At the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, Institutional Shareholder Services Executive Director Subodh Mishra recently published a summary of an ISS analysis of 450 proposals filed at Russell 3000 companies, which shows how investors’ priorities are shifting toward social, political, and environmental concerns. More than two thirds of these proposals are related to social or environmental issues, chief among them political activity and spending, board and workplace diversity, and climate change and sustainability, Mishra writes. Furthermore, nine of the ten most common types of proposals related to one of these issues, whereas only one (demanding the right to call a special shareholder meeting) is focused on governance. Mishra sees two main factors driving this trend:
First, social and environmental issues themselves are gaining significant traction with investors and the public. Important issues, such as concerns about the transparency of the political process, harassment and equity in the workplace, and climate change risks make headlines and dominate the public discussion daily. At the same time, investors and asset owners are bolstering their efforts towards greater ESG integration, which helps proponents gain further momentum. Second, governance topics may be lower on the agenda for the target universe. Shareholder proposals are typically filed at large-capitalization companies, where many formerly-contested governance issues have now become the standard. Annual director elections, majority vote standard, simple majority vote requirements and even proxy access—to a large extent—are now the norm for the vast majority of large companies.
ISS’s analysis counts proposals related to diversity and inclusion toward its total of “social issue” resolutions; while that’s fair, investors are paying more attention to diversity not only out of a sense of social responsibility but also as part of the investor community’s growing concern with talent as a key driver of business value.