A news release from the Social Investment Forum Board pointed to a new rule implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requiring mutual funds to disclose their proxy votes and successful shareholder resolutions on issues such as global warming, sexual orientation nondiscrimination, and AIDS (See SEC Says Yes To Fund Proxy Disclosure ).
“A number of important trends merged to increase the visibility and influence of concerned shareowners (in 2004),” said Tim Smith, Social Investment Forum Board president and senior vice-president at Walden Asset Management, in the news release. “Increasingly, ‘socially concerned’ and ‘traditional’ corporate governance advocates are working together side-by-side on important issues. They are encouraging more companies to embrace their role as responsible corporate citizens by making improvements in corporate governance and acting as leaders in corporate social responsibility.”
In a report issued Wednesday, the group listed the following accomplishments:
- The SEC mutual fund proxy voting disclosure rule went into effect. Under the new rule, shareholders can now see in a direct way whether or not their mutual funds are voting on their behalf, the group said.
- The scope of climate change proxy resolutions expanded. In all, 10 North American oil and gas companies addressed shareholder resolutions on disclosure about climate risk.
- Utilities responded positively to climate change dialogues. For example, according to the group, American Electric Power (AEP) announced on February 19, 2004 that the board of directors will agree to shareholder requests to report on the risks that climate change poses to the utility
- Tyco and Coca-Cola management supported shareholder resolutions.
- A coalition of analysts at 18 socially responsible investment firms representing over $230 billion in assets on October 16, 2004 urged publicly traded companies around the world to meet a higher standard of reporting on corporate governance, environmental, labor and other key issues.
- Computer recycling” gained visibility as a responsible corporate practice. For example, Dell committed to improve by 50% its recovery rate of use computer products in FY 2005 over FY 2004, when 35 million pounds of used computers were collected.
- Sexual orientation proxy votes continued to gain ground. For example, at Fifth Third Bancorp, 63% of shareholders voted in favor of including sexual orientation in the firm’s non-discrimination policy.
- The SEC urged to allow shareholder access to the proxy for nominating corporate directors.
- Scholarly research continued to build in 2004 showing that companies that adopt corporate social responsibility practices do better.
- Performance of socially responsible mutual funds remained competitive. Of the 23 funds tracked by the Social Investment Forum with over $100 million in assets, the majority received high marks from either Lipper or Morningstar.
More information about thehe Social Investment Forum is at http://www.socialinvest.org .