Today, the SEC approved in a 3-2 party-line vote new rules that severely restrict shareholders’ access to the corporate proxy by limiting the filing of resolutions. These new rules are a consequence of lobbying by powerful industry trade associations that have sought to limit shareholder engagement with corporations on critical environmental, social, and governance issues.
The shareholder resolution process, governed by the SEC’s Rule 14a-8, has been effective for decades and has allowed smaller shareholders who had held at least $2,000 of shares for over one year to file proposals asking companies to consider non-binding proposals that may raise questions of environmental and social impacts of corporate policies and practices, or governance best practices.
Today’s new rules will significantly limit investors’ ability to submit these proposals. The new rules raise the thresholds of ownership both in terms of the number of shares and length of time they must be held. Under the new rule, new purchasers of stock must hold $25,000 in shares for at least a year, or hold $2,000 in shares for at least three years.
As well, the new rules make it much more difficult to refile a proposal that has been voted on. The prior rule required 3% support on a first-year vote, 6% on a second vote, and 10% on a third vote to keep a proposal before a company’s shareholders. Now resubmission will require 5% on a first vote, 15% on a second vote and 25% on a third vote. Emerging issues will be much more difficult to bring to the proxy.
SGI’s executive director, Frank Sherman said, “The choice to approve the new rule aims to fix something that is not broken. A half-century of evidence shows that shareholders have an important voice that companies need to hear. Pioneers like Fr. Mike Crosby have helped companies pay attention to environmental, social, and governance concerns that they were missing. To the detriment of U.S. companies, this rule restricts that important voice.”
In a press release, ICCR executive director, Josh Zinner said: “The new rule guts the existing shareholder proposal process, which has long served as a cost-effective way for shareholders to communicate their priorities and concerns to management, with little economic analysis supporting the needs for these substantial changes. The new rules appear to be based on a wholly unsupported assumption that shareholder proposals are simply a burden to companies with no benefits for companies or non-proponent investors when there is 50 years of evidence to the contrary.”
Over many decades, the shareholder proposal process has served as an efficient way for corporate management and boards to gain a better understanding of shareholder priorities and concerns, particularly those of longer-term shareholders concerned about the long-term value of the companies that they own. Engagement by shareholders has served as a crucial “early warning system” for companies to identify emerging risks and there are hundreds of examples of companies changing their policies and practices in light of productive engagement with shareowners.
For more information:
- ICCR’s press release can be found here.
- Joint letter from investor groups regarding the shifting interpretation of 14a-8 No-Action Challenges can be found here.
- Case Studies showing the impact of the new rules on shareholder engagement can be found here.
- For more information on the history of comments submitted to the SEC regarding these rule changes visit ICCR and Shareholder Rights Group
- See also SEC’s Proposed New Rules Threaten Shareholder Democracy
- See as well SGI’s formal comment submission to the SEC here.
The Board of Seventh Generation Interfaith coalition is pleased to announce that Sister Ruth Geraets of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Aberdeen, SD has been selected to receive the 2020 Fr. Mike Crosby Award. The award will be presented at the SGI member meeting on October 12. The Fr. Mike Crosby Award recognizes a person who has promoted a more just and sustainable world and exemplifies the passion and commitment of our founder, Michael Crosby, O.F.M., Cap.
“We are so happy to honor my dear friend Sister Ruth”, said SGI Board Chair Dan Tretow. “She worked closely with the SGI staff and other members in engaging several companies to operate more just and sustainably.”
“Ruth’s dedication to those most vulnerable guides her shareholder advocacy”, added Frank Sherman, SGI Executive Director. “At the same time, her cheerful and gracious attitude creates common ground with corporate management. This is why Sister Ruth has been so effective in her work with companies. Father Mike would be very pleased with this well-deserved recognition.”
Sister Ruth entered the Presentation Convent in August 1961. She earned a Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education and Mathematics at Northern State University and went on to obtain a Masters of Arts Degree in Pastoral Studies from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN. For 21 years, Sister Ruth taught in Catholic Schools in MN and SD. Her ministry then led her to McDowell County, WV, where she worked with Catholic Community Services serving with those made poor as coal companies were leaving the area. Her compassionate heart led her back to South Dakota where she directed shelters for abused and neglected women and children on the Cheyenne River Reservation. She was Coordinator of Formation and Director of Novices 1999-2011. In January 2008, she was appointed Congregational Treasurer, a position she still holds today.
