A fundamental issue in business and economics is the sustainability—and not merely the growth—of economic development, which crucially hinges on the socially responsible operational and investment behavior of modern corporations (Porter, 1991). There is a widespread recognition, as well as growing empirical evidence, that corporate social responsibility (CSR) can substantially contribute to social progress and stakeholder wealth, including the wealth of shareholders (e.g., Dimson, Karakas, and Li, 2012; Deng, Kang, and Low, 2013). In our paper, The Foundations of Corporate Social Responsibility, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine the forces that fundamentally steer companies to behave as good citizens in society.
Posts Tagged ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’
In my paper, The Role of Social Enterprise and Hybrid Organizations, which was recently made available on SSRN, I advance a theory of hybrid organizations that combine profit-seeking and social missions.
Recent years have brought remarkable growth in hybrid organizations, including firms that pursue corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) policies, socially responsible investment firms, and environmentally-friendly firms. In addition, much attention has focused on a broad but vaguely defined group of hybrid organizations which are commonly referred to as “social enterprises”; these include microfinance institutions, businesses that sell fair trade products, work integration firms, and companies that sell affordable products in developing countries (e.g., eyeglasses and bed-nets). Despite popular enthusiasm for hybrid organizations, legal reforms to facilitate their formation and growth—including, in particular, special enabling statutes for hybrid firms (e.g., the Low-Profit LLC and the Benefit Corporation)—have largely been ineffective. This failure stems in large part from the lack of a theory that identifies the structural and functional elements that make some types of hybrid organizations more effective than others. Rather, legal and economic scholars tend to treat different forms of hybrids, especially social enterprises and firms implementing CSR policies, as essentially the same form of enterprise, i.e., firms with a mixed profit and social mission.
The principal corporate governance campaigns of the past decade have reached a plateau in terms of both investor commitment and implementation. These governance issues (such as majority voting, de-classifying staggered boards, eliminating super-majority votes and executive compensation excesses) are not by any means going away. Indeed, there are concerted investor-led efforts to push favored corporate governance “best practices” down the corporate chain to mid-cap and small-cap companies. However, the activist community has clearly won the policy battles surrounding these governance principles, and their “sizzle” is dissipating.
Policy stasis does not become corporate governance activism, as its very name implies. Corporate governance activists will develop new “green fields” to plow; otherwise they risk becoming irrelevant. The question is not whether corporate governance activists will move on but rather where they will go.
While there are a number of possible new foci, two stand out in particular:
In our paper, Are Red or Blue Companies More Likely to Go Green? Politics and Corporate Social Responsibility, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we test the hypothesis that Democratic-leaning firms (i.e., firms with a higher proportion of Democratic stakeholders) are associated with more socially responsible policies than Republican-leaning firms. Our results can be illustrated by a comparison of Starbucks and Wendy’s, two large and well-known food and drink retailers. Starbucks started as a coffee beans store in 1971 and began to grow as a popular coffeehouse chain in the late 1980s after entrepreneur Howard Schultz bought it. Schultz, who is the current CEO and Chairman of Starbucks, is a well-known Democrat who donated $130,500 to Democratic federal candidates and only $1,000 to Republicans over his lifetime. In addition, Starbucks was founded and is currently headquartered in Seattle, Washington, a bastion of progressivism and the Democratic Party.
Companies today are being called upon by their shareholders and other stakeholders to not only boost the bottom line, but also to help address some of the country’s most challenging problems, including those concerning economic development and the environment. While opinions differ on how responsibility should be allocated across the public and private sectors, corporate stakeholders (which typically include shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, communities, governments and regulators) are demanding that companies recognize a broader scope of responsibility in addressing those problems. As a result, companies are increasingly working with stakeholders to understand their views and concerns on various environmental, social, corporate governance and economic issues (such issues often referred to as corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) issues) and to incorporate and address those views and concerns in the company’s strategic decision-making processes.
The Florida State Board of Administration (the “SBA”) takes steps on behalf of its participants, beneficiaries, retirees, and other clients to strengthen shareowner rights and promote leading corporate governance practices among its equity investments in both U.S. and international capital markets. The SBA adopts and reports clearly stated, understandable, and consistent policies to guide its approach to key issues. These policies are disclosed to all clients and beneficiaries.
The SBA supports the adoption of internationally recognized governance practices for well-managed corporations including independent boards, transparent board procedures, performance-based executive compensation, accurate accounting and audit practices, and policies covering issues such as succession planning and meaningful shareowner participation. The SBA also expects companies to adopt rigorous stock ownership and retention guidelines, and implement well designed incentive plans with disclosures that clearly explain board decisions surrounding executive compensation.
Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) recently published its 2014 Corporate Governance Policy Updates, which would apply to annual meetings beginning in February 2014. ISS updated relatively few of its policies this year, but the changes largely represent a more measured, company-specific approach to corporate governance practices, which reflects a move by ISS to avoid “one-size-fits-all” policies and recommendations. ISS also announced a new consultation and comment period concerning potential policy changes applicable to the 2015 proxy season or beyond with respect to director tenure, director independence, independent chair shareholder proposals, equity-based compensation plans and auditor ratification.
2014 Policy Updates
Board Response to Majority Supported Shareholder Proposals. As announced last year, ISS evaluates a company’s response to shareholder proposals that receive a majority of shares cast in considering “withhold” recommendations against the full board, committee members or individual directors. With respect to such majority supported shareholder proposals, ISS will now make vote recommendations on director elections on a case-by-case basis and will no longer require boards to fully implement majority supported shareholder proposals in all cases. Instead, ISS will consider mitigating factors in cases involving less than full implementation, including the board’s articulated rationale for its response and level of implementation (with consideration of such rationales being a new factor not previously considered by ISS), disclosed shareholder outreach efforts by the board in the wake of the vote, the level of support and opposition for the proposal, actions taken, and the continuation of the underlying issue as a voting item on the ballot (as either shareholder or management proposals).
Shareholder activists are meeting now to consider what proposals they will file for the 2014 proxy season and the results are largely in from the 2013 proxy season, with analysis coming from all the different proponent groups, the proxy advisory firms and others interested in what happened this year. Si2’s own report in August showed that the upward climb of investor support for social and environmental policy proposals continued this year, with average support hitting a record level of 21.3 percent and requests for more board and workplace diversity, sustainability reporting and corporate political activity disclosure got the highest levels of support. (More information on these overall findings and overall trends, illustrated with charts, appears here.)
One group that reports on proxy season findings is Proxy Monitor, a project of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Studies. It focuses on resolutions that go to votes at the 250 largest U.S. firms, reporting on the vote results and presenting analysis of the trends on its website. The group’s analyses of proxy season results trends have some significant blind spots that are not always apparent to the novice proxy analyst, but its reports nonetheless are widely quoted in the press. As such, they deserve some scrutiny, which this post offers. Si2 took a look at all the shareholder resolutions filed since 2010 and compared the results to the Proxy Monitor database to see precisely how PM reaches its conclusions.
On July 23, 2013, the District Court for the District of Columbia upheld Rule 13p-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act“), which was promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) pursuant to Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Rule 13p-1 requires issuers to disclose their use of coltan, cassiterite, gold and wolframite originating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the “DRC”) or an adjoining country (“Conflict Minerals”) in their manufactured products.
The plaintiffs — the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) — challenged Rule 13p-1 on several grounds. First, the Plaintiffs claimed that Rule 13p-1 was “arbitrary and capricious” within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”) and, therefore, unlawful. Specifically, the Plaintiffs argued that the SEC failed to adequately analyze the humanitarian costs and benefits of Rule 13p-1. The District Court found this contention to lack merit as the Court interpreted the Exchange Act to only require that the SEC “consider the impact that a rule or regulation may have on various economic-related factors—efficiency, competition, and capital formation” and not to “consider whether [Rule 13p-1] would actually achieve the humanitarian benefits identified by Congress.” The District Court also rejected the Plaintiffs’ argument that the SEC’s estimates of the costs of implementing the rule were flawed, finding that the SEC’s methodology in reaching such estimates to be “eminently appropriate.”
Public interest groups and socially responsive investors have been for decades pushing for increased sustainability (also known as environmental, social, and governance or ESG) disclosure by public companies. Surprisingly, many mainstream investors (in the United States and worldwide) are now joining the call for better and more uniform sustainability disclosure, arguing that such disclosure is required for them to be able to make informed investment decisions. Some global stock exchanges have also thrown their support behind this campaign and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) appears to be listening, too.
Shareholder activism, specifically submitting shareholder proposals to U.S. public companies for inclusion in such companies’ annual proxy statements on form DEF 14A was one of the original tools of public interest groups to compel companies to disclose and consider sustainability matters. This strategy had manifold benefits to the public interest groups, including forcing companies to focus on their sustainability issues, generating helpful written statements from the SEC in response to company no-further action letter requests to exclude these proposals from their proxies, and gaining media attention for the cause. This activism proved to be a fertile training ground for the interest groups who continue to submit various sustainability shareholder proposals, but are now focusing their sights on the next frontier, i.e., binding sustainability disclosure requirements.