Human Rights

After a dip in 2018, shareholder proponents have stepped up filing resolutions on human rights this year. They include a familiar set of proposals about reporting on human rights risks and how companies are implementing current policies. Only five directly address operations in contested territory—a dominant issue three years ago—but five ask for new types of disclosure about immigrants and the penal system, and three other new proposals seek transparency about how tech and communications firms try to prevent online child sexual exploitation. Another new proposal asks about Alphabet/Google’s China policies, Saudi Arabia’ human rights violations feature at Booz Allen Hamilton and Oxfam is looking for food-specific assessments of human rights impacts at Another new resolution about products connected to hate speech is before, as well.

Human Rights Proposals Since 2010.jpg

Many of the recipient companies have not seen human rights proposals before, and many issues are new, tied to issues of intense public debate.

In all, there are 44 proposals on human rights, with 33 now pending and nine withdrawn so far. At least six await the outcome of pending challenges at the SEC, and more challenges are likely outstanding given the backup at the SEC after the government shutdown.

Policy Risk & Impact Assessments

Risk assessments: Proponents are continuing a risk-based approach, seeking reports about how companies assess their supply chains and operations for red flags. At six—Amphenol, Corning, Hanesbrands, Macy’s, Texas Instruments and TJX—the request is for a report on each firm’s “process for identifying and analyzing potential and actual human rights risks of its operations and supply chain.” The resolution suggests that the company consider what principles should frame the assessment, how often it should occur, what metrics should be used to track and measure force labor risk and how the assessment results could be incorporated into company decisions.

The resolutions point out specific concerns at companies in independent assessments:

  • 2018 Know the Chain report on forced labor gave scores of 9 out of 100 for Amphenol and 6 for Corning,

  • The 2018 Corporate Human Rights Benchmark report gave a score of 4.1 out of 100 to Macy’s, 13.8 to TJX and 38 to Texas Instruments;

A low score for Hanesbrands from the 2018 Fashion Transparency Index, Know the Chain and the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark.

A resolution from Oxfam America at Pilgrim’s Pride goes a step further and seeks a report on the company’s “human rights due diligence process to assess, identify, prevent and mitigate actual and potential adverse human rights impacts.” The proposal details problems with a wide range of worker’s rights in the meat industry and related environmental concerns, as well as what it says is public resistance to company expansions because of community impacts, alongside discrimination claims and environmental and labor fines.

At Wendy’s and KraftHeinz the resolution is the same, but includes the suggested report elements in the resolved clause; it adds at Wendy’s that it should “cover all aspects of Wendy’s business including its own operations, franchisees, cooperatives, and supply chains.”

SEC actionHanesbrands challenged the proposal at the SEC, arguing that the resolution is moot and concerns ordinary business. Texas Instruments also says it is moot given its current policies and disclosures.

Withdrawal—NYSCRF has withdrawn an additional proposal also seeking a human rights risk assessment at Dunkin’ Brands after reaching an agreement. Amalgamated also withdrew at Hanesbrands following the challenge.

Food and human rights: Oxfam America has another food-related resolution, at, which wants the impact assessment to be about “at least three food products Amazon sells that present a high risk of adverse human rights impacts,” and follows the same identify-assess-remedy approach as the other proposals.

Investors gave 5.5 percent support to a proposal at Tyson Foods on February 7. Tyson is a family owned company with two classes of stock, which results in generally low votes. The American Baptist Church asked for a report on Tyson’s “human rights due diligence process to assess, identify, prevent and mitigate actual and potential human rights impacts.” The proponent felt the company’s current policies and level of disclosure do not provide adequate information on its human-rights related risks, some of which have short circuited its expansion plans because of environmental concerns. Tyson recently signed on to the United Nations Global Compact and must report on its progress and commitment to the code’s 10 voluntary principles.

China: Azzad Asset Management has a new proposal at Alphabet, seeking a “Human Rights Impact no later than October 30, 2019, examining the actual and potential impacts of censored Google search in China.” The resolution says subsidiary Google is developing a search engine called “Dragonfly” that will “blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest.” Azzad says the project calls into question the company’s human rights commitments.

Adopt and strengthen policies: Four proposals contend companies must have stronger policies. At the consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, Azzad Asset Management says the firm should

develop and adopt a comprehensive human rights policy that includes an explicit commitment to support and uphold the principles and values contained in the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to be published no later than six months following the 2019 annual general meeting. The report shall be presented to relevant parties involved in contract approval and posted on the company website.