Sister Ruth became involved with SGI in 2008, serving on the Board for the past 6 years. Her Presentation Congregation has a particular interest in Care of the Earth and the Rights of Women and Children.
Please join us in congratulating Sister Ruth.
We are particularly pleased that the 2020 edition recognizes the efforts of ICCR:
The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)2020 Trafficking in Persons Report (p. 25)
based in the United States uses a multi-faith approach from a
different angle. A coalition of more than 300 global institutional
investors with more than $500 billion in managed assets, it
uses the power of shareholder advocacy to engage companies
to identify, mitigate, and address social and environmental
risks associated with corporate operations, including human
trafficking. ICCR members call on companies they hold to
adopt policies banning human trafficking as a key part of
their core business polices, and to train their personnel and
suppliers to safeguard against these risks throughout their
supply chains. ICCR’s Statement of Principles & Recommended
Practices for Confronting Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery
provides guidance to companies to protect their supply chains
from sex and labor trafficking.
SGI members prioritize this work, and this recognition from the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons confirms the efficacy of our efforts with corporations.
David Schilling, ICCR’s senior program director for human rights, said, “Whether it is workers trafficked into forced labor in a factory in Bangladesh or on a plantation in Indonesia; whether it is women trafficked for sex in the US or children exploited on-line, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility’s members utilize their role as shareholders in a range of companies to promote policies and practices to end modern slavery. The framework we use is the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which defines what it means for a company to respect human rights, especially for persons made vulnerable by economic systems that marginalize and exploit.”
Pat Zerega, of Mercy Investment Services and chair of the Human Trafficking- Worker Rights leadership team, said:
For several decades, ICCR has been a leader on supply chain issues, and advocacy work on trafficking brought a new aspect to corporate dialogues. Mercy Investment Services’ involvement since the start of this effort includes working domestically with the travel, transportation and tourism industries around corporations training staff to spot trafficking. Resources such as the Celebration without Exploitation toolkit provided the groundwork for investors.
ICCR expanded its focus to labor trafficking, including the development of a Principles for Confronting Human Trafficking and investor tools for issues of ethical recruitment and, more recently, the Investor Alliance for Human Rights resources. These tools enhance the ability of all shareholders to understand the issues and address corporations.
Ranking governments based on their perceived efforts to acknowledge and combat human trafficking, each year’s TIP report includes tiers of troubled countries. The report assigns countries into three tiers. Tier 1 consists of “countries whose governments fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards.” Below Tier 1, Tier 2 contains countries that may not meet the TPVA standards, “but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.” A “Tier 2 Watch List” consists of countries that are similar to Tier 2, but have other issues, such as an increasing number of trafficking cases or a lack of improvement on previously-implemented anti-trafficking efforts. Tier 3 countries are those “whose governments do not fully meet the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”
The 2020 report underscores longstanding concern about China, especially in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The report also identified U.S. agricultural workers as particularly vulnerable. As well, the report acknowledges that its compilation was hindered by COVID-19, even as COVID-19 makes more people vulnerable to trafficking. A recent webinar put it well: “In many places, human traffickers, sadly, are the first responders to the pandemic.” While grateful for the recognition from the State Department, no doubt, we ICCR members must renew and redouble our efforts.
Each year, ICCR and Ceres offer webinars that highlight resolutions filed by members. These webinars provide excellent guidance to institutional investors and individual investors concerning shareholder proposals in the coming proxy season. We cannot recommend highly enough your participation in both webinars.
- ICCR’s 2020 Proxy Resolutions & Voting Guide Overview. ICCR member resolutions reflect some of the most hotly-debated themes in the national discourse, from the failure of energy companies to meaningfully respond to the climate crisis threatening our planet, to the role of corporations in perpetuating civil and human rights abuses through technology products, and the unrelenting rise in the cost of U.S. healthcare. Register here. (Thu, Feb 27, 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Central) (UPDATE: 2020 Proxy Guide is here. Slides and recording are here. )
- Business Case to Vote For 2020 Climate-Related Shareholder Proposals. An annual webinar presenting key climate-related shareholder proposals for the 2020 proxy season, and reasons why you should vote for them. Hosted by the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability. Register here. (Thu, Mar 12, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Central)
Even if you cannot attend live, registration means that you will be sent a link to the slides and recording of the webinar. In other words, even in the event that you have a schedule conflict, it can be valuable to register and watch the webinar at another time. Please, register for these webinars!
