IT'S BECOME A ritual: Each year, H.B. Fuller Corp. shareholders get together for their annual meeting in the Twin Cities to hear how their investment is doing. And each year, protesters show up to point out that Fuller glue is the drug of choice for many street kids in Central America. "This year, we're laminating the signs," says Bonnie Hayskar, one of the founders of a group called Coalition on Resistoleros (a popular name for street kids derived from Fuller's Resistol brand, marketed under the slogan "It Sticks and Sticks and Never Comes Unstuck"). "Before, we kept thinking we'd never use them again."
Four years ago, Hayskar and other activists hoped the Resistol problem was ending. That was when Fuller's board of directors, chaired by former Gov. Elmer Andersen, passed a resolution to discontinue sales of the glue "in countries where it is abused." As it turned out, the company interpreted that to mean stopping retail sales only, and only in two countries-- leaving plenty of glue to find its way to the streets in recycled baby-food containers.
Fuller is vulnerable on this score because it's made a name for itself in "socially responsible investment" circles. The company has a strong record of charitable giving, including programs for Central American street children. But at this year's annual meeting, which takes place Thursday in Vadnais Heights, it looks as if that reputation will come under attack from a new front: A group called Catholic Healthcare West has managed to amass the substantial number of votes it takes to bring a shareholders' resolution. The group wants Fuller to stop selling glue to the cigarette industry, citing the precedent set by the Pfizer Corp. last year. Pfizer's position was a bit more precarious, since it is also a major pharmaceutical company; still, any attention to Fuller's tobacco ties as a result of the resolution (which management has gone on record as opposing), along with liability worries from cigarette lawsuits, is likely to further rattle feel-good investors. So, for that matter, may publication of a long-rumored Star Tribune story on the matter; the paper, whose parent company counts Fuller president Tony Andersen among its board members, so far has given little space to Fuller critics.