Recent high profile investigations into greenwashing, the ongoing war in Ukraine and soaring energy costs have prompted questions as to the purpose and value of ESG, and more broadly, stakeholder capitalism. Some have criticized stakeholder capitalism and ESG as “woke” politics, a threat to shareholder interests and a distraction for boards and management. Others have questioned whether stakeholder capitalism and ESG can straddle “doing good” and “doing well.” Uncertainty also abounds as to what ESG truly means.
We believe stakeholder capitalism and ESG are fundamentally frameworks to enhance the sustainable long-term value of a corporation. Both are tools for boards … Read more
The SEC’s proposed amendments to Regulations S‑K and S‑X to require new climate-related disclosures will, if adopted, require an expansion in the scope and responsibilities of audit committees. As described in our prior memo, the rules contemplate domestic and foreign issuers disclosing, in registration statements, annual reports and audited financial statements, information on board and management climate-related risk oversight and governance, material climate-related risks and opportunities over the short-, medium- and long-term, Scopes 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, impact of climate-related events on line items of audited financial statements, and climate-related targets, goals and transition plans (if any). … Read more
Last year’s proxy season saw investor support for an unprecedented number of ESG proposals, on issues ranging from climate change to human capital management to diversity, equity and inclusion. Proxy advisory firms increasingly recommended that shareholders vote for such proposals. We also saw the emergence of ESG-driven withhold campaigns targeting individual directors. This upcoming 2022 proxy season will likely remain hotly contested as investors, proxy advisors and other stakeholders further scrutinize companies’ ESG credentials. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent guidance limiting exclusion of Rule 14a-8 proposals and proposed new rules on climate-related disclosures, and the new ISS and Glass … Read more
Last year, major investors took unprecedented steps through engagement efforts and proxy voting to demonstrate their commitment to addressing the climate transition and board and workforce diversity and inclusion, with focus given to disclosure and reporting of key ESG metrics and how the board, including board committees, oversees these issues. This year, major investors have indicated that they plan to revisit the same issues, but with focus on strategy, innovation and harnessing stakeholder capitalism to guide long-term value creation.
While still keen on companies to decarbonize, investors have highlighted the need to address supply-side risks (as evidenced by current energy … Read more
The SEC Staff has issued revised guidance rescinding prior Staff Legal Bulletins addressing the exclusion of Rule 14a-8 shareholder proposals based on the social significance to a company, “micromanagement” or “economic relevance.” The changes will likely facilitate a larger number of shareholder proposals, including ESG proposals, coming to a shareholder vote.
Ordinary Business Exception: The new guidance revises the SEC’s application of the “ordinary business” exclusion, which considered whether a proposal was of social policy significance or sought to micromanage a company. While the Staff has previously focused on the significance of a social policy issue to a particular issuer, … Read more
As noted in our previous memos, the SEC is considering and has sought input from investors on potential new disclosure requirements related to climate change and other sustainability issues. Yesterday, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler made remarks that add some clarity as to what can be expected: a combination of qualitative and quantitative climate-risk disclosures that are consistent, comparable and decision-useful to investors. Examples of potential qualitative disclosures include how the company’s leadership manages climate-related risks and opportunities, how such matters impact corporate strategy and, potentially, the use of scenario analyses. Quantitative disclosures may include disclosure of Scope 1, 2 … Read more
The current pandemic, blind spots in information flows through supply lines, the shutdowns in meat processing plants around the world, the ongoing shortages in personal protective equipment and, most recently, the scandal involving British retailer Boohoo, have all underscored the importance of resilient, sustainable, legally compliant and ethical supply chains. In addition to geographic and industry-specific challenges, issues relating to health and safety, labor practices and climate risk have become top priorities for investors, regulators and consumers. Failure to ensure proper oversight and management of supply chains can result in significant reputational and economic losses, as well as regulatory scrutiny. … Read more
The ever-evolving challenges facing corporate boards prompt periodic updates to a snapshot of what is expected from the board of directors of a public company—not just the legal rules, or the principles published by institutional investors and various corporate and investor associations, but also the aspirational “best practices” that have come to have equivalent influence on board and company behavior. The coronavirus pandemic and resulting recession, combined with the wide embrace of ESG, stakeholder governance and sustainable long-term investment strategies by the Business Roundtable, the World Economic Forum, the British Academy, BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street and other investors and asset … Read more
Events of recent weeks and months have starkly illuminated the effects of systemic racism and injustice on Black Americans, including threats to physical safety, psychological trauma and economic disparity. CEOs worldwide and across industries have spoken out, expressing their horror and outrage, as well as their resolve to do more. Companies have announced significant financial commitments; others have referred to actions to be taken, and early movers have begun to announce or amplify business-related initiatives. Institutional investors, asset owners, asset managers, private equity fund limited partners and investor groups have also begun speaking out and considering action with respect to … Read more
Recent months have seen institutional investors, multinational organizations and the private sector emphasize the lack of (and importance of) comparable and decision-useful ESG disclosures. Some of the key issues in considering ESG disclosures are:
Choice of Framework and Content. Despite the growing recognition of the need for standardized reporting metrics, companies continue to face a myriad of choices as to how and where to present ESG disclosures. To date, the largest US public companies that disclose this information often report against some portion or combination of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and the … Read more
In an article posted yesterday [March 2] on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance blog, Professor Lucian Bebchuk rejects stakeholder governance and, in so doing, attacks the committed positions of influential institutions as varied as the Business Roundtable, the World Economic Forum, BlackRock, State Street, Vanguard, the UK Financial Reporting Council, and the European Union High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance.
Professor Bebchuk summarizes his article as follows:
“Following the publication of the [Business Roundtable] statement, in December 2019 the World Economic Forum took the unusual step of publishing a manifesto that urged companies to move from the … Read more
In a letter to directors of public companies, State Street Global Advisors’ President and CEO, Cyrus Taraporevala, reiterated SSgA’s focus on “financially material” ESG issues as “a matter of value, not values.” He also confirmed that SSgA will go beyond engagement and deploy its voting power in director elections to accelerate corporate action on ESG. In SSgA’s view, “fewer than 25% of the companies we’ve evaluated have meaningfully identified, incorporated and disclosed material ESG issues into their strategies.”
As shareholder proposals touching on ESG and sustainability matters proliferate, SSgA has also sounded a cautionary note, flagging that “some shareholder … Read more
In light of evolving—and sometimes actively debated—perspectives on the role of public companies with respect to sustainability, corporate social responsibility and other ESG matters (e.g., Barron’s recent report on Sustainable Investing), we are providing a high-level overview of how boards of directors and senior management teams may wish to approach these issues:
- Be aware that sustainability has become a major, mainstream governance topic that encompasses a wide range of issues, including a company’s long-term durability as a successful enterprise, climate change and other environmental risks and impacts, systemic financial stability, management of human capital, labor standards, resource
… Read more
With shareholder proposals regarding ESG and sustainability matters becoming the most common kind of proposal, proxy advisory firm ISS marketing a new “Environmental & Social QualityScore” product for rating public companies, asset managers developing ESG-related guidelines and voting policies, and significant activist and investor fundraising efforts underway with ESG-linked themes, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) has issued new guidance that may influence the going-forward behavior of some market participants.
On April 23, 2018, the DOL issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2018-01, clarifying previous DOL guidance for ERISA-covered private-sector employee benefit plans regarding proxy voting, shareholder engagement, and … Read more