Azzad points out that Booz Allen operates in Saudi Arabia, which

has been repeatedly implicated in violations of basic human rights; among these are the 2018 assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the military assault and blockade of Yemen. Yet, our company and its competitors have reportedly “played critical roles in [Saudi] Prince Mohammed [bin Salman]’s drive to consolidate power.” (“Consulting Firms Keep Lucrative Saudi Alliance, Shaping Crown Prince’s Vision,” The New York Times, November 4, 2018.).

It says adopting a policy “would enable [the company] to effectively manage and avoid allegations of abetting such abuses.”

Fiduciary duty connection—Harrington Investments has resubmitted a proposal seen last year at PayPal for the first time asking it again to “modify its formal government document [to] articulate the fiduciary duties of Board and management to ensure due diligence on Human and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights.” It delineates a range of actions taken by the company that touch on human rights issues—from policies that protect LBGTQ employees, to terminating service for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s Infowars website as a violation of his terms of service, to “not denying financial services to Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.” It posits an explicit fiduciary duty tie is needed because current policies are non-binding and have “limited legal teeth or enforcement mechanisms and therefore minimal assurance of respect or protection for global Human Rights.” The proposal earned 5.9 percent last year and must reach 6 percent to qualify for resubmission.

New policy—Mercy Investments has two more proposals. It asked Southwest Airlines to adopt or create “a comprehensive policy articulating our company’s respect for and commitment to human rights.” Mercy said the company has “no specific public commitment to respect Human Rights in line with” the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights, and yet as “one of the world’s largest low-cost airline carriers [it] has significant leverage for identifying and addressing human rights risks in its operations and in its supply chain.” Mercy withdrew after the company agreed to study the Every Child Against Trafficking initiative and review and consolidate its human rights statements on its website.

At Sturm, Ruger, Mercy’s resolution is the same, but adds that the policy (as with the other proposals noted above) should include “description of proposed due diligence processes to assess, identify, prevent and mitigate actual and potential human rights impacts.” It reasons, “Given the lethality of gun manufacturers’ products and the potential for their misuse, the risk of adverse human rights impacts is especially elevated for all gun manufacturers, including Sturm, Ruger.” In 2018, a proposal at the company about gun safety earned unprecedented 68.8 percent support.


Colleen Scanlon, RN, JD
Senior Vice President, Executive Vice President & Chief Advocacy Officer, CommonSpirit Health (formerly Catholic Health Initiatives)


Laura Krausa MNM
System Director, Advocacy, Catholic Health Initiatives


Gun-related deaths in the U.S. are at a 20-year high. In fact, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the number of deaths from gunfire to be nearly 40,000 in 2017 — the equivalent of 12 deaths per 100,000, and the highest rate since 1996.

About 43 percent of U.S. households own firearms, and it is estimated there are more than 390 million guns in a country with a population of approximately 327 million. More guns than people – that’s an astonishing statistic.

Human Rights.jpg

Immigration and the Penal System

The intense public debate over immigration and how best to address security along the long U.S. border with Mexico— which prompted the longest government shutdown in U.S. history early this year—is making itself known in proxy season with five proposals. Two have been withdrawn after agreements and challenges to the other three proposals are still pending at the SEC.

Lending to prison companies: The SEIU Master Trust has withdrawn a proposal at Bank of America and Wells Fargo that asked for a report by year’s end

on how BAC is identifying and addressing human rights risks to BAC related to the Trump Administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement policy, which aims to prosecute all persons who enter or attempt to enter the United States (U.S.), including the detention without parole of asylum-seekers and the separation of minor children from their parents who are accused of entering the U.S. illegally.

The proposal noted both banks lend to private prison companies, which are involved in immigrant detention. This is a new proposal in 2019. SEIU withdrew after Wells Fargo agreed to add language about private prisons to its Business Standards Report. Bank of America also reached an agreement with SEIU but the details are not yet available.

Family separation: Inmate rights advocate Alex Friedman also is raising concerns about the detention of immigrant families. He has a detailed proposal asking CoreCivic and GEO Group to

adopt the following policy, to be implemented no later than December 31, 2019:

  1. [The company] shall adopt a policy of not accepting immigrant detainee children (persons under the age of 18), who have been separated from their parent or parents by any U.S. government entity, for housing at any facility owned or operated by the Company.

  2. [The company] shall adopt a policy of not accepting adult immigrant detainees (persons over the age of 18), who have been separated from their child or children by any U.S. government entity, for housing at any

    facility owned or operated by the Company.

