More Shareholders Taking Up Social Issues: Report

June 27, 2002 ( - Social activism appears to be gaining some traction among shareholders, according to the Shareholder Action Network, a project of the nonprofit Social Investment Forum in Washington, D.C.

The Shareholder Action Network said this year marked the highest level of shareholder support for social issues since the 1980s, when anti-apartheid activists rallied shareholders to ask U.S. companies to divest themselves of businesses involved in South Africa.

The firm cited at least 23 shareholder resolutions that received the support of over 10% of the shares voted, while 13 proposals garnered more than 20% support, including those at American Standard, Cooper Industries, Delphi Automotive, Du Pont, ExxonMobil, General Electric, and Merck.

Citing March data from the Investor Responsibility Research, some 712 resolutions were proposed at U.S. companies for 2002, including over 261 focusing on social issues of concern.  To date, about 100 of those social issues have come to a vote, with another 170 expected to come to a vote this year.

The report cites results on four key shareholder issues in the 2002 proxy season, including:

  • Global warming – resolutions calling for companies to report on greenhouse gas emissions rose from 7 last year to 18 during the current season.  Those drew the support of 29.6% at American Standard, 29.4% at Eastman Chemical, 20.2% at ExxonMobil, and 19.1% at General Electric.
  • Global labor standards – 45 such proposals were filed this year, including Unocal, where it drew 32.8%, Delphi Automotive (21.6%), and Sears (9.4%).  Support for these initiatives came from the Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, CalPERS, New York City Pension Funds, and the New York State Common Retirement Fund, as well as socially responsible investing firms and unions.
  • Predatory lending – the report specifically notes a resolution at Household International championed by NorthStar Asset Management and Domini Social Investments that called to link executive pay to measures to prevent predatory lending.  The measure drew the support of 27% in its second year on the ballot.
  • Sexual orientation discrimination – a measure that drew the support of nearly 24% at ExxonMobil, as well as 9.5% at Alltel.

The report also cited independent boards and staggered boards as key corporate governance issues in 2002.

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