Sr. Valerie Heinonen: Advocate for Corporate Responsibility

Sr. Valerie Heinonen has served for decades in corporate social justice and responsibility. Through the years, she pressed financial services firms to support affordable housing and defense contractors to limit weapons sales. She called on companies to protect the environment and human rights. She targeted corporate governance and executive compensation.

In January of 2018, Sr. Valerie met with the executives of Dick’s Sporting Goods following a shareholder resolution filed in December 2017 to persuade the company to take measures towards gun safety. The resolution requested the Board report on measures taken to curb gun violence.  The resolution suggested the company implement background checks on all gun and ammunition sales; support the establishment of federal universal background check systems; reevaluate policies regarding sale, design or conversion of military-style assault weapons for civilian use; support federal gun trafficking regulation; promote restrictions on firearms and ammunition sales, transfers and possession to keep guns out of the hands of children, the mentally ill, criminals and domestic or international terrorists; as well as, promote gun safety education at point of sale and in communities in which the company operates.

In February 2018, after Sr. Valerie’s meeting and the tragedy in Parkland, FL, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that the company would stop selling assault rifles, raise the minimum age for purchasers to 21, and no longer sell high-capacity magazines.

Sr. Valerie started her career in shareholder activism by chance when she responded to a posting for a job at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the then newly formed coalition for faith-based investors. Throughout her career, she pursued issues related to human trafficking of women and children, protection of the rights of indigenous persons and immigrants, fair treatment of workers, effects of weapons and militarism, environmental and human impacts of chemicals, and fair and equitable access to capital.

Sr. Valerie Heinonen said, “Part of what we are doing is planting seeds.” Valerie’s own words aptly describe her commitment to corporate social responsibility. She has “planted seeds” through countless dialogues and resolutions with companies, fearlessly encouraging them to be accountable for the impacts of their businesses.

She now serves as a corporate social responsibility consultant for her own congregation, as well as for the Dominican Sisters of Hope and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Speaking of Sr. Valerie in the Washington Post, a corporate representative said, “If she has a disagreement with me, she’ll put her velvet elbow in my eye, and she’ll still be a friend.”