Use shareholder rights to improve your returns

Active Ownership in the US

1) In 2012, Alpha Natural Resources, the USA’s third largest producer of coal, launched a review of its policies and practices surrounding climate risks following a shareholder resolution filed by the Unitarian Universalist Associated. This resolution called for a report about the company’s strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

2) American Express and Best Buy committed to a set of 6 principles surrounding environmental and socially responsible practices following a proposal set forth by AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) in 2010.

3) 16 of 18 companies responded positively following the request from a large group of key asset owners headed by Walden Asset Management for an advisory vote on executive pay, colloquially called ‘say on pay’, in 2007-08.

3) Following over a decade of issues regarding treatment of workers, Calvert and Gap made some minor changes through the initiative of shareholder action in the 1990’s. However real change finally came in 2001 when Domini Social Investments, along with Calvert and the New York Office of Comptroller as co-signers, submitted a resolution calling for transparency on vendor standards and compliance mechanisms. The filers asserted that Gap put its brand at risk of consumer boycott by allowing poor labour practices within its supply chain. The resolution was withdrawn in 2002 following a pledge by Gap to improve its labour standards disclosure. While the first report, issued in 2004, was criticized for being superficial and without independent scrutiny, improvements have steadily followed. Now 99% of Gap factories are monitored and is working with local governments to improve labour rights.

4) Calvert Social Investment, the Washington based fund and champion of SRI, joined, in 2002, a collaborative effort with the Computer Take-Back Campaign (CTBC) to request that large computer companies accept the task of responsibly recycling their products. Calvert’s main target was Dell and follow initial contact the computer company agreed to recycle their products using prison labor and at the expense to the consumer as they would have to pay for postage. The CTBC rejected this initiative as prisoners are not properly or safely equipped to undertake a task of this nature. Consumers also deplored this plan which caused harm to the Dell brand name. In a follow up resolution, Dell agreed to take responsibility for Design for Environment, product take-back and end-of-life management (recycling) as well as hiring a vice-director of Sustainability to oversee the initiative.

Majoch, Arleta A. A., E. James Gifford, and Andreas G. F. Hoepner, “Active Ownership and ESG Performance,” in Contemporary Issues in Sustainability Accounting, Assurance and Reporting, ed.  Stewart Jones and Janek Ratnatunga (Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing, 2012), 115-139.