  3. If [the company] houses at any of its facilities any immigrant detainee children or adults described in sections 1 or 2 above at the time the policies set forth in sections 1 and 2 are implemented, the Company shall: a) immediately move to modify all such contracts to comply with the above policies or, if such modification is not possible within a six- month period, seek to withdraw from or terminate such contracts as soon as possible, including invoking any early termination options or clauses in such contracts, and b) diligently work to make arrangements to safely house such immigrant detainees that do not involve housing them at any of the Company’s facilities.

Both companies have lodged challenges at the SEC. CoreCivic argues it can be excluded because it concerns ordinary business by dint of micromanagement and since it does not address a significant policy issue. The company also says that it cannot implement the proposal, that it is too vague and that it is moot. GEO Group is making the same arguments. The proposal is the first of its kind, but Friedman has filed a number of proposals in the past on prisoner concerns at both companies.

Inmate and detainee rights: The Jesuit Conference has a second proposal at GEO, which notes serious allegations from October 2018 at a California migrant detainee facility run by GEO. It asks for an annual report starting in September

on how it implements the portion of the Policy that addresses “Respect for Our Inmates and Detainees,” including:

  1. How GEO ensures that its employees are aware of, and know how to apply, the company’s commitment to inmate/detainee human rights;

  2. Metrics used to assess human rights performance, including any process for independent outside verification of such metrics; and

  3. How GEO remedies shortcomings in human rights performance.

The company has challenged the proposal, saying its implementation would violate the law, that it is too vague and that it concerns ordinary business by seeking to micromanage the company.

Advocacy Position.png


Nadira Narine
Senior Program Director, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)

The current “zero-tolerance” U.S. immigration policy has become one of the most high-profile and contentious human rights issues we face. The Trump Administration’s more aggressive approach to immigration restrictions pushed arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) up by 11 percent in 2018. The resulting indefinite detention, especially the separation of minor immigrant children from their parents, has violated human and civil rights.

Biometrics: At Northrop Grumman, the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, N.J., ask for a report on its management systems and processes to implement its human rights policy. The proposal expresses concern about a new Department of Homeland Security contract for which the company will develop biometric identification information. The proponents are worried about potential racial bias and privacy issues as well as adverse impacts on immigrant communities. The company has challenged the resolution at the SEC, arguing it concerns ordinary business, seeks to micromanage its business, and is moot given the company’s human rights policy. (Also see p. 60 for proposal about facial recognition software.)

Prison Labor

Reporting: NorthStar Asset Management has expanded an effort begun last year, asking four companies (up from two last year) to report about products that may be made with prison labor. Last year the proposal was to adopt a policy and it earned 4.8 percent at Costco, which later in the year adopted a policy. That proposal also earned 7.8 percent at TJX.

This year, NorthStar asked Costco “to produce an annual report to shareholders...regarding information known to the company regarding supplier compliance with the company’s Global Policy on Prison Labor.” It earned 28.7 percent in January. A resolution to Home Depot and IBM asks that the report summarize “the extent of known usage of prison labor in the company’s supply chain,” while at TJX, it asks that the report assess “the effectiveness of current company policies for preventing instances of prison labor in the company’s supply chain. NorthStar contends Home Depot does not ban all forms of prison labor and points to a lawsuit filed against it regarding some products made by prisoners.

After IBM described its existing procedures to monitor for prison labor in its supply chain, NorthStar withdrew. IBM also agreed to further collaboration on the issue in 2019.

Adopt policy: At Walmart, the Nathan Cummings Foundation also raises a new concern about the provisions of legally permissible prison labor. The foundation asks the company to

adopt a policy on the use of prison and unpaid diversion program labor by suppliers, including a policy that commits the Company to:

  1. Develop and apply additional criteria or guidelines for suppliers regarding the use of prison and diversion program labor; and

  2. Report to shareholders, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, on Walmart’s progress in implementing the policy.


Chloé Bailey
Program Officer, The Freedom Fund

Globally, it is estimated that over 40 million people live in situations of modern slavery. Approximately 16 million people are in forced labor in the private economy, in mines, factories and fields harvesting raw materials and manufacturing products for global supply chains. Over the past few years, revelations of modern slavery conditions have been traced to the supply chains of major corporations, from smartphones produced with forced child labor in the DRC, to seafood caught by trafficked migrant workers in Thailand.

Human Trafficking

Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS) has proposed that three companies report on online child sexual exploitation. It withdrew after discussions at Apple, having sought

a report, including a risk February 2020, assessing whether Apple’s products, services, policies and practices are sufficient to prevent material impacts to the company’s finances, brand reputation, or product demand, in light of strong public concern regarding the growing risk to children of sexual exploitation online.

