Tag: Corporate Social Responsibility

Securing Our Nation’s Economic Future

Leo E. Strine, Jr. is Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, the Austin Wakeman Scott Lecturer on Law and a Senior Fellow of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. This post is based on Chief Justice Strine’s recent keynote address to the Fellows Colloquium of the American College of Governance Counsel, available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), and Can We Do Better by Ordinary Investors? A Pragmatic Reaction to the Dueling Ideological Mythologists of Corporate Law, by Leo E. Strine (discussed on the Forum here).

These days it has become fashionable to talk about a subject some of us have been addressing for some time: [1] whether the incentive system for the governance of American corporations optimally encourages long-term investment, sustainable policies, and therefore creates the most long-term economic and social benefit for American workers and investors. Many commentators have come to the conclusion that the answer to that question is no. They bemoan the pressures that can lead corporate managers to quick fixes like offshoring, which might give a balance sheet a short-term benefit, but cut our nation’s long-term prospects. They lament the relative tilt in corporate spending toward stock buybacks and away from spending on capital expenditures. They look at situations where corporations took environmental or other regulatory short-cuts, which ended up in disaster, and ask whether anyone is thinking about sustainable approaches. They rightly point to the accounting gimmickry involved in several high-profile debacles and ask what it has to do with the creation of long-term wealth for human investors.


Active Ownership

Oğuzhan Karakaş is Assistant Professor of Finance at Boston College. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Karakaş; Elroy Dimson, Professor of Finance at London Business School; and Xi Li, Assistant Professor of Accounting at Temple University. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Socially Responsible Firms by Allen Ferrell, Hao Liang, and Luc Renneboog (discussed on the Forum here).

In our paper, Active Ownership, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we analyze highly intensive engagements on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues by a large institutional investor with a major commitment to responsible investment (hereafter “ESG activism” or “active ownership”). Given the relative lack of research on environmentally and socially themed engagements, we emphasize the environmental and social (ES) engagements throughout the paper and use the corporate governance (CG) engagements as a basis for comparison.


Sustainability Practices 2015

Matteo Tonello is Managing Director at The Conference Board, Inc. This post relates to Sustainability Practices 2015, an annual benchmarking report authored by Mr. Tonello and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, graphics, and appendices, is available here.

More US companies are aligning sustainability disclosure with global standards through the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework. Even though the overall environmental and social disclosure rate among global companies has remained essentially unchanged over the last year, reporting using the GRI framework continued its rise in the United States, and one out of three large U.S. companies now adopt those guidelines. Exceptional progress has also been made in the transparency of individual practices, such as anti-bribery and climate change.

These are some of the findings from The Conference Board Sustainability Practices Dashboard 2015, a comprehensive database and online benchmarking tool that serves as the foundation for this report. The dashboard captures the most recent disclosure of environmental and social practices by large public companies around the world and segments them by market index, geography, sector, and revenue group. Other key findings from this year’s data include the following:


Peer Effects of Corporate Social Responsibility

Hao Liang is Assistant Professor of Finance at Singapore Management University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Liang, and Jie Cao and Xintong Zhan, both of the Department of Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has increasingly become a mainstream business activity—ranging from voluntarily engaging in environmental protection to increasing workforce diversity and employee welfare—although standard economic theories predict that it should be rather uncommon (Benabou and Tirole, 2010; Kitzmueller and Shimshack, 2012). The neoclassical economic paradigm usually considers CSR as unnecessary and inconsistent with profit maximization (e.g., Friedman, 1970). This discrepancy between theory and real-world observations has attracted much scholarly attention in recent years. One popular view on why CSR prevails is that it creates a competitive advantage for the firm and thus contributes to firm value. Following this line, numerous studies have investigated the causes and consequences of CSR by focusing on its strategic value implications.


D.C. Circuit Rules Against Conflict Minerals Disclosure Requirement

The Honorable Mario Mancuso is a corporate partner and of the International Trade and Investment Practice at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. This post is based on a Fried Frank publication authored by Mr. Mancuso, Michael T. Gershberg, and Jocelyn Ryan.

On August 18, 2015, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit confirmed its earlier ruling striking down part of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) Conflict Minerals Rule (the “Rule”) as unconstitutional. Nat’l Ass’n. of Mfrs. v. SEC, No. 13-5252 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 18, 2015). The court again held that requiring issuers to describe their products as “not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free’” in reports filed with the SEC and posted on issuers’ websites violates the First Amendment.

