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.

The surprisingly powerful voice of shareholders

By Mark Peters, Director of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, Priests of the Sacred Heart, US Province, Member, SGI Board

How did I, someone who’s never been much into shopping and stores and has gotten his clothes from Kohl’s since junior high, find myself addressing the CEO, Board and a smattering of shareholders of Macy’s, Inc. in Cincinnati last month? It’s all thanks to a Capuchin priest who had the foresight to see how important corporations would become in the 21st Century.

Fr. Mike Crosby, OFM Cap, died two years ago, but he lives on in the work of Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment. Fr. Mike recruited me back in 2014 and coached me through my first shareholder resolution, which was with TJX, the company that owns TJMaxx, Homegoods and Marshalls. We got 3% of the vote, a victory because you needed that much to bring it back the next year. That time we got under the next benchmark and that was the end of that campaign, though not of our continuing dialogue with TJX. Votes under 5% are not unusual in this line of work! We often plant seeds that don’t bear immediate fruit.

This year Chris Cox, Associate Director of SGI (along with Executive Director Frank Sherman, who was mentored by Mike), directed our resolution with Macy’s, requesting a report on their process for ensuring that no vendor is engaged in forced labor (their byzantine supply chains are the reason their clothes are so cheap and the company is so profitable). Chris consulted with experts in the drafting of the resolution and provided me with lots of material for the dialogue that the company agreed to after we filed. But ultimately the company would not agree to undertake the report, so we did not withdraw, as is sometimes done when a company does make a good faith beginning.

That’s what brought me to Cincinnati on May 17. Someone needed to be present to “move” the proposal, as the Board had made known it’s opposition to it and it would be dropped if no one spoke for it. However, Macy’s was stingier than most with the time they allot speakers, and we were told we had only one minute. So 800 miles driving and a hotel stay, all for the sake of 90 seconds (try and keep me to 60!) of opportunity to sway the votes of a mere handful of shareholders present at the (to me) surprisingly sparsely-attended AGM (annual general meeting) — all of whom, as it turned out, had apparently already voted their shares prior to the meeting.  So I was basically just talking to the board.

But in the end the shareholders spoke to them as well, because our proposal received 40% of the vote!  Chris and I were shocked, but very pleasantly so, as this ensures us a continued seat at the table with the company, and the very real chance of a win next year. Apparently investors are starting to care about human trafficking!

As often happens (and as someone else has done for us with this same proposal at the TJX AGM this week outside of Boston), we’d been asked to move another group’s proposal, this one on transparency on political contributions. I read their statement as well, and that proposal actually received 53% of the vote. I spoke to the Corporate Counsel afterward, and she said the company would likely implement the proposal because of that showing.

A number of other SGI members have had successful outings this proxy season, especially those working on climate change-related resolutions, which for most investors is now clearly a strong value. Now begins the work of readying ourselves for the next season!

Mark’s statement at the annual 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.

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.

Investing in firearm safety

Last week, some SGI members (Sr. Ruth Battaglia, C.S.A., Sr. Reg McKillip, O.P., Mark Peters, and Dan Tretow) and I found ourselves in a rather unusual meeting amid law enforcement, retailers, medical professionals, advocates, public officials, media, investors and philanthropists. Hosted by Common Ground, the Industrial Areas Foundation, and Do Not Stand Idly By (DNSIB), the Gun Safety Expo offered a forum for leading developers showcased products that can prevent gun theft and unauthorized or accidental shootings.

SGI and ICCR have been collaborating with Do Not Stand Idly By on gun safety issues. You may recall Sr. Judy Byron’s wins with Sturm Ruger and American Outdoor Brands

DNSIB and ICCR are working on a coordinated strategy to reduce gun violence via a market strategy. As DNSIB puts it, “Our tax dollars buy about 40 percent of the guns in America. The military buys about 25%, and law enforcement 15%. This is enormous market power.” At this time, our cell phones have better safety features than any gun on the market. If law enforcement demand smart guns (e.g., those that require fingerprint recognition or other technologies), suspects could not use their guns against them. As well, it creates a market demand for more secure devices. Homeowners with guns are more likely to have them used against them (or by their kids) than used in self-defense. A new study shows that household gun ownership can pave the way for a high suicide rate among young people. Smart weapons would reduce senseless deaths. Gun manufacturers can take steps, without any change in laws, to make guns safer so that lives may be saved.

SGI members offered the following reactions:

While I have never been around guns, have no desire be introduced to them, and fail to comprehend some people’s need to have ready access to a gun, attending the Firearm Safety Expo nudged me to accept, if not fully embrace, a non-polarized way of addressing the deadly impact of guns. Innovative safety technologies offer some hope in reducing the number of gun-related suicides, deaths, and injuries. We, as socially responsible investors, can join our voices with public officials, law enforcement, and legal services in asking gun manufacturers to develop and use gun safety technologies that make their product child-proof, useless to thieves, and able to save the lives of police and civilians alike.