Agricultural workers are some of the most vulnerable workers on the planet. In the U.S., we carve out laws that treat agricultural workers differently from all other U.S. workers. Further, it is a sector populated largely with foreign-born workers. All too often, these circumstances generate situations of horrific human exploitation.
On Friday, February 14, we were joined in our quarterly webinar by a leader in efforts to uncover human trafficking and modern slavery: Laura Germino of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Laura, a founding member of CIW, helped to establish the CIW’s Anti-Slavery Campaign. In 2010, she was honored by the U.S. State Department as a TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Hero. In 2015, the anti-slavery campaign received the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts in Combating Modern Day Slavery. CIW has pioneered a worker-based social responsibility model, the Fair Food Program, to include workers in addressing exploitation and abuse and to eradicate modern slavery in Florida’s tomato fields. We also discussed how these lessons can be applied to our corporate engagements.
We highly recommend sharing this video with your investment committee and other essential people involved in your investment strategy.
We are very grateful for Laura’s presence in this webinar, for her long-standing commitment to eradicate modern slavery in the ag sector, and her generosity in sharing her wisdom and experience with us.
Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon garnered media coverage from CNBC and the New York Times for his new plan that requires I.P.O. (initial public offering) clients to have at least one “diverse” board member, if they wish to have his firm’s services. “We’re not going to take a company public unless there’s at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women,” Mr. Solomon told CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
I guess that my first response is it’s about time. Diverse boards are good for business. While hardly the first, Wharton told us that in 2017, Forbes drew the same conclusion in January 2018, and Harvard Business Review in March 2019. The Wall Street Journal article last week asked the question “why, when women earn the majority of college degrees and make up roughly half the workforce, do so few occupy the chief executive job?” Their analysis shows that the number of women CEOs of the country’s top 3,000 companies has more than doubled over the past decade, but it’s still under 6%.
SGI members have participated in the Midwest Diversity Initiative (MIDI), a coalition of institutional investors dedicated to increasing racial, ethnic, and gender diversity on corporate boards of companies headquartered in Midwestern states. The Coalition helps companies to:
- Adopt a policy for the search and inclusion of minority and female board candidates
- Require minority and female candidates to interview for every open board seat
- Instruct third party search firms to include such candidates in the initial pool
- Expand the candidate pool to include candidates from non-traditional sources
These efforts have seen some success: 24 Midwest companies engaged by MIDI have adopted the Rooney Rule, and 10 companies have appointed 12 diverse board members (see the press release). Nationally, we have a long way to go. On the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance website, Deloitte published a report that, as of 2018, just 34% of all Fortune 500 board seats are held by women and minorities.
On a related front, Melinda Gates found that in 2017 women founders received only 2% of venture capital funding. For lack female founders, the results are even more grim, only .0006% of venture capital has gone to them since 2009. In response, Gates invested in venture capital for women.
Women and people of color have a lot to contribute to the management and boards of successful companies. Personally, I’m glad to see that big business is slowly beginning to recognize it.
We just received word from Josh Zinner, executive director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility that yesterday the Governing Board of ICCR elected its new Executive Committee. Our own Frank Sherman was elected as the new chair of ICCR. The new officers for ICCR are:
- Chair: Frank Sherman – SGI
- Vice Chair: Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster – T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
- Secretary: Rob Fohr – Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA)
- Treasurer: Jeff Perkins – Friends Fiduciary
To learn more about ICCR’s Governing Board, click here.
The outgoing officers are Fr. Seamus Finn, O.M.I. (who was the keynote for our annual event), Kathryn McCloskey (United Church Funds), Tim Brennan (Unitarian Universalist Association), and Anita Green (formerly of Wespath, who also assisted us in webinars).
Dan Tretow, chair of the SGI board, said, “I congratulate Frank on his election as Chair of the ICCR Board of Directors. His commitment to ESG issues and dedication to social justice is admirable. We value his leadership at SGI and know he will be appreciated as Chair of the Board at ICCR.”
We at SGI are grateful for Frank’s generous service to our organization and to ICCR.