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Proxy Preview 2019 Reveals Intensified Shareholder Pressure on Corporations Across a Wide Range of ESG Issues

Climate, Political Spending, Women Lead Roster of Critical Issue for Corporations

Oakland, CA—March 12, 2019—Proxy Preview 2019, released today by As You Sow, Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2), and Proxy Impact, offers a comprehensive look at nearly 400 shareholder resolutions filed on environmental, social, and sustainable governance (ESG) issues. Of the 400, 303 are now headed for votes at corporate annual meetings this spring.

Corporate political influence spending and climate change top investors’ concerns in about half the proposals filed. Yet investors also want more diverse boards of directors, better sustainability disclosure, more transparency, and action on human rights, fair pay, and equitable working conditions. Investors this spring also will get to cast votes on corporate connections to contentious immigration practices, digital privacy, hate speech, and the opioid crisis.

“Shareholder proposals challenge corporate boards and give investors a chance to weigh in on how their companies can respond to the biggest issues of our time,” Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2) and co-author of Proxy Preview 2019, said. “This year underscores that neither political dysfunction nor a lighter regulatory approach in Washington mean companies can ignore the views of investors.” 

Starting in 2017, several major mutual funds that own influential stakes in nearly every corner of the American financial markets started to support shareholder requests for better climate change disclosure, pushing up votes. In 2018, they also lent support for more transparency about possible culpability in the opioid epidemic as well as gun control — prompting 12 unprecedented 50-percent plus victories. A key question this year is where the big funds will weigh in next.

“As every environmental and social system reaches a breaking point, corporate executives and boards listen carefully to shareholders who want collaborative action on the path to a safe, just, and sustainable future,” Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow, said. “The 2019 shareholder resolutions offer a roadmap that will help companies and their investors lead the way.”

Record high shareholder votes in the last two years and growing acceptance of the importance of sustainability issues by mainstream investors have provoked a backlash from some politicians and industry groups. They want to limit shareholders’ right to speak through these resolutions. It’s not yet clear if the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules will be changed, but the 2019 proxy season will certainly provide more fodder for the debate.

“Shareholder rights are under attack,” Michael Passoff, CEO of Proxy Impact and co-author of Proxy Preview 2019, said. “Shareholder proposals were designed as a formal communication channel between investors and management. For more than 40 years shareholder proposals have successfully identified risk and opportunities that have improved corporate policies and practices.”

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As You Sow is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. See our resolutions here.

Proxy Impact provides shareholder engagement and proxy voting services that promote sustainable and responsible business practices.

The Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2) provides impartial analysis for institutional investors to make informed, independent choices on social and environmental shareholder proposals.