The Decision

The ruling dealt only with the requirement in the Rule that issuers characterize their products using the label “not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free,’” and the court held that this requirement amounts to compelled speech in violation of the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech. The decision is a narrow one and leaves unaffected the remaining disclosures required under the Rule, such as disclosure of facilities used by the issuer, country of origin of the issuer’s products and the efforts undertaken by the issuer to obtain such information.


D.C. Circuit Court Upholds Conflict Minerals Decision

Richard J. Sandler is a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and co-head of the firm’s global corporate governance group. This post is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum.

In the ongoing challenge to the SEC’s conflict minerals rule, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, issued an opinion on August 18 upholding its April 2014 finding that a key aspect of the rule violates constitutional free-speech guarantees, a decision we discussed in this client newsflash.

Last year, the SEC asked the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case in light of the outcome of an unrelated First Amendment lawsuit, American Meat Institute v. United States Department of Agriculture, which addressed the proper standard of review for compelled commercial speech. Stating that it saw no reason to change its analysis in light of the American Meat decision, the court affirmed that it would adhere to its original judgment that portions of the Dodd-Frank Act, under which the rule was promulgated, and the SEC’s final rule, “violate the First Amendment to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have ‘not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free.’’”


Court Strikes NYC’s “Responsible Banking Act”

Robert J. Giuffra, Jr. is a partner in the Litigation Group at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Mr. Giuffra, H. Rodgin Cohen, Matthew A. Schwartz, and Marc Trevino.

On August 7, 2015, in a 71-page opinion, Judge Katherine Polk Failla of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York struck down New York City Local Law 38 of 2012, entitled the “Responsible Banking Act” (“RBA”), as preempted by federal and state banking law. The RBA—enacted by the City Council on June 28, 2012, over Mayor Bloomberg’s veto—established an eight-member Community Investment Advisory Board (“CIAB”), charged with collecting data at the census-tract level from the 21 banks eligible to receive some of the City’s $150 billion in annual deposits. This data, which went beyond data required by federal and state banking regulators and would be disclosed publicly, covered a variety of categories ranging from the maintenance of foreclosed properties, to investment in affordable housing, to product and service offerings. Based on the data collected and feedback from public hearings, the CIAB was to develop “benchmarks and best practices” against which the deposit banks were to be evaluated, including against each other, in a publicly filed annual report. The report was to identify deposit banks that refused to provide the requested data. Finally, the RBA provided that the City’s Banking Commission—responsible for designating eligible deposit banks—“may” consider the CIAB’s annual report in making its designation decisions.


Corporate Governance and Diversity

Aaron A. Dhir is an Associate Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. The post is based on Professor Dhir’s book, Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity: Corporate Law, Governance, and Diversity (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Earlier this year, Germany joined the ranks of countries such as Norway, France, Italy, Belgium, and Iceland by enacting a quota to increase the number of women in its corporate boardrooms. Starting in 2016, both genders must make-up at least 30 percent of specified German companies’ supervisory boards.

The news from Germany provoked decidedly negative reactions in major media outlets. In the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Economist, critics questioned the soundness of pursuing positive discrimination in the corporate governance arena. The reality, however, is that we actually know very little about how corporate quotas have worked in practice. Advocates and detractors each suggest that these measures will alter the effectiveness and dynamics of firms in some way—whether for better or worse. But the speculation remains largely uncorroborated and our knowledge is incomplete at best.

Corporate Investment in ESG Practices

Matteo Tonello is managing director at The Conference Board, Inc. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series and was authored by Mr. Tonello and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes and Appendix, is available here.

Corporate investment in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices has been widely investigated in recent years. Studies show that a business corporation may benefit from these resource allocations on multiple levels, ranging from higher market and accounting performance to improved reputation and stakeholder relations. However, poor data quality and the lack of a universally adopted framework for the disclosure of extra-financial information have hindered the field of research. This post reviews empirical analyses of the return on investment in ESG initiatives, outlines five pillars of the business case for corporate sustainability, and discusses why the positive correlations found by some academics remain disputed by others.


Four Takeaways from Proxy Season 2015

Ann Yerger is an executive director at the EY Center for Board Matters at Ernst & Young LLP. The following post is based on a report from the EY Center for Board Matters.

As the 2015 proxy season concludes, some key developments stand out. Most significantly, a widespread investor campaign for proxy access ignited the season, making proxy access the defining governance topic of 2015.

The campaign for proxy access is closely tied to the increasing investor scrutiny of board composition and accountability, and yet—at the same time—the number of votes opposing director nominees is the lowest in recent years.

Also, the number of shareholder proposal submissions remains high, despite the fact that ongoing dialogue between large companies and their shareholders on governance topics is now mainstream. These developments are occurring against a backdrop of increased hedge fund activism, which continues to keep boards on alert.


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