Proxy season is in full swing. This week we’re featuring lots of votes on lobbying and political contributions, climate change, drug pricing and a variety of others. 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.
Fossil Fuels and Climate Change
Shareholders are trying a variety of initiatives to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the impacts of climate change. At both ExxonMobil and Chevron, shareholders are asking the companies to form climate change committees responsible for examining each company’s strategy for dealing with the global climate emergency and reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
Shareholders at both companies are asking for more information about the environmental impacts of their activities. At ExxonMobil, shareholders led by proxy activism group As You Sow want a report on the risks of continuing to explore petrochemical (substances obtained by the refining and processing of petroleum or natural gas) sources in the Gulf Coast, which is at high risk for climate impact. At Chevron, shareholders want a report on the impacts of diversifying its operations to reduce its carbon footprint.
Like at Amazon, shareholders are keeping a close eye on Facebook. They’ve made three proposals:
The first is on the quality of Facebook’s content enforcement strategies and policies, especially as they pertain to human rights abuses, threats to democracy, and freedom of expression.
The second is a report on gender pay equity, with specific attention to Facebook’s global median gender pay gap, and any policies and risks associated with recruiting and retaining women employees.
Finally, shareholders also want an equal say: CEO Mark Zuckerberg holds a disproportionate amount of voting power despite only holding 13% of Facebook shares, rendering him able to pass virtually any vote alone. Shareholders would like the board to reset shares so that one share is equivalent to one vote.
Shareholders at Merck want to know more about the pharmaceutical giant’s drug pricing policies, and any reputational or commercial risks associated with the public perception of drug prices.
Concerned shareholders at Chevron want a report on the risk of company operations infringing on the human right to clean water.
ExxonMobil shareholders want full details on the company’s board and board nominees, including gender, race/ethnicity and any relevant skills, experiences and attributes.