The election of Donald Trump defined the end of 2016, and it will continue to shape Zevin Asset Management’s shareholder advocacy in this new year. Endangered regulations and troubling cabinet nominations foretell policy uncertainty at best and, very likely, a swing toward unchecked corporate greed. The danger to workers and the environment is obvious. The challenge for companies operating under the new administration is that the commercial rules of the road — all the policies that structure firms’ risks and opportunities — are now up for grabs.
Now more than ever, investors must hold companies accountable for their social impacts and join with civil society to support the struggles we care about. Early in 2017, Zevin will contact companies in client portfolios and question how they are responding to big rule changes. And, in the last quarter of 2016, we stepped up our advocacy in three major risk areas.
Inequality is driving unrest, xenophobia, and despair in America and around the world. We renewed our push for large employers to address wages and help save what’s left of the social contract. We are fighting to get Amazon.com, CVS Health, Home Depot, and TJX Companies to back proposals to raise and index the federal minimum wage. At CVS, we re-submitted a proposal for the company’s annual meeting of stockholders which would force CVS to address the massive gap between the CEO’s pay and the wages average employees take home.
Economic inequality intersects with gender, race, and ethnicity, and companies should be held accountable for wage fairness across each of those dimensions. Expanding on a campaign which convinced tech firms like eBay and Apple to report on the gender-based pay gaps in their workforces, we are urging Colgate Palmolive and TJX to report and remedy pay disparities based on race and ethnicity as well as gender.
We are also challenging AT&T to do more to reach out to potential customers who are among the 34 million poor and rural Americans who still lack access to broadband Internet. To address health inequality, we have joined a group of faith-based investors pushing AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson to disclose why and how those pharmaceutical companies decide to raise the prices of their most popular drugs.
Just in time for the holiday season, Microsoft took its own step toward economic justice: after months of engagement from Zevin and other stakeholders, the company announced that its Bing search engine will ban predatory payday loan companies from showing up in paid search results.
The climate crisis remains a global crisis and a focus for investors, who have already committed $2.3 trillion in capital to various energy and adaptation solutions. Beyond channeling money, investors must push companies to use their political and economic power to support the low carbon economy. Last fall, we kept urging United Parcel Service (UPS), ExxonMobil, and Alphabet (Google) to disclose their climate-focused lobbying, while pushing financial firms T. Rowe Price, JPMorgan Chase, and Franklin Resources to back common-sense climate change policies at the companies they invest in.
UPS has a big climate footprint but an equally large opportunity to lead on energy efficiency and low-emission vehicles. Last November, Zevin filed a shareholder proposal encouraging the company to set a target for using renewable energy. After some negotiation, UPS agreed to announce that it is exploring a renewable energy goal as part of a revamp of its overall climate strategy, and the company joined a group of investors led by Zevin in an intensive dialogue on climate change that will continue through 2017. We filed similar proposals at PepsiCo and CVS Health and will update on the progress of those dialogues. In a related win, Zevin helped convince Emerson Electric to issue its first ever sustainability report, which will track and focus the company’s work on climate change issues.
In 2016, campaigns pushing the major oil and gas companies to plan for the risks and opportunities of a low-carbon future nearly won majority support among investors. Zevin joined in these efforts again this year, co-filing climate change proposals for the upcoming annual stockholder meetings of ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. And we are leading the fight at Chevron for an independent board chairman — a sensible check on executives who have lobbied against climate legislation and pursued a risky, slash-and-burn legal strategy to avoid paying for pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Civil rights are supposed to be safeguarded by government, but companies must also respect and protect the rights of customers and communities. AT&T, for instance, faces questions about its Hemisphere program, which sells call data searches to federal and local law enforcement agencies. The company claims that Hemisphere complies with lawful police requests; however, the program’s database is larger than it has to be and AT&T’s searches are more aggressive than the its privacy policies might indicate. After highlighting privacy risks over the past few years, we are attempting to take our concerns to AT&T’s annual stockholder meeting this spring.
We are also carrying forward our work on the private sector’s role in mass incarceration. We wrote to Amazon.com about legal risks and social impacts in this area when dozens of its delivery drivers were summarily fired after a criminal background check last fall. Wall Street credits Amazon with automating and streamlining retail, and the importance of Amazon’s direct employees and contractors is often lost in a techno-utopian haze. Our dialogue with the Amazon is different: we remind the company that, despite its technology, its operations still affect (and depend on) the rights and livelihoods of tens of thousands of human workers. In that vein, we have co-sponsored an investor measure urging Amazon to shed light on its background check practices, and we are helping to lead a group of investors raising a range of social issues with management.
Going forward, we will also continue urging companies like Amazon, AbbVie, Intel, and several retailers in our clients’ portfolios to adopt progressive hiring policies which consider applicants holistically and do not exclude people because of prior contact with the criminal justice system.
Thanks for reading and sharing. Write me for more information about these activities and Zevin’s broader advocacy efforts.
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