Tag Archives | Walden Asset Management

NAM: Stop Supporting ‘Main Street Investors’ Coalition Say Real Investors

NAM Board Targeted

Investors led by Walden Asset Management, New York Common and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) called on 45 companies sitting on the Executive Committee and Board of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to end the trade association’s attacks on shareholders.

The investors’ letter asks the companies to distance themselves from NAM’s recent attempts to discredit shareholder engagement, particularly on climate change. These efforts have been undertaken primarily through NAM’s membership in the Main Street Investors Coalition (MSIC) and through a report NAM funded and distributed that wrongly asserts that shareholder resolutions diminish company value. MSIC represents no investors. In my opinion, it is a front group for corporate managers attempting to generate fake news, stirring public opinion against investor rights.

Quotables on NAM

“The irony is that many companies on the NAM board are active business leaders on climate change,” said Timothy Smith, Director of ESG Shareowner Engagement at Walden Asset Management.

They understand the very real risk to our environment and have active forward-looking policies and programs on climate. Yet their dues to NAM are funding an aggressive attack against the very investors they meet with regularly to address climate change. We are appealing to these companies to clearly state their opposition to these positions taken by NAM and Main Street Investors Coalition. It is important to do so to protect their company reputations and integrity.

“Environmental risk consideration is part of the evolution of investing. Whether a retail or institutional investor, assessing the risks of investments is a standard practice,” said CalSTRS Portfolio Manager in Corporate Governance Aeisha Mastagni.

NAM appears out of touch with its own constituents. Over the last decade more than 75 percent of the environmental-related proposals CalSTRS filed were withdrawn because the companies were willing to negotiate a mutually agreeable outcome.

The Letter’s Key Paragraph

The MSIC perpetuates the myth that incorporating environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors inherently conflicts with protecting and advancing shareholder value. However, the 1,200 members of the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment – including Fidelity, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street – with over $70 trillion in assets under management, have committed to consider ESG issues in the investment decision-making process since these factors may affect shareholder value. There is ample evidence that incorporating ESG issues into investment decisions is part of responsible management as a fiduciary. Moreover, hundreds of global companies demonstrate leadership and transparency on sustainability issues. These companies’ action are not guided by “political and social interests” but by what is good for their investors and stakeholders over the long term.

NAM Background

NAM is a trade organization that represents and advocates for manufacturers across industrial sectors. Many NAM members are taking active steps on climate issues as a result of shareholder engagement. Nevertheless, NAM has established significant ties to MSIC, which purports to speak for investors, but which instead appears to be engaged in an attempt to undermine shareholders’ rights by denouncing ESG-related shareholder proposals and by suggesting shareholders’ concerns are politically motivated.

Why NAM is Attacking Shareholders Now

The investor letter noted that, “The emergence of MSIC and the release of this report come at a time when investor support for shareholder proposals is growing” because the “business case behind them is clear and convincing.” The signatories requested that the companies explain their views on MSIC’s public attempts to discredit investor engagement and shareholder proposals.

Over 80 institutional investors, including state and city pension funds, investor trade associations, investment firms and mutual funds, foundations and religious investors added their organization’s names in support of the letter.

Investors are actively engaging companies in their portfolios as concerns over climate risk grow. Most recently, investors representing approximately $30 trillion urged some 150 companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, disclose their assessment of climate risks, and explain what actions they plan in response to climate risk.

Investors like BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street have made it clear that they want the companies in which they own shares to address climate risk.

“It is extremely bad timing for NAM and by implication the members of its board to be attacking investors addressing climate change at a moment when we desperately need to work together,” said Smith.

Historical Perspective

Since I am older than most of my readers, I offer the following historical perspective. The investor letter sent to the Executive Committee and Board NAM is correct in assuming that shareholder rights are under attack because their proposals are winning. The current fight on climate change and social issues reminds me of an older one on proxy access. In 1977 the SEC held a number of hearings to address corporate scandals. At that time, the Business Roundtable (BRT) recommended amendments to Rule 14a-8 that would allow access proposals, noting such amendments

… would do no more than allow the establishment of machinery to enable shareholders to exercise rights acknowledged to exist under state law.

The right to pursue proxy access at any given company was uncontroversial. In 1980 Unicare Services included a proposal to allow any three shareowners to nominate and place candidates on the proxy. Shareowners at Mobil proposed a “reasonable number,” while those at Union Oil proposed a threshold of “500 or more shareholders” to place nominees on corporate proxies.

