Our New Year's Resolutions
“I believe that worrying about the problems plaguing our planet without taking steps to address them is absolutely irrelevant. The only thing that changes this world is taking action….Words are easy. I believe truth is told in the actions we take.” – Jody Williams, Founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize
As a general rule, we hate to disagree with most Nobel Peace Prize winners, especially those as articulate, inspiring, and effective as Jody Williams. Yet, when sparring with a belligerent corporate general counsel in a negotiating session, words don’t SEEM easy.
Still, we take Ms. Williams’ advice to heart. We do worry about the problems plaguing our planet, and we talk about them a lot: with senior corporate managers, advocacy groups, and allies within the social investment field, and with Trillium’s great staff, clients, and board members. Those discussions can have significant results, such as persuading companies to voluntarily adopt new policies and improve their behavior and helping to convince pension funds and other major institutional investors to use their clout to address important social and environmental issues. But as the quote above suggests, words are often not enough to address our concerns. There comes a time to act. In the life of a shareholder advocate, that time often falls between October and December, when the vast majority of U.S. public companies have deadlines for filing shareholder resolutions.
This fall was no exception. Trillium Asset Management filed a total of 21 resolutions on a broad range of social and environmental topics where we felt we needed to press companies to do more. As usual, these resolutions represent the tip of the iceberg of our advocacy efforts. We also use lots of other strategies to influence corporate behavior, including behind-the-scenes negotiations with companies, writing research reports, developing new codes of responsible conduct for businesses to follow, and calling for stronger laws and regulations. Still, as a snapshot of some of our current actions to make the world a better place, here’s an overview of the shareholder resolutions we’ve filed for consideration at company annual meetings this spring.
Global Climate Change
The sheer scale of problems posed by global climate change makes it not only the most pressing environmental issue the world faces, but likely one of the greatest social and economic challenges as well. As the Bush Administration continues to delay meaningful action, shareholders have pressed large utilities like Cinergy and automakers like Ford Motor Company to make some surprising admissions about the risks of global climate change and the need for new measures to stem greenhouse gas emissions. Working in coalition with other shareholders, we continue to press companies in a range of industry sectors to conduct and share their own assessments of how climate change will affect their businesses and what action is needed to reduce the environmental, social, and business risks of climate change. As part of that effort, this year, we’ve filed climate-related resolutions at oil and gas company Anadarko Petroleum and utility Dominion Resources (where we’re the lead filer), General Motors, ExxonMobil, and Wells Fargo.
Federal law requires U.S. companies that have more than 100 employees to report their workforce diversity data on an EEO-1 (Equal Employment Opportunity) form. EEO data can help investors and other stakeholders better understand a company’s progress in hiring, promoting, and retaining diverse employees, all of which can generate important business benefits. Yet companies are not required to publicly disclose their EEO-1 data, and can block the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from sharing the information with those that request it. Of 100 large U.S. companies surveyed by the Social Investment Research Analysts Network (SIRAN), only 6 currently provide full public disclosure of their EEO-1 reports.
Investors have long called for companies to fight workplace discrimination and share EEO data on workforce diversity. This year, we have joined investors in re-filing resolutions calling on Wal-Mart and Home Depot to disclose their EEO-1 data. Last year, those resolutions received an impressive 19% support at Wal-Mart (which faces a major class action lawsuit on sex discrimination) and 29% support at Home Depot (which stopped disclosing EEO data after a previous commitment to do so.)
We also continue our longstanding efforts to convince companies to cover sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies. We and other advocates have had such success at this over the last decade, it’s getting increasing hard to find companies that still formally allow discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. (That’s the kind of problem we like to have!) This year, we’ve filed first-time resolutions at Halliburton and Expeditors International. We’ve also re-filed a resolution at longtime holdout ExxonMobil, which actually rescinded Mobil’s sexual orientation non-discrimination policy and domestic partner benefits when the two companies merged.
Accountability for Political Contributions
The current wave of scandals plaguing Washington, D.C. highlights the corrupting influence corporate political contributions and lobbying can have on our democracy. The non-partisan Center for Political Accountability has documented examples of corporate political contributions being diverted for illegal purposes (can you say Tom Delay?) or funneled through extreme groups that may take positions counter to a company’s own policies on issues like non-discrimination in the workplace. Highlighting the risks to shareholders and companies from inappropriate political contributions, the CPA has coordinated a shareholder campaign to require better oversight and disclosure of corporate political contributions. We’ve participated in this campaign since it started two years ago and this year we are re-filing our resolution at the utility Southern Company, which has the dubious distinction of being one of the countries’ largest polluters and is also one of the top PAC contributors to federal candidates and parties. (Hmm, any connection there do you think?) We joined religious investors from the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility in filing a resolution at Eli Lilly that we’ve already withdrawn after the company agreed to strong new board oversight and disclosure of its political contributions.
There’s nothing exciting about asking companies to issue comprehensive reports on their social and environmental performance, and truthfully, there’s often very little exciting about reading those reports. However, they are a key tool in helping socially responsible investors make decisions. We also consistently hear from friendly contacts within companies that doing a sustainability report drives companies to adopt new environmental and social policies and to improve their overall performance. With that in mind, we’ve taken a number of steps to ensure that investors call on companies to issue annual sustainability reports, and this year we have filed resolutions at AIG, Chubb, and Illinois Tool Works calling on those companies to issue their first-ever sustainability reports, using the independent standards providing by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as a guide.
For the third year, we’re taking the lead in filing a resolution at Chevron (formerly ChevronTexaco) addressing the mess Texaco left in Ecuador after years of drilling for oil in the rainforest there. Amnesty International, New York State Common Retirement Fund and Boston Common Asset Management have joined us as co-filers. We’re also trying a new tack in our effort to get Dow to avoid liabilities and reduce risks to people and the environment by designing safer products, with a new resolution focusing on the risks of asthma associated with one of Dow’s main pesticide products. We’ve already been able to withdraw a resolution we co-filed with Johnson & Johnson asking how the company is meeting strict new European requirements for safer product ingredients after the company committed to share more information about how it’s working to meet the new standards.
Rounding out our filings, we’re once again joining an ICCR-led resolution calling on Pfizer to limit its price increases to the cost of inflation (a policy the company implemented for several years but rescinded, as you might have noticed if you are paying for their products). For the second year, we’ve also filed a resolution at AvonProducts calling for greater disclosure on the company high-profile breast cancer fundraising and grant making to ensure the money is spent efficiently and effectively.