For many nuns in the U.S. April is a busy month. Not only do they have the liturgical season of Easter but they have the proxy season of corporate governance.
The proxy season is the time when many companies hold their annual shareholder meetings. During these meeting any shareholders who own more than $2,000 in stock or 1% of the company can recommend the company take a specific course of action or institute a policy change for the betterment of the company. As the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy reports, Catholic orders are among the most active of these shareholder activists.
As far as activism goes, shareholder activism is rather inert. To date shareholders have introduced only 1.43 proposals per company in the Fortune 200. The most active religious organization, the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, submitted a total of 21.
In their lengthy report, the Manhattan Institute (MI) admits that shareholder proposals are rarely submitted, rarely adopted, and submitted by a small group of activists. MI also notes that while the idea that “maximizing share price is the sole fiduciary duty of corporate managers” has been a “long-standing norm in the American securities” there has been push in the past two decades for the idea that “the duty of management ought to extend beyond shareholders and share value to the interests of a broader class of ‘stakeholders.’”
The reality is that management has always taken the “interests of a broader class of ‘stakeholders’” into account when making decisions. Stakeholders include employees, suppliers, the local community, politicians, and—most substantially—the managers themselves. Indeed, you’re more likely to hear about “corporate social responsibility” today than you are “maximizing shareholder wealth.”