One company argued that placing a minimum threshold on access would discriminate “in favor of large stockholders and to the detriment of small stockholders,” violating equal treatment principles. CalPERS participated in the movement, submitting a proposal in 1988 but withdrawing it when Texaco agreed to include their nominee.

Early attempts to win proxy access through shareowner resolutions met with the same fate as most resolutions in those days – they failed. But the tides of change turned. A 1987 proposal by Lewis Gilbert to allow shareowners to ratify the choice of auditors won a majority vote at Chock Full of O’Nuts Corporation and in 1988 Richard Foley’s proposal to redeem a poison pill won a majority vote at the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation.

In 1990, without public discussion or a rule change, the SEC began issuing a series of no-action letters on proxy access proposals. The SEC’s about-face was prompted by fear that “private ordering,” through shareowner proposals was about to begin in earnest. It took more than 20 years of struggle to win back the right to file proxy access proposals.

Conclusion

Let’s hope the current attack on shareholder rights by NAM and the fake Main Street Investors Coalition does not set investor rights back by another 20 years.

    
 
 

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Virtual-Only Shareholder Meetings: Anathema or Convenience? (Part I)

The first part of an in-depth look at Virtual-Only Shareholder Meetings, a new front in corporate-investor engagement.

Scenario 1: In-Person Shareholder Meeting

A shareholder proposal calling for the chairman’s resignation is coming up for vote at the physical annual meeting of Acme Inc.

In the packed hall, a supporter of the proposal rises to her feet and begins to describe exactly why the chairman must resign, making fulsome reference to his incompetence in negotiating the latest CEO’s pay package, dealing with the former CEO’s sexual misconduct and a botched acquisition that halved the company’s market cap. Continue Reading →

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Conoco Virtual Only Meetings Targeted

Conoco’s virtual only annual meeting is the target of a shareholder proposal by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. A similar proposal was filed at Comcast. The Conoco resolution has already been cofiled by the Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust and the Needmor Fund, a Walden client.

As responsible shareholders, we believe good corporate governance includes the opportunity for shareholders to meet face-to-face with the company’s Board and management at the Annual Shareholders Meeting.

Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management stated

The decision to move an annual meeting to cyberspace has moved far beyond a minor internal management decision and become an important governance matter for companies. Imagine if companies facing major controversies had decided to forgo physical meetings. If a company faces debate on their comp package or its climate change position or has votes on shareholder resolutions it is also a problem to have a disembodied discussion on line for a  stockholder meeting.

For more views, see Nuns tell companies to get real over virtual AGMs @FT and In Depth: Growth in Virtual-Only Meetings a Concern for Institutional Investors @ Chief Investment Officer.

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Walden Withdraws Vanguard Proxy Voting Shareholder Resolution

Walden Asset ManagementWalden Asset Management has engaged a number of investment managers and mutual funds on their proxy voting practices, specifically challenging voting records on shareholder resolutions addressing significant social and environmental issues. I see this as a major victory. However, more Vanguard shareholders need to speak out to ensure momentum continues. Contact Vanguard.Vanguard

In 2017, Walden filed resolutions with two Vanguard equity index funds that requested a review of their proxy voting at portfolio companies, particularly on shareholder resolutions focused on climate change. While mutual funds are not required to hold annual meetings for investors, Vanguard scheduled a November meeting for other reasons, thus setting up the opportunity for a vote on the Walden resolution. Continue Reading →

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Investor Letter to BRT (Business Roundtable)

Publisher’s Note: The following guest post from Timothy Smith reproduces a recent investor letter to the BRT (Business Roundtable) concerning the importance of shareholder resolutions. I added title, graphics, changed some of the formatting and added a note about the BRT for background. See also previous posts: Financial CHOICE Act: From too big to fail, to too big to listen and Financial CHOICE Act: Take Action. Download the original letter via pdf.

Walden Asset Management

 

 

 

 

July 6, 2017
Mr. Joshua Bolton
President and CEO
The Business Roundtable
300 New Jersey Avenue, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Mr. Bolton:

We are writing to express the deep concerns of numerous investors regarding the Business Roundtable’s active campaign to effectively end the ability of most investors to file shareholder resolutions for a vote at corporate annual general meetings. Continue Reading →

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LGBT Proposal Denied at CATO

LGBT Proposal Denied at CATO

LGBT Proposal Denied at CATO

A proposal seeking protections for LGBT employees at The CATO Corporation (CATO), a women’s clothing retailer headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, will not appear on the corporate proxy thanks to what I believe are misleading statements from the company and acquiescence from SEC staff. Sometimes a no-action win can end up as a loss for everyone. That is likely to be the case at CATO.

