RBI: Deforestation and Empty Chairs

On Monday night, Toronto was electric, not for the Restaurant Brands International (RBI) shareholder meeting, but for game five of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors. If the Raptors had won, I worried that I might not sleep well given the ensuing revelry associated with Canada’s first NBA championship. Alas for Canada, but fortunately for my sleep, it was not to be on that night.

Restaurant Brands International, majority-owned by 3G Capital (a Brazilian-American investment fund with substantial ownership of Kraft Heinz and Anheuser-Busch InBev), includes the brands Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeye’s. Recent shakeups include a new CEO, José Cil, who took the helm in January.

Over the course of years, SGI has engaged RBI and its predecessors in dialogues. Recently, those dialogues have focused on deforestation concerns. In 2010, Burger King pledged to create a “rainforest policy to include all of its products.” However, nearly 10 years later RBI has yet to issue a comprehensive no-deforestation policy that properly addresses its direct operations and extended supply chain.

Photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/crustmania/10094847976/

Deforestation, the permanent removal of standing forests, results in devastating consequences. It is the third largest driver of climate change. The destruction of trees and other vegetation can cause climate change, desertification, soil erosion, fewer crops, flooding, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the incumbent problems for people near to and far from the actual place of deforestation.

Deforestation is also bad for business. It exposes corporations and investors to a wide range of operational, reputational, competitive, and regulatory risks. Companies that manage this risk likely will perform better in the long run. More than 500 global companies have made substantive commitments and the accountability for those commitments continues to improve.

The meeting itself took place in the new central offices of RBI at the Exchange Tower in downtown Toronto. RBI has a lower floor of the building. Emerging from the elevator, shareholders were received and documents were reviewed. In the next room, a larger space, chairs were aligned for the shareholder meeting with two podiums, one to each side of a small table with two chairs– one for Corporate Secretary Jill Granat and the other for CEO José Cil. Along another wall was an array of products from Tim Hortons: coffee, muffins, donuts, donut holes, and the like.

The agenda included the three common voting items: election of directors, the advisory vote on executive compensation, and the appointment of auditors. As well, three shareholder resolutions were on the agenda: a resolution related to workforce practices (put forward by the Atkinson Foundation and our ICCR colleagues, SHARE), our resolution (from the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph) on deforestation, and a resolution concerning plastic pollution and sustainable packaging (from our ICCR colleagues As You Sow). Later in the meeting, SumOfUs delivered a petition signed by 270,000 people and 500 shareholders concerning deforestation. (Their press release can be found here.) None of the three resolutions had a majority, an unsurprising outcome as 3G and Pershing Square own more than half of the company’s shares. The 8-K document filed with the Securities Exchange Commission show that SHARE garnered 26% of the shareholder vote at the AGM, and our resolution and the As You Sow resolution both netted about 22% of shareholder support. If one excludes the 3G Capital and Pershing Square votes, the deforestation resolution had 57% of independent shares in favor.

“Empty Chairs,” photo by Donald Lee Pardue https://www.flickr.com/photos/oldrebel/6173358287

More striking to me as a participant in the meeting was the absence of the board of directors– not one of the elected members of the board attended the meeting. The first order of business in the meeting was their election. It is reminiscent of that meme: “You had only one job. . . ” Their absence suggests that, to them, the annual shareholder meeting is not an important company function.

RBI, according to Cil and company documents, aims to be the world’s “most loved restaurant brands.” The shareholders present at the annual general meeting are people who love this company, and board members did not see fit to hear from them, their fellow shareholders, about the direction of the company.

Similarly, RBI has ambitious, public goals for growth, from some 26,00 restaurants today to 40,000 restaurants in the next eight to 10 years. We’d like to see a similar ambitious, public goal to care for creation. Consumers will buy from a company that advocates for issues they care about. If RBI cannot make ambitious, public commitments to care for creation, those consumers will turn to companies that do.

The deforestation resolution filed with RBI for the 2019 shareholder meeting can be found here. The exempt solicitation concerning the proposal can be found here. The statement delivered at the shareholder meeting can be found here.

Faith-Based Shareholders: In It for the Long Haul

While it may seem like a long time, it is heartening to recall that Moses and the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert, waiting to enter the promised land.

Almost 30 years ago, Fr. Mike Crosby, O.F.M., Cap. began a dialogue with executives from Wendy’s. Concerned that adequate progress was not being made on due diligence concerning potential and actual human rights issues, the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph filed a shareholder resolution on human rights this year. The company challenged the resolution, and the Securities Exchange Commission ruled that the resolution could be omitted. As our resolution had been omitted by the SEC, it would not be coming to a vote, but I attended the shareholder meeting in Dublin, OH on behalf of the Capuchins so as to make a statement to the board and the company officers about our concerns in the area of human rights due diligence.

