Shareholder Proposals Receive Record Support at Exxon Mobil Annual Meeting(A)
Human rights and environmental shareholder activists won a resounding victory at Exxon Mobil’s annual meeting May 29th: an equal employment opportunity shareholder proposal sponsored by Trillium Asset Management received 23.5% of the preliminary vote, an increase of 81% over last year’s vote. The proposal asked Exxon Mobil to add sexual orientation to the categories listed in its written equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy. Trillium Asset Management co-filed the resolution with the Equality Project, the Human Rights Campaign, the Needmor Fund, New York City Pension Funds, New York State Common Retirement Fund, the Sisters of Notre Dame (Wisconsin), and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
Shelley Alpern of Trillium Asset Management (at microphone) addresses press conference at Exxon Mobil annual meeting. Looking on are James Gunning, Unitarian Universalist Association (left) and Elizabeth Birch, Human Rights Campaign. (Photo courtesy Human Rights Campaign)
“This was an extraordinary vote that demonstrates how mainstream this issue has become on Wall Street,” said Shelley Alpern, Trillium Asset Management Assistant Vice President and co-chair for shareholder activism at the Equality Project, a non-profit group that has coordinated many shareholder campaigns urging companies to change their EEO policies to include sexual orientation. “Two words in an EEO policy are a much clearer statement than the one thousand words found in Exxon Mobil’s proxy filing, and the thousands of words that have failed to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission and a rapidly increasing number of shareholders.”
Late last year Exxon Mobil appealed to the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking to delete the resolution from the 2002 ballot, saying it had essentially complied with the resolution; they were refused by the SEC without comment in a decision in March 2002.
Diane Bratcher, president of the Equality Project, said, “This is the largest vote ever for a resolution on sexual orientation discrimination. We hope Exxon Mobil will listen to the growing call for action by its shareholders.”
This was the fourth year the resolution has been voted on by stockholders. In May 2001 the resolution garnered 13 percent of the vote.
Since last year’s vote, the Equality Project has been directly petitioning managers of pension funds and mutual funds, and individual stockholders, to support the resolution. Additionally, a movement for basic equality at Exxon Mobil has increased awareness of the issue and been endorsed by 40 statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations. The resolution was also endorsed by Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), a company that advises its institutional investor clients how to “cast votes that will protect and enhance shareholder returns.”
A total of 81 companies in the Fortune 100, including 40 of the Fortune 50 have EEO policies in place that expressly ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks such trends. Fifty companies in the Fortune 100 offer domestic partner health insurance benefits to same-sex employees.
Industry peers BP, Shell, ChevronTexaco, Atlantic Richfield and Conoco specifically reference sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies. BP, Shell and ChevronTexaco also provide benefits to the domestic partners of gay employees.
Mobil offered such written protection and domestic partner benefits to its lesbian and gay employees; however, upon its 1999 merger with Exxon, this protection was revoked. Twenty-four members of Congress, and thousands of stockholders and consumers, wrote to Exxon Mobil Chairman Lee R. Raymond in December 1999 to protest the policy reversals. In January 2000, stockholders and activists protested at a company facility in Houston, causing the facility to close for the day.
In 2002, Deere and Tootsie Roll agreed to change their EEO policies because of shareholder pressure. In 2001, American International Group (AIG) and Home Depot also agreed to this change. Previous years’ pressure saw changes at General Electric, McDonalds, Johnson & Johnson, American Home Products and Chrysler. Other similar shareholder resolutions have come to a vote recently at Lockheed Martin and Alltel and a vote at Cracker Barrel will take place later this year.
James Gunning of the Unitarian Universalist Association said, “More and more stockholders understand that their voted shares can help enact change. The UUA is proud to have consistently supported resolutions of this nature, including last year’s successful effort to get Home Depot to change its policy.”
Tuesday May 28th, resolution sponsors, including Trillium Asset Management, and about 120 supporters attended a rally (see photos) organized by the Human Rights Campaign, the national gay lobbying group and a resolution sponsor. They petitioned Exxon Mobil to follow the example of the city of Dallas, which recently enacted an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Trillium Asset Management was also part of a coalition of investors led by Amnesty International that moved a shareholder resolution calling on Exxon Mobil to adopt a comprehensive, transparent, and verifiable human rights policy. This marked the first time in Amnesty International’s history that the human rights organization had filed a shareholder resolution. Over 306 million shares, or 6.8% of the vote, with a current market value of $12.4 billion, were cast in support of Amnesty’s resolution. The vote comfortably exceeded the total required in order to be eligible to file the resolution next year.
Trillium Asset Management’s resolution requesting a report on the risks of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, co-filed with members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, won 6.7%. Campaign ExxonMobil’s shareholder proposal on climate change and renewable energy won 20.3%, a 7% increase over last year. The resolution on linking executive compensation to environmental criteria, filed by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, won 7.9%.