The resolved statement of the proposal read as follows:

The Shareholders request that Cato Corp amend its written equal employment opportunity policy to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression and report on its programs to substantially implement this policy.

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Climate Risk – Walden Moves BlackRock

Walden Moves BlackRock: Background

A number of investors, led by Walden moves BlackRock on climate Risk. Walden Asset Management and the Center for Community Change, along with the City of Seattle Employees’ Retirement System and First Affirmative Financial Network, filed a shareholder resolution requesting a review of BlackRock’s proxy voting process and record on climate change.

Following extensive engagement and constructive dialogue between BlackRock, Walden and a number of investors, the shareholder resolution was withdrawn. As a result of the dialogue, BlackRock has updated its website to provide fresh insights into the ways it believes climate change creates risks and opportunities for companies. BlackRock also noted that climate risk will be a priority for their engagement with companies and boards throughout 2017 and 2018. Continue Reading →

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Vanguard: Review Climate Change Voting

Vanguard Asked to Report on Climate Change VotingWalden seeks co-filers for resolutions asking Vanguard to review and report on its proxy voting policies and practices related to climate change.

It is rare when investors file a resolution with a mutual fund since most funds don’t hold regular annual meetings. Nonetheless the act of filing puts the fund on notice that participants are concerned about their voting record on issues like climate change. Tim Smith shared this new resolution with Vanguard, which as many know signed onto the UN’s PRI.

It is significant that investors are questioning their proxy voting record on issues like climate change. Continue Reading →

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Wells Fargo Receives ICCR Resolutions

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo Receives ICCR Resolutions

Shareholders of Wells Fargo $WFC and members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility today announced that they have filed multiple resolutions as a result of fraudulent activities uncovered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Wells Fargo recently reported a $185 million settlement with the CFPB due to widespread and systemic illegal acts of consumer fraud, including setting up two million deposit and credit card accounts for customers without their permission. Continue Reading →

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Tim Smith Honored by ICCR

Tim Smith (a few years back)

Tim Smith (a few years back)

On September 29, 2016 Tim Smith, Walden Asset Management’s director of ESG Shareowner Engagement, will be honored at the annual event of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) for his decades-long, indefatigable leadership shaping the landscape of shareholder advocacy for more just and environmentally sound business policies and practices.

Tim is the first secular recipient of the ICCR Legacy Award, a recognition of his nearly quarter-century history at the helm of ICCR as well as 16 years at Walden where he continues to demonstrate daily how shareholder leverage can be an effective vehicle for positive change.

ICCR describes Tim as having had a profound impact on the field of sustainable and responsible investing, noting:

Tim plays a valuable role in virtually every ICCR program area but has been an especially effective leader of investor engagements on climate change and on governance topics including lobbying and political spending, executive compensation and separate Chair/CEO, as well as board diversity.

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T. Rowe Price Group: Proxy Score 13

T. Rowe Price GroupT. Rowe Price Group Inc (NASD:TROW, $TROW) is a financial services holding company. It is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on April 26, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of three funds when I checked. I voted AGAINST the pay plan, compensation committee and directors with no shares. I voted FOR the auditor and the shareholder proposal seeking a report on incongruities between policies and voting practices on climate change– voting with the Board’s recommendations 13% of the time. View Proxy Statement.

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International Business Machines: Proxy Score 21

International Business MachinesInternational Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM, $IBM) provides information technology (IT) products and services worldwide. It is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on April 26, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of four funds when I checked. I voted AGAINST the pay plan, and most of the directors. I voted FOR the report on lobbying, written consent, split CEO/Board Chair positions – voting with the Board’s recommendations 21% of the time. View Proxy Statement.

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Lobbying Disclosure: Companies Respond

lobbyingShareholders have been urging companies to fully disclose the lobbying they do directly and through trade associations and third parties for six years now. This year 66 investors joined in filing resolutions with 50 companies seeking expanded lobbying transparency. Twinned with calls for disclosure of political spending aimed at affecting elections, this effort has had a steady positive effect. For example, this year companies including Raytheon, CenterPoint and DuPont came to agreements with investors to expand their lobbying disclosure.

