Trillium News

Robert J. Schwartz, 1917—2006(A)

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, no one was talking about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), SRI (Socially Responsible Investing), GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) and other acronyms familiar to us today. But there was Robert J. Schwartz, conducting a one-person crusade to bring social justice into the arena of business. Bob Schwartz died on May 9th of heart failure. He was 88. And his passing needs to be marked by those of us who are beneficiaries of his work.
Bronx-born Schwartz was an economist equipped with a strong social conscience. He bristled at Jim Crow practices, he campaigned against the use of nuclear power, marched with protestors of the Vietnam War and traveled to Mississippi to lend a hand in the fight for civil rights. He was arrested several times in demonstrations. He participated actively in a number of liberal organizations: American Veterans Committee, Americans for Democratic Action and SANE (Committee for A Sane Nuclear Policy). In 1966, he tried — but failed — to win the Democratic Party nomination for Congress in New York’s 17th Congressional district.
Bob Schwartz brought his social activism into his professional life. Hounded out of the Treasury Department during the McCarthy purge years, he joined the Amalgamated Bank in New York. He began looking at the bank’s holdings to insure that investments were not being made in companies that were anti-union or despoilers of the environment. After eight years at Amalgamated, he moved onto Wall Street, first at Bache & Co. and then at Cogan, Berlind, Weill and Levitt, a brokerage house that eventually morphed into Shearson Lehman and then became part of Smith Barney. Since he wore his social activism on his sleeve, Bob Schwartz was a maverick on Wall Street, but it worked. He had friends who were delighted that someone could assemble for them a “Peace Portfolio” stripped of weapons makers. He found labor unions and church groups happy to turn over pension fund management to him so that they were not investing in companies hostile to their values. For a number of years at Shearson, Schwartz was racking up annual commissions of over $1 million, ranking him among the top-earning brokers at the firm.
In 1982, when Joan Bavaria brought together a group of people in a Lewis Wharf condominium in Boston to seek their counsel in the start of a new investment advisor, Franklin Research & Development, predecessor of Trillium Asset Management, Bob Schwartz was one of the attendees, lending his support and offering his wisdom. He was a friend and advisor to Joan for the next 23 years. Bob fought a lot of battles. He organized protests against napalm-producer Dow Chemical; he targeted textile giant J.P. Stevens, forging an alliance with activist Ray Rogers to force Stevens into signing a new labor contract; he recruited the Sisters of Loretto order to buy shares in Kentucky’s Blue Diamond Coal Company, badgering the company to report on its working conditions and eventually to set up a fund of $8 million to compensate families of 26 miners who had lost their lives in the mines. Bob criss-crossed the country in the 1980s to urge state and municipal governments and pension funds to divest their holdings of companies with outposts in South Africa. And when he finally retired in 1989 as a senior vice president of Smith Barney, he continued an activist role, founding EARC: Economists Allied for Arms Reduction. One of his final campaigns was to get the U.S. Navy to stop using its base in Vieques, off the coast of Puerto Rico, for bombing practice. That fight was won two years ago. His legacy will endure.

“Why have I tried to make a difference?

Because I am an American who thinks of himself as a native of all countries and a citizen of the world. Because I am a Democrat who is more of a socialist than a centrist but is something of both. Because I am an economist who, to paraphrase what has been said of many Quakers, started in Wall Street to do well and ended by doing good. Because I am a non-practicing Jew who is more of an atheist than an agnostic, but an atheist who strives to live according to what was inscribed on the Tablets, and to practice what was preached in the Sermon on the Mount.”

—Robert J. Schwartz

From an unpublished memoir which I had access to because of my friendship with an editor, Alison Owings.