The team from Wendy’s were very gracious hosts. Having arrived early, a member of the investor relations team took me to visit what had been the office of Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas. I had the opportunity to meet executives who have been on calls with us. Personally, I find it helpful to have a face to put to the voice that I hear on the phone. I also had the opportunity to meet CEO Todd Penegor, board chair Nelson Peltz, and chief legal officer E.J. Wunsch, as well as other members of the board.

The meeting itself lasted a bit over 75 minutes. After a brief video highlighting Wendy’s 50 years, Mr. Peltz opened the meeting. Three items of business were conducted: a vote concerning the board of directors, a vote concerning the company’s auditors, and, finally, an advisory vote concerning executive compensation. The video to the voting was completed within a swift 11 minutes. Next, Mr. Penegor gave an overview of the company’s business plan. Following Mr. Penegor, Liliana Esposito, the chief communications officer, addressed corporate social responsibility and gave an ESG update.

Upon the conclusion of Ms. Esposito’s remarks, the floor was opened to general questions and comments. First, Kerry Kennedy, daughter to the late Robert F. Kennedy, spoke in favor of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the Fair Food Program. Next, Mr. Peltz recognized me, and I approached the microphone to offer my statement.

My remarks aimed to accomplish four things:

  • To identify the abundant risks for human trafficking and forced labor in agricultural supply chains;
  • To describe the fundamental shift effected by laws here in the U.S. and abroad that, while good and necessary, codes of conduct and audits are no longer sufficient;
  • To outline a better process, employed by many leading companies: a human rights risk assessment that incorporates the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
  • And to encourage Wendy’s to take these necessary steps that, at heart, are in accord with the deepest values of the founder, Dave Thomas, and the company.

Subsequently, Chelsea Rudman of the Workers Rights Consortium spoke similarly of the value of worker-driven social responsibility efforts. Lena Brook of the Natural Resources Defense Council spoke about the use of medically-important antibiotics in meat and poultry served at Wendy’s. A shareholder asked a question concerning the updating of restaurant infrastructures. Mike Telford of the National Pork Producers Council thanked Wendy’s for their relationship with pork producers. Nelly Rodriguez, from the CIW, offered a moving witness, in Spanish, about the importance of the Fair Food Program. Another shareholder asked a question concerning non-meat substitutes. Finally, a shareholder, who is also an adoption assessor, rose to speak a word of thanks for Wendy’s commitment to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Soon thereafter, the meeting was adjourned.

While the meeting maintained its decorum, no attendee could be blind to the concerns raised by the different voices. While I am disappointed that our resolution did not come to a vote this year, SGI remain committed to working with Wendy’s to improve their practices in the area of human rights.

As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. Even after a 40-year sojourn in the desert, the fact is that Moses never made it into the promised land, but he did see it before he died. Faith-based shareholders differ from day traders. We are in it for the long haul. We genuinely care about the companies we engage. We will bring items to their attention that may make company leadership uncomfortable. We do so, because we are committed to protecting people and the planet. We believe that the interests of the company, through the long haul, align with the interests of people and the planet.

The statement prepared for the 2019 Wendy’s shareholder meeting can be found here.

Notes from the Boeing AGM

By Bro. Robert Wotypka, OFM, Cap.

The Province of Saint Joseph of the Capuchin Order, whose Corporate Responsibility agent I am, filed a shareholder resolution in November 2018 asking that Boeing disclose all its political and lobbying spending, as well as its membership in industry and trade associations. We picked up the mantle in the sixth year of this ask, noting that there was a slight but steady upward tick in support of the resolution, reaching 24% in the 2018 annual general shareholders’ meeting. I registered for the event, held 29 April at the Field Museum in Chicago, Boeing’s corporate HQ.

I took the train from Kenosha. I met my company minder, from their capital arm, and had some snacks, connecting with Sisters Barbara Jennings and Marge Clark before taking my seat in an auditorium that likely has seen more class trips than Timothy Leary in his professorial days.

Here are the highlights (as I see it) from my two-minute statement, with thanks to John Keenan of AFSCME for his expert research and prep:

Mark Hanna, a turn-of-the-20th century Senator from Ohio, said,There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” We move this resolution not because we are naïve but because we are not. And because we know that companies with a high reputational rank perform better financially than lower-ranked companies. Our company is in a legal and reputational crisis which underscores the need to embrace accountability and to be fully transparent with shareholders, including through disclosure of its lobbying activity. Fellow shareholders, this is not the time to support this resolution; members of the board, this is not the time to implement this resolution. This is past the time to vote in support of and to implement this resolution. We urge shareholders to vote FOR this proposal. Thank you.