We also find that many companies, even if they do not want to fully disclose, have expanded their reporting on items like Board oversight, priority issues they lobbied on, whether and when they did grassroots lobbying, making it easier to access their quarterly Senate reports or disclosing specific dollar amounts spent on federal lobbying. Continue Reading →

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Walden Wins ESG Reporting at CLARCOR

clarcorCLARCOR Inc. (CLC) hosted its Annual General Meeting on March 29, 2016. A shareholder proposal led by Walden Asset Management for environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting received 61% support from shareholders, excluding abstentions.

With this result, CLARCOR joins a small minority of companies to ever experience a majority vote in support of on an environmental or social resolution. According to proxy advisor ISS, just one environmental or social proposal passed out of 474 submitted in 2015. Continue Reading →

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Lobbying Disclosure Sought by Investors

lobbying disclosureLobbying disclosure is sought by shareholder resolutions filed at 50 companies by 66 institutional and individual investors.

Corporate lobbying disclosure remains a top shareholder proposal topic for 2016. At least 66 investors have filed proposals at 50 companies asking for lobbying reports that include federal and state lobbying payments, payments to trade associations used for lobbying, and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation. Political activity remains a top investor topic for the sixth consecutive year, with more than 90 proposals filed for 2016 that seek disclosure of either lobbying or political contributions. Continue Reading →

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Sustainability Reporting Wins Strong Support

Sustainability ReportingSustainability Reporting Resolutions Receive Strong Support

Sustainability reporting, as an issue, came out strongly this season on February 4, 2016, when ESCO Technologies hosted its Annual General Meeting (AGM). A shareholder proposal by Walden Asset Management requesting a comprehensive sustainability report, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals, received 43.5% support, excluding abstentions. I was sorry to see BlackRock vote against this proposal, especially since they signed the UN-PRI calling on increased efforts around sustainability. Continue Reading →

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JPMorgan Chase (JPM): Proxy Voting Recommendations

JPMorgan I don’t hold shares of JPMorgan Chase (JPM) in my portfolio but the shareholder proposals that will be voted this year deal with crucial issues that will come up at many other companies this proxy season. I received the following letter from shareholders urging readers to vote for a proposal requesting a report on lobbying at JPMorgan Chase and thought it worth your attention, especially given that I had already blogged about a resolution seeking to end government service golden parachutes also to be voted at JPMorgan Chase, as well as voted collected by ProxyDemocracy.org. I would vote in favor of all the shareholder proposals, if I owned the stock. Continue Reading →

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Preliminary Proxy: Illinois Tool Works and Huntington Ingalls Industries

Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII)Illinois Tool Works - ITWMissing from the preliminary proxy statements of Illinois Tool Works $ITW and Huntington Ingalls Industries $HII are special meeting proposals from William Steiner, even though the SEC months ago withdrew no-action letters previously issued to the companies. (Illinois Tool Works and Huntington Ingalls Industries)  Shareowners of these companies might want to inquire as to why the proposals were left off preliminary proxy statements. (see ITW and HII statements) Continue Reading →

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Déjà vu: Shareholder Rights Under Attack

WaldenAssetManagement

Timothy Smith

Timothy Smith

The following on shareholder rights by Timothy SmithDirector of ESG Shareowner Engagement at Walden Asset Management, originally appeared in the Summer 2014 Edition of Walden’s Values Newsletter, which included the usual disclaimer at the bottom.

I’ve added the links and have tacked on some additional reformatted comments from Timothy Smith regarding the role of individual investors in prompting reform. 

Every once in a long while a group of companies, usually led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, launches a campaign to change the rules allowing investors to file shareholder resolutions. Welcome to the latest iteration. Continue Reading →

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Google (GOOGL): How I Voted – Proxy Score 41

googleGoogle Inc, $GOOGL, is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is coming up on 5/14/2014. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of three funds when I checked and voted on 5/8/2014. As I post this, I see they now have voting for five funds. I voted with management 41% of the time.  View Proxy Statement.

Warning: Be sure to vote each item on the proxy. Any items left blank are voted in favor of management’s recommendations. (See Broken Windows & Proxy Vote Rigging – Both Invite More Serious Crime). Continue Reading →

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Heidi Soumerai’s Remarks at EMC Annual Meeting

EMCHere’s an example of classy questioning at an AGM.  Thanks to Ms. Soumerai for allowing me to reprint here.

