SEC restricts shareholder voice over significant policy issues

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As Shareholder Support for Significant Policy Issues Such as Climate Change and other Environmental, Social, and Governance Issues Grows, SEC Votes to Restrict Shareholder Voice

BERKELEY, CA—NOV. 5, 2019—The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), led by Chairman Clayton, voted today to severely limit the rights of shareholders, especially small shareholders to file proposals at companies. The SEC 14a8 process was created to ensure that shareholders have the right to seek transparency and disclosure from companies or raise significant policy issues that can create risk or harm company value over time. Such proposals, which are advisory and not mandatory even with 100% of the vote, have the goal of raising critical issues in front of management, boards, and company shareholders. Today’s draconian vote, split along party lines, would limit investor rights in ways that are incompatible with the basic premise that shareholders are owners of companies and should have a voice in the companies they own.

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“With this vote, the SEC has apparently inverted its mandate of protecting shareholders to that of protecting companies from shareholder input — even where company action creates increasing risk to shareholders, people, or the environment,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “This proposal flies in the face of the SEC’s mandate of ensuring transparency, open discussion, and company responsiveness to shareholder concerns.”

Shareholder proposals have served an important role in bringing cutting edge issues to the attention of management and boards, informing shareholders of growing risk, and increasing productive discussion of significant policy issues — in short, increasing transparency and shedding light on company actions. “Shareholders and companies have been well served by this process over the years; allowing company actions to fall back into the shadows is a giant step backward for all,” said Behar.

Climate proposals are one of the most significant policy issues shareholders have successfully used the process to flag the growing risk to companies and investors of inaction on climate change. Shareholder proposals have shined a light on the importance of climate change; highlighted the risks of inaction; underscored opportunities for responsive companies; flagged lead actors and lagging companies; and ensured that the market is appropriately addressing growing systemic climate risk.

“The SEC has been unable to point to any demonstrable problem with the current shareholder system or make a case for how its proposal to limit shareholder rights will improve company value,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow. “To the contrary, this proposed rulemaking has the potential to increase shareholder and company risk, particularly regarding growing climate concerns. We don’t believe that it will withstand public or legal scrutiny.”


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