Proxy season is in full swing. This week we’re featuring votes on the environment, diversity, lobbying and political contributions, and futuristic technology. Read on to learn more.
American companies spend millions on lobbying and lobbying-related activities each year. That covers both direct lobbying, which is direct communication with a member of a legislative body, and grassroots lobbying, which is money paid to influence the public and their likelihood of contacting their representatives. Through trade associations and memberships to Chambers of Commerce, an individual company’s annual lobbying spend can reach millions.
In these votes, shareholders are asking companies to be transparent about where their lobbying payments go, and how they reach decisions on those payments.
There are plenty of ways for corporations to influence the civic sphere in America. In addition to lobbying, companies can contribute to political campaigns, either directly or through secretive “dark money” super PACs or non-profit contributions. OpenSecrets does the hard work of tracking public donations, but dark money leaves a lot of questions.
In these votes, shareholders are asking companies to be transparent about where their political contributions go, and how they reach decisions on those contributions.
As carbon emissions continue to rise to dangerous levels, many shareholders ask companies to look into how their operations contribute to climate change.
At Amazon, shareholders want to know more about the tech giant’s dependence on fossil fuels and its plans for handling the challenges of climate change. Likewise, shareholders at Ross are asking the company to report on how its long-term strategy will handle climate challenges, as well as asking for short and mid-term goals to reduce carbon emissions. Shareholders at Flowserve are going one step further, requesting that the company create measurable, time-bound goals to help meet the objectives of the Paris Climate agreement.
Activist investors are using shareholder actions to demand recognition and attention for marginalized groups at influential corporations. At Paypal, shareholders are asking the company to update its policies to ensure that proper due diligence is taken with respect to projects that could infringe on the rights of indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, Home Depot investors want clarity on how much prison labor exists in the company’s supply chain.
Studies show that racially- and gender-diverse teams make smarter decisions, achieve better financial outcomes, and innovate more productively. Beyond value to a company or its shareholders, diversity is the right thing to strive for, helping to bring social and economic growth to disenfranchised groups, and empowering individuals to create more change. Shareholders often ask companies with large employee bases to disclose the diversity data they collect for the federal government, to hold them accountable to improved workplaces for marginalized groups.
Shareholders at Amazon are taking on a diverse range of issues. You can read more details on each of these votes in Amazon’s proxy materials packet.
Amazon has now captured 30% of the American online grocery market, so shareholders want to know the extent of the environmental and social impacts of the food wasted in Amazon’s operational chain.
Amazon’s “image and video analysis” software Rekognition has serious implications in the field of facial recognition technology. Shareholders want Amazon to commission a third party study into how the sale of Rekognition to governments could violate privacy and civil rights in the United States or exacerbate authoritarian regimes elsewhere.
One risk associated with a platform that sells virtually anything is the potential to profit off of products promoting hate-speech. Shareholders are asking Amazon to report on its efforts to address hate speech and the sale of offensive products on its platform.
Shareholders are demanding two reports on gender equality. They want to know 1) what the company’s global median gender pay gap is, including any associated policies and risks regarding the hiring and retention of female talent; and 2) a review of the company’s policies related to sexual harassment and any updates they might need.