business

And Don't You Dare Say `Holy Smokes'

A HOLY WAR ON TOBACCO? THE latest in antismoking activism is coming from religious denominations via the proxy ballot. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility--an alliance of 275 Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish institutional investors--has opened a front against consumer-goods giant Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Huggies, Kotex, and Kleenex.

Trouble is, Kimberly also owns a French outfit, LTR Industries, that supplies cigarette makers with reconstituted tobacco, paper, and other ciggie supplies (BW--Dec. 19, 1994). The religious group, which controls about 1 million Kimberly shares, is pushing for a shareholder ballot resolution to shed the tobacco unit.

In recent years, the group has launched proxy fights against major tobacco companies--all for naught. It tried to get RJR Nabisco Holdings, for example, to stop using Joe Camel in ads, out of concern that the cartoon dromedary lures children to the weed.

With Kimberly, the group figured it had extra leverage. Many of the members run hospitals that buy lots of Kimberly products. The religious investors held closed-door meetings with Kimberly managers in December. Result: Kimberly wouldn't budge. The group also is launching a letter writing campaign against the Kleenex king, under the banner "Kleen Out Tobacco From Kimberly-Clark." Kimberly says losing LTR would hurt return to shareholders.

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