Shareholders Say Washington, DC NFL Team Name Presents Heightened Reputational Risks to Stadium Sponsor FedEx
FedEx Increasingly Embroiled in Ongoing Controversy over “Redskins” Name
July 16, 2014: Last week, FedEx won approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission for its effort to remove a shareholder proposal focused on the ongoing controversy over the “Redskins” name from its upcoming annual proxy. Investors filed a shareholder proposal in April with FedEx Corporation (NYSE:FDX) asking the company to “respond to reputational damage from its association with the Washington D.C. NFL franchise team” and its name controversy. FedEx possesses the naming rights to the team’s stadium, FedExField, in Landover, Maryland through 2026.
Investors are now urging FedEx to do the right thing and permit shareholders to raise the issue in the company proxy and at the FedEx Annual Shareowner’s Meeting on September 29, 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee.
The team name, “Redskins”, is a dehumanizing label that characterizes people by skin color. The term has long-standing hateful and offensive connotations.
The Oneida Trust of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin is the lead filer of the proposal, with Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribe Endowment Trust, Mercy Investment Services, and Calvert Investments serving as co-filers, along with support and assistance from Boston Common Asset Management, Walden Asset Management and Trillium Asset Management.
Investors fully support today’s statement from Councilman Brandon Stevens of the Oneida Tribe:
“We regret that FedEx is censoring our effort to promote an open and productive discussion amongst FedEx shareholders on this critically important issue,” said Councilman Brandon Stevens of the Oneida Tribe. “It is not too late for FedEx and CEO Fred Smith to do the right thing. They should demonstrate their commitment to diversity and respect for Native American culture and tradition by taking a stand against this racist team name and at the very least allow the proposal to move forward. This issue is not going away – FedEx and Mr. Smith will still have to face shareholder action from the floor of the annual meeting in September.”
“We firmly believe investors are entitled to debate this issue in the proxy and the FedEx board and management should not shy away from addressing the reputational risks linked to its sponsorship of the Washington NFL team franchise. Perceptions that FedEx is supporting disparaging and racist language must be addressed,” said Jonas D. Kron, Senior Vice President, Director of Shareholder Advocacy at Trillium Asset Management, LLC. “Trying to suppress discussion will not be productive.”
Two hundred civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and every single national American Indian organization, have condemned the name. Even national voices as disparate as President Obama, U.S. Senator Harry Reid, and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer have weighed in against the team name. Sportswriters and newspapers have also chosen to stop the use of the name. For example, NBC’s Bob Costas of Sunday Night Football, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and USA Today’s Christine Brennan all publicly concluded the team name is a racial slur.
The Washington, D.C. City Council in November 2013 unanimously approved a resolution condemning the name. In May, 50 U.S. Senators sent letters to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell urging him to push for a name change as “The NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur.”
FedEx has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership as a team sponsor and to examine its involvement in supporting racial stereotypes,” said Reed Montague, Sustainability Analyst at Calvert Investments. “Without clear disclosure on how the company plans to address the issue, it will continue to face heightened reputational risk.
With its corporate name on FedExField, the company continues to be associated with the controversial team name. Newspapers and media outlets use FedEx in stories, articles and headlines related to the Washington team. Last week, the Native Voice Network launched a national campaign to boycott FedEx.
“There is growing consensus that the team should not use a symbol that offends Native Americans. If FedEx truly believes that its name is ‘synonymous with integrity and reliability,’ and that its ‘reputation is an important strategic asset,’ FedEx must take steps to ‘protect and enhance it.’ If not, the FedEx Code of Business Conduct and Ethics is meaningless. ‘FedEx’ is associated with racial controversy as we illustrate by the diversity and variety of statements and organizations listed in our shareholder resolution. It is an issue of justice and compassion. Past experience tells us that pressure for change will build, so why not move now,” said Sister Valerie Heinonen, o.s.u., Mercy Investment Services, Inc.
“We encourage FedEx to fully appreciate the emotional violence that racist stereotypes do to Native youth, including the current disparaging name of the Washington D.C. NFL football organization,” said Steven Heim, Managing Director, Boston Common Asset Management, LLC. “We urge FedEx to end its financial ties until the racist name is changed or distance its association with such disparagement.”
For more information:
Jonas D. Kron, Trillium Asset Management, LLC email@example.com, 503-894-7551
Melinda Lovins, Calvert Investments, Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org, 301-657-7089
Sister Valerie Heinonen, o.s.u., Mercy Investment Services, Inc., email@example.com, 212-674-2542 and 631-363-2422 x2048
Steven Heim, Boston Common Asset Management, LLC, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-785-9527