I was too nervous to look at the clock, but I prepped and I am pretty sure I made it within the two-minute mark. The resolution received 32.6% of the vote. My sisters in the movement offered congratulations and helped me frame the result – that this means the resolution could be re-introduced next year. Our own Frank Sherman (ED of Seventh Generation), in a post-AGM briefing, explained what I knew only in theory but was now feeling in my bones: that mutual fund managers, who hold immense numbers of shares and thereby voting rights, rarely, almost never, vote against the recommendations of management. And Boeing management urged a NO not against our resolution, against the resolution separating the CEO from the Chairman of the Board of Directors, and against an ask to separate out the impact of share buy-backs from the movement of the stock price, which feeds into and distorts compensation plans. None tracked much more or less than the St. Joseph resolution. But my fellow activists said we ought to celebrate that 8% jump, and so I do, with you. The CEO struck me as well-scripted and immovable – qualities contrary to Gospel movements. There was a serious and challenging question about the processes and values that informed the rollout of the 737 MAX series. And again – a highly scripted and immovable response. There is more to come, to be sure.

One more free muffin, then back to the street where the recently liberated ice cap was still pouring down. I met some protesters on the sidewalk and we talked and commiserated, then a kind soul from the north side dropped me at Union Station, and back to Milwaukee. What do I carry with me? As follows: an AGM is much like a summit, or a pre-Pope Francis synod: the heavy lifting and the grunt work comes before the switching on of the mics and the lights and the summoning of the slides. And thanks to the work of ICCR, Seventh Generation, our co-filers and collaborators, there was much lifting and there was much grunting and the prep work, including filing an exempt solicitation, bore fruit. I stood on the shoulders of gentle giants.

Holistic Approach to Socially Responsible Investing Webinar

In recent months, some SGI members have been revisiting their policies for socially responsible investment. Such periodic reviews can be an opportunity see this ministry in a fresh light. We must evaluate the quality, forms, and priorities of our commitments as to how effectively they serve the needs of our institutions’ mission and, in a preferential way, the needs of those most vulnerable and the care for creation. In such moments, we may find the conviction to respond to the signs of the times and to change the course into which habit and convenience have settled us and our institutions. These are privileged opportunities for each member institution to consider anew how to align investments with our deepest values.

On Friday, April 12, we were joined in our webinar by two leaders within the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR): Anita Green of Wespath Investment Management and Susan Smith Makos of Mercy Investment Services. Each shared the approach that their organizations utilize for socially responsible investing.

We are very grateful for the presence of both our guests in this webinar, for their commitment to work on this issues, and their generosity in sharing their wisdom with us.

As always, we welcome your feedback via a confidential evaluation found here. Slides from the webinar are found here.

If your institution is reviewing its policy for socially responsible investment, we are happy to help. Please, contact Frank Sherman or Chris Cox. We also recommend US SIF’s free Roadmap For Money Managers and its Roadmap For Financial Advisors. We also provide a number of resources here on our website.

SGI, Institutional Investors Continue to Press Companies for Disclosure of Lobbying

Among issues of corporate governance, lobbying disclosure remains an urgent topic for shareholder proposals in 2019. Five SGI members are a part of a coalition of at least 70 investors who have filed proposals at 33 companies asking for disclosure reports that include federal and state lobbying payments, payments to trade associations and social welfare groups used for lobbying and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation. That last sentence was detailed precisely because “following the money” is so complicated when it comes to lobbying expenditures. This year’s campaign highlights the theme of corporate political responsibility, with a focus on climate change lobbying.

Corporate lobbying impacts all aspects of the economy. Companies fund lobbying efforts on issues ranging from climate change and drug prices to financial regulation, immigration and workers’ rights. While lobbying can provide decision-makers with valuable insights and data, it can also lead to undue influence, unfair competition, and regulatory capture. In addition, lobbying may channel companies’ funds and influence into highly controversial topics with the potential to cause reputational harm.

In 2018, more than $3.4 billion in total was spent on federal lobbying. Additionally, companies spend more than $1 billion yearly on lobbying at the state level, where disclosure is far less transparent than federal lobbying. Beyond that, trade associations spend in excess of $100 million each year, lobbying indirectly on behalf of companies. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $95 million on federal lobbying in 2018 and has spent over $1.5 billion on lobbying since 1998.

To address potential reputational and financial risk associated with lobbying, investors are encouraging companies to disclose all their lobbying payments as well as board oversight processes. We believe that this risk is particularly acute when a company’s lobbying, done directly or through a third party, contradicts its publicly stated positions and core values. Disclosure allows shareholders to verify whether a company’s lobbying aligns with its expressed values and corporate goals.

