Posts tagged with: shareholder activism

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Thursday, October 17, 2013

3708GSD_21136_CheerLH_V10L.tifThe 2013 proxy shareholder season is over, resolutions debated into their respective win/loss columns and reports filed. This hasn’t stopped those shareholder Godflies – the clergy, nuns and other religious on the left – from firing the first salvos for 2014 corporate battles. Among the companies targeted for the initial fusillade is General Mills Inc., purveyor of such perceived market atrocities as the Cheerios breakfast cereal and Yoplait yogurt. Specifically, the company’s packaging practices and use of genetically modified organisms has come under fire

Mind you, your writer has nothing against reasonably priced foods as part of a healthy, affordable breakfast. In fact, Cheerios was a “get-up-and-go” staple of this former farm boy’s life. Continuing the trend, a bag of those little grainy nuggets of morning goodness served church going well by quieting my rambunctious toddlers during innumerable Sunday masses. I do, however, rankle when so-called “religious” activists employ bad science to drive up food prices for those least able to afford it, especially families with young children.

As You Sow, a nonprofit shareholder advocacy group allied with such Godflies as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and “social responsibility investment” firms Walden Asset Management and Trillium Asset Management presented a resolution to General Mills this past month that would have required the company to implement “extended producer responsibility” for packaging waste. Apparently, it’s incumbent upon the company to ensure cereal boxes and yogurt cups are recycled once consumers empty them. (more…)

An apocryphal quote often (incorrectly it seems) attributed to John Maynard Keynes goes something like, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Eliot Ness, as portrayed by Kevin Costner in The Untouchables, answers a reporter’s question about the lawman’s plans once Prohibition is repealed: “I think I’ll have a drink.”

The point of these quotations, though fictional, is to draw attention to the virtue of intellectual honesty.  For real-world, verifiable intellectual honesty one can turn to a June 13, FrontPage essay by Arnold Ahlert. In it, Ahlert names leftist environmental activists who actually did change their minds in accordance with a deeper understanding of facts.

Unfortunately missing from Ahlert’s roll call are those religious and clergy affiliated with the Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility and other organizations that submit proxy shareholder resolutions for a variety of leftist environmental causes having nothing to do with verifiable science and everything to do with a radical, misinformed and secular view that has more to do with worshiping Mother Earth rather than God. (more…)

Last week, Verizon Communications Inc. shareholders rejected a wireless network neutrality proxy resolution from two prominent Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility members, Nathan Cummings Foundation and Trillium Asset Management Corporation.

As this writer noted in a March 28, 2013, blog post concerning a similar proxy resolution submitted to AT&T Inc., advocacy of network neutrality is far removed from the ICCR’s goals of furthering social justice because it kills jobs, deters technical innovations and drives up consumer bills.  The NCF and TAMC resolutions singling out Verizon, however, are even more ludicrous as the company still awaits its day in court to appeal net neutrality rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.

Got that? The shareholders wanted Verizon to adopt the very same rules for its wireless service that it’s battling against for its wired networks in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The NCF/TAMC resolution reads, in part:

Verizon’s stated policies for customers who access the Internet via wireless devices are markedly different from those for customers who access the Internet via wired networks.

For example, on its web site the Company offers customers who gain Internet access via its wired network a “commitment” which includes: “We will not prevent you or other users of our service from sending and receiving the lawful content of your choice; running lawful applications and using lawful services of your choice…” and “We will disclose the types of practices that we use to manage our network…”

Wireless customers, however, are given no such assurances.  The Company tells wireless customers: “We will continue to disclose accurate and relevant information in plain language about the characteristics and capabilities of our service offerings so you and other users of our service can make informed choices.”

As investors, we are deeply concerned about this disparity in principles, policies and practices.  In light of potential reputational, regulatory, and legislative risk related to Verizon’s network management practices and the issue of network neutrality, this disparity is troubling.

There may also be reputational and commercial risk in not providing customers with evidence of open Internet policies.  On its public policy blog, a Verizon executive describes a high level of competition in the wireless market and says consumers “can vote with their feet if they want to” by choosing another wireless provider. (more…)

As keystroke was committed to screen in the writing of this post, J.C. Penney honcho Ron Johnson received his walking papers. This after it was announced last week that the ousted CEO had his pay cut 90 percent– tanking his 2012 salary to a mere $1.9 million from a sum north of $50 million in 2011.

With numbers like that, Johnson more than likely won’t apply for unemployment benefits anytime soon. But his compensation unfortunately will add more fuel to the fire of those proxy shareholders advocating for “say on pay” rules for upper management.

For example, The Nathan Cummings Foundation submitted a proxy shareholder resolution to Caterpillar Inc. that reads: “The shareholders … ask the board of directors to adopt a policy that incentive compensation for senior executives should include a range of non-financial measures based on sustainability principles and reducing any negative environmental impacts related to Company operations.”

According to its website, NCF “is rooted in the Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice, including fairness, diversity, and community. We seek to build a socially and economically just society that values nature and protects the ecological balance for future generations; promotes humane health care; and fosters arts and culture that enriches communities.” (more…)

Blurring the distinction between religious faith and totally unrelated political activism has attained new levels of absurdity during the 2013 proxy resolution voting season.

One needs look no further than the network neutrality proxy resolutions submitted to AT&T Inc. by a host of clergy and religious organizations for evidence. These groups assert that net neutrality – described in their resolution as “open Internet policies” – “help drive the economy, encourage innovation and reward investors” when nothing could be further from the truth on all three counts.