CBIS, Proxy Impact, and faith-based investor have pending resolutions at Sprint and Verizon Communications that are seeking

a report on the potential sexual exploitation of children through the company’s products and services, including a risk March 2020, assessing whether the company’s oversight, policies and practices are sufficient to prevent material impacts to the company’s brand reputation, product demand or social license.

These resolutions are the beginning of a new campaign that will engage a wide variety of IT companies involved with data storage, social media and telecommunications, as well as at device producers. Seventy-five percent of children trafficked or sold for sex are advertised online. Mobile devices have led to a dramatic increase in online child sex imagery—at least 50,000 new images are posted each year online and more than half of these are of children 10 years old or younger.

Advocacy Position.png


Tracey C. Rembert
Director of Catholic Responsible Investing, Christian Brothers Investment Services, Inc. (CBIS)

While Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies are now widely-held components of many investor portfolios, they are also at the center of an escalating trend in children being sexually exploited and abused online. The technology used in sex crimes against children is ubiquitous, from smartphones to gaming consoles, and through various apps, text messaging, social media sites, cloud storage, and more. And yet, ICT companies rarely disclose how they are combating these growing risks, from identifying and blocking child sex images, to investing in new solutions to stay ahead of the abusers.

Trucking: The Presbyterian Church (USA) has withdrawn a proposal to Hub Group that asks it to report “on the implementation of a program to address human trafficking internally and in its supply chain.” The withdrawal came after discussions with the company and Truckers Against Trafficking. The supporting statement suggested the report include a policy statement, overview of company education and training efforts, plans for customer communications, information for trucker contacts at its destinations and publish an annual report.

Sugarcane supply chain: As You Sow has resubmitted a resolution to Monster Beverage, asking it to issue a report by November “containing the criteria and analytical methodology used to determine its conclusion of ‘minimal risk’ of slavery and human trafficking in its sugarcane supply chain.” The resolution earned 19.9 percent in 2018.


NorthStar Asset Management has withdrawn a resubmitted proposal at American Water Works given a technical problem. It asked for a report, “tracking our Company’s impacts and responses on the human right to water and sanitation.” It raised general questions but also a specific concern about its operations in West Virginia and California. A similar proposal earned 13.7 percent in 2018.

At Chevron, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia is asking for a report “on the company’s due diligence process to identify and address risks related to the Human Right to Water throughout its operations.” It says the report should:

  • Outline the human right to water impacts of Chevron’s business activities, including company-owned operations and value chain;

  • Explain the types and extent of stakeholder consultation; and

  • Address Chevron’s plans to track effectiveness of measures to assess, prevent, mitigate, and remedy adverse impacts on the human right to water.

Hate Speech

At, the Nathan Cummings Foundation wants a

report on its efforts to address hate speech and the sale of offensive products throughout its businesses. The report should...discuss Amazon’s process to develop policies to address hate speech and offensive products, the experts and stakeholders it consulted while developing these policies and the enforcement mechanisms it has put in place, or intends to put in place, to ensure compliance.

In the resolution, Nathan Cummings points out an increase in hate crimes and observes, “some have suggested that online hate speech, which Merriam-Webster defines as speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people, can help weaken inhibitions against harmful acts.” The company’s policy is not to offer products that “promote, incite or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views,” but the resolution asserts it is inconsistently applied and that a July 2018 report found “racist, lslamophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic items on Amazon’s platforms.” It concludes the company may damage its reputation and “relationships with key stakeholders including customers, regulators and employees.”

(Additional resolutions related to hate speech are in Media section, below.)


Investors continue to file shareholder resolutions that mirror the public debate about the negative influence of electronic media on public and private discourse and behavior—and the related risks to companies. As in 2018, resolutions concern hate speech and the Internet as well as privacy and cybersecurity.

Content management: Arjuna Capital has returned to the three big social media companies— Alphabet, Facebook and Twitter—with a resolution similar to last year’s on problematic content, issues it raised first two years ago. It has been joined in its critiques of the media firms by leading pension fund NYSCRF and the Illinois Treasurer’s Office, as well as Harrington Investments.

At Alphabet, the proposal is a resubmitted request for a report “on major global content management controversies (including election interference)... reviewing the efficacy of governance, oversight and policies on content disseminated on its platform and assessing the magnitude of any risks posed to the company’s finances, operations, and reputation.” The resolution earned 12.8 percent in 2018, a high vote where the founders control a large swathe of the stock.

