Activist/Impact Investing: Zevin Asset Management

Zevin Asset Management issued a new report about its activist initiatives.  An excerpt (emphasis added):

When Congress failed to respond to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the conversation shifted to whether financial companies would act to address risks. In March, Zevin Asset Management joined with other investors to denounce gun violence and define the risks that firearm sales pose to retailers, banks, insurers, and other companies. Our investor statement, coordinated by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), called on gun companies to endorse the Sandy Hook Principles, on retailers to end gun and ammunition sales to customers under 21 years of age, and on financial companies to withhold services from companies that produce military style semiautomatic assault weapons and accessories, such as high capacity magazines, for use by civilians. This work is helping to move some companies in the right direction: Wall Street firms such as BlackRock and Citigroup announced steps to review the practices of gunmakers, and Bank of America says it will stop lending to producers of military-style firearms. We are also pressing companies like UPS and AT&T to leave ALEC, the lobby group that has pushed pro-gun policies around the country. Zevin will again challenge UPS at its upcoming annual meeting of shareholders, and we are demanding answers on how their board justifies continuing ties to ALEC amid growing public dissatisfaction with weak gun regulation.

Across our focus areas of civil rights, climate change, and economic justice, we frequently address gaps between regulation and corporate practice. On civil rights, we are attempting to compensate for the Trump administration’s decision to let big employers off the hook and cancel an Obama-era regulation requiring companies to report on race- and gender-based wage gaps. In March, we successfully withdrew a shareholder proposal we had filed at Marriott International when the company agreed to publish information on the systems it uses to police such discrepancies, and to explain how they are trying to tackle pay equity in hotel worker positions. There is more work to be done with Marriott, but we were further encouraged when the hospitality giant committed to report for the first time on the percentage of women and people of color in senior management. Likewise, we met twice in Q1 with Booking Holdings (formerly Priceline Group), pressing the company to produce its first sustainability report and diversity disclosures.

On climate change, we are working to report and reduce company impacts even as U.S. policy becomes more shortsighted. In an attempt to expose and quantify the hidden costs of fossil fuels and other resources, the non-profit CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) has convinced more than 6,000 global companies to report basic statistics on their energy and water use. This initiative has been enormously successful over the last ten years, but it is now stalled in many regions and sectors, with several companies failing to respond to CDP’s surveys. This quarter, we agreed to help lead a campaign to contact those non-responders and move them toward climate accountability….

On economic justice, we continued pressing firms to address inequality and manage labor risks. Focusing on workers is especially important in light of recent corporate tax cuts in the U.S., and advocacy led by Zevin Asset Management on paid family leave is helping convince companies to direct tax savings to employees and productivity rather than short-sighted payouts. That is a key driver of our work pressing large employers to improve their paid family leave policies. As recently featured in Slate, our meetings with companies and innovative shareholder proposals have reinforced the business case for paid family leave (lower turnover, long-term human capital investment, avoiding employment discrimination, etc.) This advocacy has led to concrete gains for working families. In addition to wins at Starbucks and Walmart, last quarter we helped convince CVS Health to close gaps in its paid leave benefits to include adoptive parents and fathers, and TJX Companies also increased the length of paid family leave.

Risks around inequality and exploitation are not limited to the employer-employee relationship, however. We continue to challenge the pharmaceutical company AbbVie, for instance, to consider public concern over runaway drug prices in its process for determining executive payouts and to publish a complete report of its lobbying, which can sway policy efforts to curb drug prices and therefore hurt consumers. AbbVie challenged a proposal on drug pricing and executive compensation at the SEC, but Zevin and our partners won a legal fight to keep it on the ballot this May.


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