As companies prepare for the second year of filings under the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) new conflict minerals rule, many companies are looking for guidance from the first annual filings, which were due June 2, 2014. As expected, the inaugural Form SD and conflict minerals report filings reflect diverse approaches to the new compliance and disclosure requirements. We offer below some observations based on the first round of conflict minerals filings for companies to consider as they address their compliance programs and disclosures for the 2014 calendar year. It is important to note, however, that the shape of future compliance and reporting obligations will be impacted by the outcome of the pending litigation challenging the conflict minerals rule, which also is discussed below, and any subsequent action by the SEC.
Posts Tagged ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’
Political spending and climate change, key topics during the 2014 proxy season, are expected to feature heavily again in 2015 shareholder proposals. This post reviews the content of the social and environmental proposals voted on most frequently by shareholders of Russell 3000 companies during the 2014 season, including the topics that received the highest average shareholder support. The complete publication provides examples of proposal text and sponsor supporting statements, as well as board responses and related corporate disclosure.
Nearly 40 percent of all shareholder proposals submitted at Russell 3000 companies that held meetings during the first half of 2014 were related to social and environmental policy issues, up from 29.2 percent in 2010, as documented in Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014). Social and environmental policy proposals now represent the second-largest category of the subjects in terms of both the number submitted and the number voted, narrowly behind corporate governance.
As part of our active ownership process, State Street Global Advisors (“SSgA”) considers environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters while evaluating and engaging with investee companies. SSgA believes that ESG factors can impact the reputation of companies and can also create significant operational risks and costs to businesses. Conversely, well-developed corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) programs  can generate efficiencies, enhance productivity and mitigate risks, all of which impact shareholder value.
Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, and the Austin Wakeman Scott Lecturer on Law and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, has recently published an article in the Harvard Business Law Review. The essay, titled Making It Easier For Directors To “Do The Right Thing”, is available here. The essay posits that benefit corporation statutes have the potential to change the accountability structure within which managers operate and thus create incremental reform that puts actual power behind the idea that corporations should “do the right thing.”
The abstract of Chief Justice Strine’s essay summarizes it briefly as follows:
Corporations globally have been investing $9 billion annually in nanotechnology, yet less than one-tenth of S&P 500 companies report to shareholders and other stakeholders on their involvement in nanotechnology. Although it has the potential to revolutionize industries like healthcare, information technology and energy systems, nanotechnology’s promise is tethered to unique environmental, health and safety (EH&S) issues that are not yet fully understood. Investors eyeing rapid growth and minimal regulation are engaging companies in discussions about nano-related EHS risks and recently forced a vote on the first nano-related shareholder resolution.
My article, Radical Shareholder Primacy, written for a symposium on the history of corporate social responsibility, seeks to make sense of the surprising disagreement within the corporate law academy on the foundational legal question of corporate purpose: does the law require shareholder primacy or not? I argue that disagreement on this question is due to an unappreciated ambiguity in the shareholder primacy idea. I identify two models of shareholder primacy, the “radical” and the “traditional.” Radical shareholder primacy makes strong claims about both shareholder governance rights, conceiving of management as the shareholders’ agent, and also about corporate purpose, insisting that corporate law mandates shareholder wealth maximization. Because there is no legal basis for either of these claims, those who deny that shareholder primacy is the law are correct at least as to this model. However, the traditional version of shareholder primacy accords to shareholders a special place in the corporation’s governance structure vis-à-vis the corporation’s nonshareholder stakeholders, for example, with respect to voting rights and the right to bring derivative suits. Beyond this privileged position in the horizontal dimension, there is no maximization mandate and corporate law does very little to provide shareholders with the tools necessary to exercise governance powers; there is no primacy in the vertical dimension or on the question of corporate purpose. Nevertheless, this conception of shareholder primacy—modest as it is—is enshrined in corporate law. Those who deny that shareholder primacy is the law need to acknowledge this fact, but once it is understood that traditional shareholder primacy has little in common with the radical version there is no reason to be reluctant to do so.