Instead, the only groups advocating for net neutrality are left-of-center organizations who wish to shackle the profitability of Internet providers and stifle the growth of what has become one-sixth of the nation’s economy over the past 20 years. Joining these organizations with the AT&T proxy resolutions are the following Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility members:

  • Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, Rose Marie Stallbaumer, OSB;
  • Trillium Asset Management Corporation, Jonas Kron;
  • Benedictine Sisters of Virginia, Sr. Henry Marie Zimmermann, OSB;
  • Christus Health, Delia Foster;
  • Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Carolyn Psencik;
  • Nathan Cummings Foundation, Laura Shaffer Campos;
  • Congregation of Benedictine Sisters, Boerne TX, Sr. Susan Mika, OSB.

The resolution filed by these groups reads: “AT&T expects mobile data traffic to grow more than eight times from 2011 levels.

“A critical factor in this growth is the open (non-discriminatory) architecture of the Internet. Non-discrimination principles are commonly referred to as ‘network neutrality’ and seek to ensure equal access and non-discriminatory treatment for all content.”

Keep in mind that Comcast sued the Federal Communications Commission over net neutrality regulations in 2010 – and won in a unanimous decision by the three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. (more…)

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued his diktat against 20-ounce soft drinks earlier this year, the negative public outcry was tremendous.

Now comes the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility with proxy shareholder resolutions aimed at PepsiCo, the parent company of Pepsi Cola, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Frito Lay and Gatorade. At issue is PepsiCo’s freely acknowledged use of genetically modified organisms in several of its products.

Apparently the ICCR takes umbrage with GMOs and, by extension, PepsiCo’s use thereof. The ICCR proxy resolution calls for PepsiCo to label all products containing GMOs.

Trouble is ICCR fails to make its case against the use of GMOs other than a list of studies offering inconclusive evidence. Additionally, ICCR doesn’t provide any theological underpinnings for its objections other than the shareholders’ respective religious affiliations.

The ICCR proxy resolution prompted Paul Boykas, PepsiCo vice president of Global Public Policy and Federal Government Affairs, to respond in a detailed letter on March 19. In his letter, Boykas states: (more…)

The Dow Chemical Co., along with E.I. Du Pont de Nemours, has come under fire from the Adrian Dominicans and the Sisters of Charity due to the companies’ production of genetically modified organisms.

No, the sisters aren’t mounting the barricades outside the two corporations to protest what they might term “Frankenfoods,” but they have submitted proxy shareholder resolutions to demand, among other things, the companies review and report by November 2013 on:

  1. Adequacy of plans for removing GE [genetically engineered] seed from the ecosystem should circumstances require;
  2. Possible impact on all Dow seed product integrity;
  3. Effectiveness of established risk management processes for different environments and agricultural systems.

According to the As You Sow 2013 Proxy Preview, Harrington Investments – described in the preview as “religious investors” – are pressing Monsanto to provide even more detailed reports by July 2013.

AYS, for its part, is taking on Abbott Laboratories with a resolution seeking the company remove all GMOs from the company’s Similac Isomil infant formula “with an interim step of [requiring] labeling” that Isomil includes GMOs. The resolution reads, in part, that Abbott: (more…)

Blog author: bwalker
posted by on Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Religious groups seeking to serve myriad liberal agendas during the 2013 shareholder proxy resolution season look no further than As You Sow, a group dedicated to “large-scale systemic change by establishing sustainable and equitable corporate practices.”

AYS will unveil its Proxy Preview on March 7. Trumpeted as the “Bible for socially progressive foundations, religious groups, pension funds, and tax-exempt organizations” by the Chicago Tribune, this year’s preview predictably includes such “issues” as hydraulic fracturing; e-waste recycling; waste disposal; and pushing coal-fired utilities to adopt more stringent environmental standards than required by law.

Nowhere does AYS mention companies’ fiscal responsibility to return profits to shareholders. Neither does it mention how adherence to these progressive shibboleths might negatively impact the world’s most economically disadvantaged by reducing corporate profitability. (more…)

Political activism  by religious took a relatively new twist during the last presidential election cycle when the Nuns on the Bus initiative hit the road. The Roman Catholic sisters insisted they backed neither candidate, but were vehemently opposed to Sen. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget.

The election has long since been decided, but the progressive crusade of Nuns on the Bus and its parent organization Network continues apace not only on the nation’s highways and byways, but as well in corporate boardrooms. This last is precipitated by proxy resolutions by “social justice” activists who are elbowing their way into annual shareholder meetings, courtesy of retirement funds invested in stocks or tax-deductible stock donations made to such organizations as Network.

On its website, Network asserts: “Gifts of stock are a great way putting the stock market to work for justice!” However, Network’s concepts of justice don’t necessarily align with the faith that all nuns have taken vows to uphold. (more…)

The progressive politicization of certain religious orders hurries apace, especially as we enter the season of shareholder activism, proxy ballot initiatives and “corporate social responsibility” lectures from religious groups and churches. This year may generate even more activity as a result of the left’s renewed efforts to undermine Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission.

Because many religious organizations are also shareholders in public corporations, their investments grant them a proxy voice in corporate policies. Unfortunately, this voice too often is used to promote policies that are often indistinguishable from secular-left political causes and may have little connection to the tenets of their respective faiths.

One oft-stated goal of these activists is “transparency.” They claim to rectify the perception the Supreme Court ruled erroneously in Citizens United when it declared unconstitutional the placing of limits on corporate and union political spending. But these attempts to pass transparency rules and regulations extend far beyond mere campaign funding by requiring that all corporations publicly divulge the recipients of their charitable giving. (more…)