Voting your proxies

Frank Sherman, Executive Director (Seventh Generation Interfaith, Inc.)

Shareholders have partial ownership of the companies they hold in their portfolios. They rely on a Board of Directors to act on their (as well as other stakeholder’s) behalf to oversee the management of the company. Shareholders are given the opportunity, typically annually, to voice their opinions by electing the Board Directors and voting on various proposals included in the company’s proxy statement. For responsible investors, this is more than an opportunity – it’s a responsibility.

Asset owners, asset managers, hedge funds, and asset service providers typically rely on proxy service companies to recommend how to vote on company proxies based on their research and guidelines. The two largest proxy service companies are Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) and Glass, Lewis & Company (GL). Ceres ​recently published guidelines that indicate how these proxy service firms will typically issue their recommendations on various ​environmental, social and governance (​ESG​)​ resolutions​. Shareholders ​that propose resolutions to companies ​can influence the proxy service company recommendations by meeting with their analysts to explain / support ​their proposal.

Typically​,​ asset manager​s​ ​(e.g. Merrill Lynch, Fidelity, CBIS, etc.) ​will ​vote your proxies for you based on their proxy service firm’s recommendations unless you give them specific instructions to do something different (which they may or may not follow). You have an option to ​tell them that you want to ​vote your own proxies.

On the other hand, if you ​own mutual funds or ​exchange traded funds (​ETF’s​) rather than individual equities​, you forfeit your right to vote ​company​ proxies to the fund management company​ who often vote with management’s recommendations​​. You also lose the right to ​fil​e shareholder resolutions​.​ A responsible investor will consider the social and environmental profile of the ​mutual ​fund​ or ETF, as well as the fund management company​ which will be voting your proxies. Some of the better ones are ICCR members! In any event, investing in mutual funds or ETF’s is an impediment to direct corporate engagement. You may want to dedicate a portion of your portfolio for holding individual equities to facilitate this strategy.

As socially responsible investors, SGI members understand that their investment portfolio is a catalyst for change. We should ensure we use all the tools available to us to make that change.​

ICCR releases 2017 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide

Accompanying photo used with permission, Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility

ICCR recently published its 2017 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide. The Guide outlines the proxy season and contextualizes the 283 resolutions that were filed by ICCR members, with a deeper dive on several key campaigns they are leading. Read the Executive Summary or download the full report. ICCR hosted a webinar to provide an overview of the upcoming proxy season in advance of the public release of the Guide. Listen to the webinar recording.  Or, view the side deck here.
SGI members are advised to forward the Guide to their financial managers with instructions to vote your proxy in support of these resolutions.