Good morning Mr. Tucci, members of the board, and fellow shareholders.

My name is Heidi Soumerai and I am the Director of ESG Research at Walden Asset Management, a division of Boston Trust & Investment Management Company where I also serve as Managing Director. Together, we hold approximately 1.6 million shares of EMC. Continue Reading →

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Take Action: Comments on SEC Pay Ratio Rule Due 12/2/2013

The deadline for submitting comments on the SEC’s proposed pay ratio disclosure is coming up quickly on December 2, 2013. SEC general comment instructionsSubmit Comments on S7-07-13 Pay Ratio Disclosure. Get your comments in soon, before Thanksgiving. Another advantage to earlier submittal is that those who wait for the deadline are likely to borrow from previous submission. The earlier you submit, the more likely you are to influence others. For example, I am impressed by comments from the following: Continue Reading →

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Ground-Breaking Proxy Proposals Headed to Shareowner Vote

Climate Change Portfolio Exposure

Boston Common Asset Management has a proposal that will appear on the proxy of PNC Financial Services ($PNC) requesting that it report to shareowners on the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from its lending portfolio and its exposure to climate change risk in its lending, investing, and financing activities. Watch for your proxy. The annual meeting will be held on April 23, 2012. According to the proposal, Continue Reading →

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Investors Press for Disclosure of Political Spending: Please Vote for Resolutions

Last week, investors announced  filing shareholder resolutions at more than 50 corporations as part of a 2013 proxy season initiative asking companies to annually report their federal and state lobbying, including any payments to trade associations used for lobbying as well as support for tax-exempt organizations that write and endorse model legislation.

Take Action: In his Citizens United dissent, Justice Stevens argued  the law should protect shareholders from funding speech they oppose. The majority, however, argued that Continue Reading →

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UNFI Vote: Have We Turned the Corner on Annual Elections?

J. McRitchie, UNFI Shareowner

My proposal to declassify the board at United Natural Foods, Inc. ($UNFI) passed by an overwhelming margin of 87.89%:

  • 38,086,048 for
  • 5,248,963 against

See their 8-K filing. Text (pdf) of proposal and opposition. Of course, the margin would have been even higher without insider holdings and blank votes going to management. Have we turned the corner on declassification measures to the point where companies might as well throw-in the towel and declassify when faced with such proposals? Continue Reading →

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UNFI Locked Out ShareOwners but We Voted to Declassify the Board: Company Now Seeks Feedback on Meeting Format

I attended a virtual-only meeting of United Natural Foods, Inc. yesterday and was pleased that a majority of shares were voted in favor of my proposal to declassify the board. That, combined with a move to majority vote requirements for directors a few years ago, helps move UNFI ($UNFI) into the center of the pack with regard to corporate governance. However, I am very disappointed with the lockout style annual meeting. They said they are open to change. Of course, that may depend on shareowners providing feedback. I hope you will join me in requesting changes. I tell you how at the end of this post and I make it a painless cut and paste exercise.   Continue Reading →

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Responsible Investor: Walden's ShareOwner Proposals

Shareowners recognize that with more than 100 members the Chamber’s board is effectively ungovernable, leaving the door wide open for management. There are board committees on different issues, such as the environment, but committees do not govern, they recommend…

A company’s obligation to its shareowners also goes beyond disclosure. Companies also have an obligation to shareowners to oversee the activities of their trade associations. They can have a major impact on companies and pose a range of risks. It is important to understand the principal-agency relationship between companies and trade associations. Principals are responsible for the actions of their agents.

Shareowners look forward to hearing from Accenture, and the other 34 companies, in the very near future. Where do each of you stand as a company and what actions are you planning to take to reduce the dissonance between what you say you are and how that relates to your membership on the US Chamber of Commerce’s board? We know that you sit in many places. We need to know where you truly stand! (Can big US companies stay with the Chamber of Commerce when it contradicts their own policies?, Responsible Investor.)

Stephen Viederman, the author of the post on RI, is a Strategic Advisor to the Christopher Reynolds Foundation and one of the few people I encountered early on in the field of social investing who was also keenly aware of the importance of corporate governance… the rules.

Also interesting:

What if I told you I’d found a political group that for a hundred years had managed to be absolutely right on every crucial political issue? A political lodestone, reliably pointing toward true policy north at every moment. (Why the Chamber of Commerce Has Been Wrong on All the Issues — For 99 Years and Counting, Bill McKibben

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