and lie about it), even if they seem to be a good investment? How about companies that have racist, sexist, homophobic policies? I’m not saying that all investments have to be 100% pure, but as someone once said to me, just because a hospital can’t be 100% germ-free doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage doctors to wash their hands. We may have different places we want to draw the line, but don’t you agree that to lay claim to any moral values beyond narrow self interest we have to draw the line somewhere? (As I see it, to a great extent, our moral/spiritual development as individuals and as a society is based on honest, open, discussions of where these lines are drawn and why.)’

☞ Beautifully put. I would absolutely want to encourage doctors to wash their hands, which is why the stuff that helps, even if in a small way, on the margin, I favor. Boycotting Exxon, for example. Letters to the editor. Contributions to progressive advocacy groups. Active participation in the political process.

My question on Exxon and Philip Morris stock would be: does my refusal to own 100 or 1,000 shares in any way encourage the doctors to wash their hands? To me, the impact is so infinitesimal as to be meaningless. I don’t happen to own those stocks, and wouldn’t buy them unless they were really compelling values. But if I felt that they were, I would – on the theory that my added profits could enable me to slightly-less-infinitessimally advance the cause of a more nearly germ-free hospital.

I would never buy a new issue of stock or bonds from a tobacco company, because that might in some small way help raise the money needed to build a new cigarette factory. But the tobacco companies (to continue with this example) are awash in cash, so my buying their securities in the secondary market will in no practical way help them – while the considerable profit I once made speculating on R.J. Reynolds zero-coupon bonds, bought at a huge discount long after they had been issued, was a dandy source of funds to finance anti-tobacco activities.

I also instinctively set the bar higher for investment in, say, a casino company or a liquor company – even though I think people should be largely free to drink and gamble – than I would in, say, a promising early-stage drug company or solar power company. The last thing we need is another casino. Windmills, we could use. And a little tilting at them never hurt, either.

Paul Johns: ‘You might also note the success of Seattle’s Pride Foundation, among others, in using their ownership stakes to work with companies to change their policies for the better.’

Jeff: ‘I think Exxon has been the most intractable of the oil companies about admitting their role in global warming. I mean, all the oil companies are pretty bad, but Exxon/Mobil has been the worst (I think). Unfortunately, boycotts usually only work if they’re widespread. Are there large organizations prepared to publicize this and get a large following?’

☞ Well, the Human Rights Campaign and others have been pushing this. And with the Internet, and some bumper stickers, it doesn’t take too much for word to spread.

Bill: ‘I agree that it sucks. I don’t see any reason to boycott the company, however. I frankly don’t understand why anybody would do business with them. Their fuel prices are always more than their competitors on the other three corners of the intersection. Why do people patronize a place that offers the same product (it really is all the same), the same services (none in most), the same customer service (none in all)? I just don’t get it. Drive across the street and pay less. What a novel concept.’

Phil Brink: ‘Sorry, but I disagree strongly. I understand your concerns for right to visit in the hospital, etc., but I believe the non-discrimination policy is just one step for legitimizing gay marriages/unions. The traditional family is an important structure for stability in society and for raising kids. Please note that I am not for discrimination against a person for being gay. I think there is a mountain of support for the traditional family and its stability (despite the obvious trouble it is in in today’s society). You and Charles are an exception (if equate length with stability) – not typical. That is not reason enough to oppose your position, but I’d like to suggest George Gilder’s book Men and Marriage. Very interesting, and makes the case without simpleminded ‘The Bible says so.’ In fact, he doesn’t refer to the Bible at all, but makes the case based on observations of societies.’

☞ If preventing Charles and me, and other committed couples, from having equal rights led to the breakdown of society, I might reluctantly see this as a cross we should be made to bear. But I think just the opposite is the result. Encouraging stable, committed relationships is good for society. You say that Charles and I aren’t typical. I think you would be amazed at the number and longevity of same-sex relationships out there. One friend of ours took 10 other couples on a trip to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Three straight couples, eight gay. At seven years, Charles and I were the babes in those woods. One of the straight couples led the pack at 38 years, but two gay professors were close behind at 34.