“The faith community has been an active investor voice for around a decade pressing companies to expand disclosure on political spending (related to elections) and also lobbying disclosure. This is more important than ever as we look at issues of concern to ICCR members. For example it is a crucial time to hold companies accountable on their lobbying related to climate change and to urge them to lobby only for legislation consistent with the Paris Accord. Or monitor how drug companies lobby on opioids or drug pricing. Lobbying is not a remote governance issue but it intimately linked to a whole range of corporate responsibility issues we are all working on.”


Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management

Companies Receiving Lobbying Disclosure Resolutions for 2019 are:

  • AbbVie (ABBV)
  • Altria Group (MO)
  • American Water Works (AWK)
  • AT&T (T)
  • Bank of America (BAC)
  • BlackRock (BLK)
  • Boeing (BA)
  • CenturyLink (CTL)
  • Chevron (CVX)
  • Comcast (CMCSA)
  • Duke Energy (DUK)
  • Emerson Electric (EMR)
  • Equifax (EFX)
  • Exxon Mobil (XOM)
  • FedEx (FDX)
  • Ford Motor (F)
  • General Motors (GM)
  • Honeywell (HON)
  • IBM (IBM)
  • JPMorgan Chase (JPM)
  • Mallinckrodt (MNK)
  • MasterCard (MA)
  • McKesson (MCK)
  • Morgan Stanley (MS)
  • Motorola Solutions (MSI)
  • Nucor Corporation (NUE)
  • Pfizer (PFE)
  • Tyson Foods (TSN)
  • United Continental Holdings (UAL)
  • United Parcel Service (UPS)
  • Verizon (VZ)
  • Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX)
  • Walt Disney Company (DIS)

Overpaid CEOs

On Thursday, our friends at As You Sow released their fifth annual report on the 100 Most Overpaid CEOs. The launch included a webinar with Rosanna Landis Weaver (the report’s author), Paul Herman (founder and CEO of HIP Investor), and ex-Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

Not only are these 100 CEOs overpaid concerning the poor performance of their companies, many fund managers, like BlackRock, Vanguard and StateStreet, routinely endorse the executive compensation package of these CEOs at the annual shareholder meeting. The report points to necessary actions by shareholders concerning executive compensation. It really is worth your time to dive in.

Axios.com offered succinct coverage of the webinar and report here.

The report can be found here. The webinar can be found here.

Global companies and global problems

We have come to take for granted the size and sweep of modern multinational corporations. As companies merge to gain scale, it’s difficult to keep track of the corporation behind the brands we buy. Daily, we dress ourselves in clothes bearing labels of “made in” notices for countries that may be difficult to place on a map. We know that our vehicle, as well as our cell phone, was not made in an individual factory but assembled from components and parts made across a dispersed global supply chain. When out of season locally, we may notice that our fruit and vegetables may have come from distant lands. Multinational corporations seamlessly bring together many essential things in our daily lives.

Over the years, these multinational companies have grown to scales that may surprise us. While not an apples to apples comparison, the largest companies have annual revenues that dwarf the gross domestic product (GDP) of many countries. Some may be able to recite the top five global economies:

  1. United States ($20.5 trillion)
  2. China ($13.5 trillion)
  3. Japan ($5 trillion)
  4. Germany ($4 trillion)
  5. United Kingdom ($2.8 trillion)

Readers may be surprised to learn that Walmart, with over $500 billion in annual revenue, would rank #25, displacing Thailand. The fourth largest company, Royal Dutch Shell, displaces the Philippines at #40. The ninth largest company, Exxon Mobil, comes in just behind the Czech Republic, the 46th largest economy. At #11 among companies, Apple had a billion dollars more in revenue than Peru (#51 among countries) had in GDP. Foxconn, the 24th largest company, has greater annual revenue than the GDP of Kuwait (#58 in GDP). In all, 41 of the 100 largest economic entities on the planet would be corporations.

So, what does that mean for us? While policies and laws and regulations from countries are essential, companies play a critical role in addressing environmental and social issues such as climate change, food justice, health, human rights, and water stewardship. At bottom, the decisions that companies make have a tremendous impact on the most vexing global issues. In fact, choices made by companies, in many contexts, have greater impact than individual countries.

Michael Porter, in a 2015 TED Talk, underscored the importance of business in addressing critical problems. Global norms have been shifting. It is no longer acceptable for multi-national companies to simply meet the legal minimums set by local governments. Today, many international standards, including the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, underscore the role of companies. Some of our resolutions with companies this year reflect this emerging understanding of the role of companies in addressing human rights.

The work of SGI contributes to the work of so many others– socially-conscious consumers, non-profit organizations, workers in the supply chain, and ethical executives– in seeking a more just and sustainable world.
Given the scale of multinational corporations and global nature of our economy, our mission is more critical than ever.