Corporations and governments around the world took notice of the power of the masses in 2011 with the Occupy movement taking center stage. But behind the scene, investors used the power of their proxy and sent strong messages to executives and board members in record numbers to advocate for change at the companies they invest in.
The environment continues to be the primary concern for shareholders with almost 25% of all resolutions filed on behalf of mother nature. Hydraulic fracturing and coal use dominate the landscape here. Corporate political spending hit a hot button this year, as proposals grew by more than 50%. Issues such as support for trade association, lobbying and disclosure of dollars spent were at the top of this list. Human rights and labor issues took 3rd place getting 13% of all resolutions. With the numerous resource extraction companies operating in global conflict areas, this comes as no surprise. In 4th place is board and executive diversity and in 5th is sustainability with companies such as Revlon and Dollar Tree being asked to create sustainability reports.
You may be asking, why such an increase in the support of these shareholder resolutions? Well, many online services have recently come to the table that guide investors on how to vote. To receive email alerts on how investors are voting before annual meetings organizations Proxydemocracy can help. Other organizations that assist shareowners with proxy decisions and provide reports on corporate governance include Moxyvote and Transparent Democracy.
Along with these valuable resources for individual investors, the large mutual fund companies are starting to tip the balance by voting with the shareholders and against corporate management. Because of the large amount of shares owned by these institutions, votes in favor of the resolutions can make a world of difference. For example, in 2011 more than 1/3 of the 40 largest mutual fund companies supported political spending resolutions. This is the highest amount recorded in the past 8 years.
Though shareholder resolutions don’t gain the same media attention as Occupy Wall Street, this method of addressing corporate accountability should continue to become a strong arrow in the quiver of sustainability.
Top 12 List: Shareholder Resolution Votes for 2011
|Layne Christensen||publish sustainability report||Walden Asset Mgt.||92.8|
|KBR||adopt sexual orientation/gender ID nondiscrim.||NYC pension funds||61.7|
|Tesoro||report on accident prevention efforts||AFL-CIO||54.3|
|Sprint Nextel||report on political spending||NYC pension funds||53.4|
|Ameren||report on coal combustion waste and risks||Sch. Srs. N. Dame, St. Louis||52.7|
|Energen||report on hydraulic fracturing||Miller/Howards Inv.||49.5|
|R. R. Donnelley & Sons||report on political spending||NYSCRF||48.7|
|Halliburton||report on political spending||Trillium||46.5|
|Lorillard||report on political spending||NYSCRF||45.8|
|Coventry Health Care||report on political spending||NYC pension funds||44.3|
|State Street||report on political spending||Trillium||44.1|
|Carrizo Oil & Gas||report on hydraulic fracturing||NYSCRF||43.7|
Dale is the founder and advisor of Sustainvest Asset Management LLC. He has over 20 years experience in wealth management and financial services with a distinct commitment to sustainable investing for 15 of those years. Prior to Sustainvest, Dale was a portfolio manager specializing in ESG investment strategies and shareholder advocacy. After growing up in southern New Jersey, Dale decided to head west in 2002 and now makes the bay area his home. He has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco and a B.A. in Economics from Rowan University and currently is a volunteer with Mentor Me Petaluma and the founder of Green Drinks Petaluma. He also currently sits as a Board of Director of nonprofit Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods and is a investment committee member of the Sonoma County Community Foundation.