In our paper, Employee Satisfaction, Labor Market Flexibility, and Stock Returns Around The World, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN at, we study the relationship between employee satisfaction and abnormal stock returns around the world, using lists of the “Best Companies to Work For” in 14 countries.
Theory provides conflicting predictions as to whether employee satisfaction is beneficial or harmful to firm value. On the one hand, employee welfare can be a valuable tool for recruitment, retention, and motivation. For the typical 20th-century firm, the bulk of its value stemmed from its physical capital. In contrast, most modern firms’ key assets are their workers. Employee-friendly policies can attract high-quality workers to a firm and ensure that they remain within the firm, to form a source of sustainable competitive advantage.
I recently posted my forthcoming book chapter, From Institutional Theories to Private Pensions (in Company Law and CSR: New Legal and Economic Challenges, Ivan Tchotourian ed., Bruylant 2014) on SSRN.
Corporate governance is sometimes described by political scientists as a three-player game between capital, management, and labor. Yet, in most contemporary debates about corporate governance among lawyers and economists, especially in the English-speaking world, the agency problem and conflicts of interest between shareholders and management seem to be single conflict of interest to which much attention is paid. In this chapter, which builds on previously published law review articles, I attempt to put this observation into a larger historical context, arguing that the nearly exclusive focus on the concern of shareholders is historically and geographically contingent. Differences between conflicts of interest in different corporate governance systems have long been recognized in the scholarly literature. Most obviously, it is well known that the majority-minority agency problem is more salient than the one between shareholders and managers in countries where concentrated ownership is more common. However, it is also worthwhile to look at other conflicts in the tripartite structure of corporate governance that may be equally relevant, at least under certain circumstances. Most importantly, the interests of employees are often relegated either to employment law, or are interpreted as an aspect of corporate social responsibility and thus dismissed as an issue promoted by “sandals-wearing activists” that are effectively only a distributive concern.
Despite the fact that corporations and interest groups spent about $30 billion lobbying policy makers over the last decade (Center for Responsive Politics, 2012), there is a lack of robust empirical evidence on whether firms’ lobbying expenditures create value for their shareholders. Moreover, while the public perception of the lobbying process is that it involves unethical behavior that may bias rather than inform politicians, this is difficult to show since unethical practices are not typically observable. In our recent ECGI working paper, The Corporate Value of (Corrupt) Lobbying, we identify events that exogenously affect the ability of firms to lobby, and find that firms that lobby more experience a significant decrease in market value around these events. Investigating the channels by which lobbying may add value, we find evidence suggesting that the value partly arises from potentially unethical arrangements between firms and politicians.
The desirability of corporations engaging in “socially responsible” behavior has long been hotly debated among economists, lawyers, and business experts. Two general views on corporate social responsibility (CSR) prevail in the literature. The CSR “value-enhancing view” argues that socially responsible firms, such as firms that promote efforts to help protect the environment, promote social equality, improve community relationships, can and often do adhere to value-maximizing corporate governance practices. Indeed, well-governed firms are more likely to be socially responsible. In short, CSR can be consistent with shareholder wealth maximization as well as achieving broader societal goals. The opposite view on CSR begins with Milton Friedman’s (1970) well-known claim that “the only social responsibility of corporations is to make money”. Extending this view, several researchers argue that CSR is often simply a manifestation of managerial agency problems inside the firm (Benabou and Tirole, 2010; Cheng, Hong, and Shue, 2013; Masulis and Reza, 2014) and hence problematic (“agency view”). That is to say, socially responsible firms tend to suffer from agency problems which enable managers to engage in CSR that benefits themselves at the expense of shareholders (Krueger, 2013). Furthermore, managers engaged in time-consuming CSR activities may lose focus on their core managerial responsibilities (Jensen, 2001). Overall, according to the agency view, CSR is generally not in the interests of shareholders.