Sr. Ruth Battaglia, C.S.A.

I guess I was hit with the irony of it all….The more we make guns safe, the more attractive it would be for people to purchase them. We also can use that same logic with gun manufacturers who are not wanting to invest in safety measures…the safer you make the gun, the more people will feel comfortable purchasing a gun.

Sr. Reg McKillip, O.P.

It was very well-planned like all IAF and CG [Common Ground] events, and I was impressed with all the partners they’d brought into the campaign, like the Medical College of WI, and all the elected officials who were present. It is definitely not the whole answer as far as gun control, but it may be the only approach that has a chance in the current political climate. I’m not a gun owner or user, but if I was I think I would have been very interested in some of the products that were either in development or already on the market.

Mark Peters

[The event] was very interesting. I think they had the right players in attendance. The law enforcement presence was especially impressive (WI, IL and OH). The trigger locks make a lot of sense for the existing guns. I think the Biofire presentation and his fingerprint stock was the best idea at the show. I hope his smart gun technology turns into the new standard for weaponry in home safety/security and law enforcement/military application. I hope the gun manufacturers take this into consideration going forward. I agree with the speaker that said incentives will help promote the use of these devices. Government (local/state/federal) use and demand for smart guns by law makers will hopefully cause less accidental shootings and suicides.

Dan Tretow
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Among the public officials present were: Tom Barrett (mayor of Milwaukee), Chris Abele (Milwaukee County Executive), John Chisholm (Milwaukee District Attorney), and Barry Weber (Wauwatosa Chief of Police). Vendors included: Biofire, Everwatch, Gun Guardian, Identilock, Ignis Kinetics, SAAR, Safety First Arms, and Vara. These represent companies demonstrating user authenticating guns, personalized locks and gun tracking products. The Oak Creek campus of Milwaukee Area Technical College hosted the event. As home to the Regional Police Training Center, a shooting range was available to allow for live demonstrations.

Some additional coverage of the event:

ICCR provides an excellent, detailed list of coverage of investor action around gun safety here.

Opioid Epidemic: What can investors do?

Opioid addiction has become a disease that has destroyed the lives and families of millions of everyday working Americans. The epidemic is not abating.  With increasing frequency, new headlines emerge as the problem grows in scale and the consequences become ever more devastating. New data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows there were over 72,000 estimated overdose deaths last year, a 10% increase on the prior year. These estimates mean the problem is more deadly than gun violence, car crashes and AIDS.

In addition to the human cost, the massive economic cost grows daily. For example, the U.S. Center for Disease Control reports that opioids have cost the American workforce the largest portion of labor since the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. A recent report from Ohio State University also documents that the crisis is costing Ohio more than the state’s annual budget for k-12 education.

Over the last year, SGI has been working with Investors for Opioid Accountability, an initiative that joins ICCR members with other investors to engage corporations who have profited from this epidemic. We engage pharmaceuticals producers, distributors, and retailers. We believe that companies that have acted negligently should be held to account. However, we do not believe that opioid producers and distributors should be the only stakeholders considered when tackling this issue. Opioids are effective pain killers that are commonly prescribed for acute and chronic pain. To fully address the issue, we believe that regulators, pharmacists, insurers, point-of-care providers and users all have a role to play.

In 2018, IOA members filed 35 resolutions at the following 11 companies: Alkermes; Amerisource Bergen (ABC); Cardinal Health (CAH); Depomed; Endo; Insys Therapeutics; Johnson & Johnson (JNJ); Mallinkrodt; McKesson; Pfizer; Walgreens.

Below are outcomes for the resolutions that went to a vote:

  • ABC – 62% of indep. votes for board risk report
  • ABC – 52% of indep. votes for clawback
  • ABC – 49% of indep. votes for indep. chair
  • Pfizer – 25% for indep. chair
  • Pfizer – 33% corporate lobbying disclosure
  • JNJ –17.8% for stop exclusion of legal costs in executive compensation
  • Depomed – 62.5% for board risk report
  • McKesson – 39% corp. lobbying, 34% accelerated vesting, 1% GAAP, 12% withhold Audit chair
  • Rite Aid – 56.7% for board risk report

An additional 13 resolutions were settled:

  • CAH: Cardinal separates chair and CEO ahead of meeting 
  • JNJ: Indep. chair annual review of combined roles
  • ALK: Board agreed to expand corporate lobbying expenditure disclosure
  • CAH: Board published risk report, misconduct clawback and separated chair & CEO
  • DEPO: Board agreed to misconduct clawback
  • ENDO: Board agreed to risk report, misconduct clawback and expand political spending reporting
  • MCK: Board agreed to continued reporting on anti-diversion efforts
  • MNK: Board agreed to misconduct clawback and expand political spending reporting, Board elected to sell opioid business
  • Insys: Board agreed to misconduct clawback

Next year, we will have even more filings regarding this important issue. It is our hope that more SGI members can become involved in this work so critical to many communities across the U.S.