And is it really better for children to grow up in an orphanage than with one or two adoring, adoption-agency-approved gay moms or dads?

I haven’t read George’s book; and I like to think that in the 10 years since it was written he may even have changed his mind somewhat, as so many others have. Judging from the back cover and first chapter, he believes that the traditional nuclear family is ideal and should be celebrated. I have no problem with that. But now what do you do about the nice kids of traditional nuclear families who happen to be gay or lesbian? I would say: encourage them to have happy, stable, constructive lives. Would George discourage that in hopes it will somehow keep straight fathers from abandoning their children? I don’t see the connection. He laments silver-haired executives’ divorcing to pursue trophy wives. But how do gay unions encourage that?

Joe Porter: ‘I like what Abe Lincoln had to say about treating people equally. When he was running for the Senate in 1858, he referred to the Declaration of Independence, and I paraphrase, ‘If the words aren’t true – that all men are created equal – we should take them out, if they are, we should stick to them”

Dave Lazar went to ExxonMobil’s web site and gave them a piece of his mind. (Thanks, Dave.) Herewith, Exxon’s reply:

We believe our policy on discrimination is clear and straightforward. ExxonMobil Corporation policy prohibits any form of discrimination or harassment, including sexual orientation, in any company workplace. In support of this position, we have established a comprehensive education, training and stewardship program to ensure this policy is implemented and followed throughout our worldwide operations.

We have stated both verbally and in writing that ExxonMobil’s policies against harassment and discrimination apply to sexual orientation. In fact, in Exxon’s 1999 and 2000 Proxy Statements and ExxonMobil’s 2001 Proxy Statement we specifically stated that these policies prohibit harassment or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. With regard to domestic partner benefits, ExxonMobil is guided by the laws in the 200 countries where we operate and we provide benefits coverage to spouses – whether heterosexual or homosexual – where a legally recognized spousal relationship exists. We do understand the interest many individuals have regarding this topic. However, we believe that basing employee benefits on legally recognized spousal relationships is the only way the program can be applied in a fair, rational and consistent approach for our 100,000 employees worldwide. As an example, ExxonMobil employees who have their relationships certified in Canada or the Netherlands, which,by law, recognizes same-sex relationships, are provided spousal benefits under the ExxonMobil program.

Contrary to many new news media reports, when ExxonMobil was created, we did not take away any former Mobil employees’ domestic partner benefits. They and their partners still receive those spousal benefits.

Lastly, please understand that our decision regarding domestic partner benefits is not intended as a political statement – we choose not to take sides on this political issue. It is simply a business decision designed to efficiently, fairly and effectively apply our benefit programs.

Exxon Mobil Corporation

☞ This is certainly civil and better than nothing, but it does not tell the whole story. Yes, the Mobil employees who were getting domestic partnership benefits before the merger have not lost them. But any new employees, or any old Exxon employees in such relationships, or any existing ExxonMobil employees who should form committed relationships in the future, are barred from these benefits. So consider two otherwise-identical ExxonMobil employees sitting side by side. The one who was covered by Mobil before the merger is still covered. The one who wasn’t, isn’t. In the words of ExxonMobil, ‘It is simply a business decision designed to efficiently, fairly and effectively apply our benefit programs.’ If you buy that logic, buy their gas.

Further, ExxonMobil specifically states in its non-discrimination policy for U.S. employees that it does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion and the other categories specified in federal law. This clearly articulated list does not mention sexual orientation – in contrast to the policies of 299 other corporations on the Fortune 500 that specifically do.

It would be easy to add those two words, but ExxonMobil has clearly given this a fair amount of thought – not least because of the proxy resolutions on this topic introduced the last three years – and decided against it. ExxonMobil is not ready to buy the policies Mobil had before the merger.

So I am not going to buy their gas.


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