Shareholder activism has been a powerful source of pressure on corporations since the late 1960s, but for most of its history, it has been a tool largely unavailable to all but the most determined of stockholders. The organizations most effective in using the shareholder advocacy have served very targeted institutional constituencies – such as religious shareholders (the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility), pension funds (the Council on Institutional Investors), environmental groups and environmentally concerned institutional investors (CERES), and investor rights advocates (Investor Rights Association of). Regulatory barriers that circumscribed inter-shareholder communication and the expense associated with it served as a powerful deterrent preventing the little-guy stockholder from confronting management with a shareholder proposal.
But just as the Internet revolutionized street activism by making cheap and instantaneous communication widely available, so too will it awaken and galvanize the sleeping giant of socially concerned American stockholders (institutional and individual) that aren’ t reached by existing shareholder advocacy associations. Or so is the vision of the Shareholder Action Network (SAN), whose web site declares hopefully, “Our vision to ignite shareholder advocacy is finally a reality.”
A project of the Social Investment Forum, SAN and grew out of several years of discussions among the industry’ s shareholder activists. It’ s founding partners include Trillium Asset Management and many other firms in the social investment field as well as the As You Sow Foundation, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the Social Investment Forum (SIF). Trillium Asset Management serves on the Advisory Board to SAN.
SAN’ s mission states four objectives:
” Increase the effectiveness of shareholder advocacy by expanding the network of institutions, organizations and financial professionals participating in shareholder action.
” Serve as a clearinghouse of information, news, commentary, strategy, and investor dialogue on shareholder action.
” Protect the shareholder resolution process as a key tool for ensuring corporate responsiveness and responsibility.
” Launch shareholder campaigns several times a year seeking broad-based support for critical social, labor and environmental issues through shareholder resolutions and consumer write-in campaigns.
Although SAN’ s web site can potentially broadcast action alert materials for an unlimited number of shareholder campaigns, each year SAN will choose three priority campaigns to highlight. This year, after holding discussions with a voluntary committee and gathering input from SIF members, SAN selected genetically engineered (GE) foods, predatory lending and sweatshops as the focus for its initial campaigns. Its web site users will find the text of resolutions, background information, and direct email links to companies. Information on additional resolutions is supplied by a link to SocialFunds.com’ s database.
The SAN web site’ s challenge, says program director Tracey Rembert, is to provide busy SRI professionals with “quick and easy ways to get themselves and their clients involved” in shareholder campaigns.
While not directly sponsored or underwritten by the Shareholder Action Network, the upcoming conference “Empowering Democracy: Challenging Corporate Power And Demanding Accountability” dovetails perfectly with SAN’ s work. Billed as a “Conference for Corporate Campaigners and Day of Action,” its mission is “to teach the basic skills, strategies and tactics organizations and activists can use in corporate accountability campaigns.” Workshops will address such topics as successful and unsuccessful corporate campaigns, how corporations work, how to influence a CEO & board members, organizing on global issues (e.g., NAFTA, WTO, MAI), legal matters, divestment and shareholder activism, internet activism, researching corporations, boycotts, direct action and much more. The Belden and Turner Foundations have underwritten the conference.
The event will culminate with a ” field trip” of sorts to ExxonMobil’s annual shareholder meeting, where shareholders will be presenting proposals on a number of issues. The conference will be held from May 27 through May 30, 2001 at the Radisson Hotel Central in Dallas, Texas. Scholarships are available.
For more information, visit www.empoweringdemocracy.org.