2008 Advocacy Review
For our 2008 advocacy efforts, we’re pleased to report a fair amount of progress — never as much as we’d like (we’d like superhero powers), but enough to confirm that shareholder activism remains a potent tool for change.
Climate change. Our shareholder resolution at ConocoPhillips requesting a report on the environmental and social impacts of tar sands drilling won almost 28% of the vote, an impressive vote in this arena. Our resolution at Bank of America addressing its financing of coal-fired power plants and mountaintop coal removal was deemed inadmissible by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), but we eventually sat down with bank officials to express our displeasure in a more intimate setting. Our takeaway: don’t expect BAC to stop funding these projects any time soon, even while it invests more and more in less carbon-intensive projects. Alliant Energy agreed to our request to report publicly on its efforts to incent customers to reduce their energy use, leading us to withdraw a resolution.
Human Rights. We co-filed a resolution led by our friends at Domini Social Investments at Nucor after media reports linked the company’s supply chain to forced labor. Nucor agreed to implement a formal policy and code of conduct expressing opposition to forced labor, and to dialogue with us on how to best report to shareholders on this issue, leading us to withdraw. We also spent time in conversation with Talbots, Target, Liz Claiborne, Nike, Gap and Jones Apparel on how their purchasing practices put pressure on their suppliers that can lead to a higher risk of labor violations.
Experts on the genocide in Darfur have declared that if anyone has any influence over the Sudanese government that is perpetrating the atrocities, it would be China. China sells arms to the government, and two Chinese oil companies operating in Sudan provide major revenues. Since we don’t own shares in any of the Chinese or other foreign firms in Sudan (and US firms are prohibited by sanctions), we’re talking to their investment bankers and investors on Wall Street. This last year we filed resolutions with Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, and JP Morgan Chase. We withdrew at Morgan Stanley and Merrill after constructive dialogues on diminishing the risks they incur from these relationships. Our resolution at JP Morgan received 7.7%, enough for us to proceed with a re-filing should it prove necessary.
Political contributions transparency. How much corporate trade association money is being diverted to ads and groups that are shaping the election this year? No one knows for sure, but it could run to the hundreds of millions, according to the Center for Political Accountability. In 2008, our resolution at Procter & Gamble prompted the company to commit to greater transparency, while Ford Motor and General Motors remained resistant despite resolutions.
Employment nondiscrimination. We withdrew a resolution at Pentair after the company agreed to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. Our resolution at Expeditors International on the same drew 52% in support – and a strange silence from company management and the Board of Directors. Perhaps they’re waiting for a super-majority, or just like flouting the will of their shareholders. We’ll re-file and let you know.
Environmental Justice. Chevron‘s shareholders defeated our resolution addressing the strength of the company’s global environmental standards in light of its issues in Ecuador, Nigeria and elsewhere. The good news, however, is a major break in the multibillion-dollar lawsuit Chevron faces in Ecuador for Texaco’s widespread rainforest pollution. After more than a decade, the company has finally agreed to explore a settlement.
After persistent nudging, Toyota Motor Corporation is starting to take seriously the contradiction between its supposed boycott of Burma, and the Burmese involvement of the independent company Toyota Tsusho that has a distributorship in that country. As this progresses, as the saying goes, you’ll read it hear first.