The resolution notes concerns about Russian interference in U.S. elections and concludes the company’s response has been “insufficient” and puts long-term value at risk. The proposal reiterates the concept of the company as an “information fiduciary” and says Alphabet must “demonstrate how it responsibly manages content on its platform.” The proposal suggests the scrutiny in Congress and elsewhere may prompt the regulation of tech companies as public utilities.

At Facebook, the resolved clause is the same. Last year it earned 10.3 percent, after a much lower vote of 0.8 percent in 2017. It points out a $100 billion decline in Facebook’s market capitalization after news broke in March 2018 that personal data had been used by Cambridge Analytica, followed by another $100 billion decline after its July quarterly earnings call reported growing costs and declining revenue growth. Arjuna concludes these risks are being priced into the market but that the company’s “approach to content governance has proven ad hoc, ineffectual, and poses continued risk to shareholder value.” More than 40 percent of young Americans deleted the company’s app and even more now use it less frequently, it says.


The Facebook proposal urges consideration of the Santa Clara Principles about content moderation and transparency, which call for release of the following metrics:

  • Numbers (posts removed, accounts suspended)

  • Notices (of content removals, account suspensions)

  • Appeals (for users impacted by removals, suspensions)



Natasha Lamb
Managing Partner, Arjuna Capital

News of Cambridge Analytica’s misappropriation of millions of Facebook users’ data preceded a decline in Facebook’s stock market capitalization of over $100 billion in March 2018. Another 100 billion plus decline in market value—a record-setting drop—came in July 2018 after Facebook’s quarterly earnings report reflected increasing costs and decreasing revenue growth.

Recent efforts to address these concerns are insufficient, in Arjuna’s view, and continue to raise fundamental concerns about “democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression”—involving violence against the Rohingya and refugees in Germany, as well as racist or sexist posts.

A slightly different list of concerns is in the Twitter proposal, which last year earned 35.7 percent support. The resolution seeks a report “reviewing the efficacy of its enforcement of its terms of service related to content policies and assessing the risks posed by content management controversies (including election interference, fake news, hate speech and sexual harassment) to the company’s finances, operations and reputation.” The Twitter proposal presents concerns similar to those in the other two proposals, about management of the platform and Russian interference in U.S. elections and misinformation, as well as “hate speech that can threaten marginalized groups and undermine our democracy.” The resolution criticizes Twitter’s reported use in 2017 of racist and sexist words for ad targeting, and expresses concern about fake user accounts and tweets from bots. The supporting statement says the requested report should “include assessment of the scope of platform abuses, impacts on free speech, and address related ethical concerns.”

Network access: Harrington Investments filed and then withdrew a proposal to Verizon Communications about alleged “throttling” of its network during the 2018 California wildfires. The proposal sought a report

with a summary analysis on whether our Company “throttled” service during the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire and other similar 2018 fire events, the Company’s assessment of whether any such throttling interfered with fire safety personnel’s ability to function effectively in emergency firefighting activities, and any measures the Company is taking to prevent similar actions in the future to reduce the risk to our Company’s reputation and corporate responsibility profile.

Harrington noted in its withdrawal the company’s review of its services during the wildfires. Verizon also had challenged the proposal at the SEC, arguing it related to ordinary business since it addressed products and pricing and customer relations. The challenge described a board review of company service during the fires and the company’s plan to prevent future similar problems.

Privacy: One more new resolution takes up additional concerns about privacy at The Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood want the company to “prohibit sales of facial recognition technology to government agencies unless the Board concludes, after an evaluation using independent evidence, that the technology does not cause or contribute to actual or potential violations of civil and human rights.” The proposal says privacy and civil liberties risks associated with the company’s Rekognition facial analysis application justify the report. The company has challenged it at the SEC, arguing it is not significantly related to its business and is ordinary business. Critics contend that the Rekognition program can enable surveillance that may violate human rights and target minority groups. The proponents point out that Amazon Web Services provide cloud computing services to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and may be marketing Rekognition to ICE, “despite concerns Rekognition could facilitate immigrant surveillance and racial profiling.” The supporting statement says the company should assess:

  • The extent to which such technology may endanger or violate privacy or civil rights, and disproportionately impact people of color, immigrants, and activists, and how Amazon would mitigate these risks.

  • The extent to which such technologies may be marketed and sold to repressive governments, identified by the United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

(Also see p. 53 for proposal at Northrop Grumman on its human rights policy and biometric identification.)