Investors seeking change set sights on Georgia’s corporate boards

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National Parents Union

ATLANTA, GA. – Over the course of just a few days, Georgia lawmakers have taken new Jim Crow laws through the legislative process. On March 25, Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed SB 202 into law, surrounded by six White men posed in front of a painting of the Callaway Plantation in Wilkes, Co., GA. The plantation was recognized by a Georgia voter whose family had picked cotton on the plantation dating back to slavery. She was appalled to see the painting glorified behind the signing of Jim Crow 2.0.

In the midst of this rushed process, a large group of activists and investors have partnered to take on six large companies headquartered in Georgia. Coca-Cola, Delta, AFLAC, Home Depot, Southern Company and UPS have given thousands to Georgia lawmakers pushing the voter suppression bill.

Now, investors of $1 trillion in public funds are highlighting the upcoming elections for the boards of the six companies.

 

Shareholders can hold corporations accountable

In just a few weeks, these companies will have elections where shareholders will vote to decide who will sit on the Board of Directors. Much like many political elections, a simple majority wins a seat.

Majority Action is a non-profit that focuses on corporate governance and environmental issues. They have partnered with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to organize these investors and help them demand their respective Boards of Directors end political donations to certain Republican lawmakers.

In a series of publicly released letters, investors directly addressed each company’s Board of Directors with two questions. Will the company cease political contributions to legislators who back voter suppression measures? And how will the policies be updated to prevent future corporate political donations to legislators who support such measures?

 

Corporations called out for supporting voter suppression Republicans

In the letters, signatories balked at the companies’ manipulative marketing strategies in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. “It is unconscionable and hypocritical for these corporations to claim they support racial justice when it is the easy thing to do. but to then sit on the sidelines while the freedom to vote for millions of Black, Latino and AAPI Georgians is being threatened by racist voter suppression bills,” said Chris Baumann, Southern Region Director of SEIU Workers United.

Nearly half of American families don’t have any direct interest in the stock market. Of those who do, only an estimated 14% hold shares directly through the exchange. But even if you don’t personally own stocks, you are still a shareholder. According to a report by American Economic Liberties Project, the three biggest asset managers in the U.S. manage more than $15 trillion in global assets; “an amount equivalent to more than three-quarters of U.S. GDP.” A more recent report by Majority Action and SEIU analyzed “How Asset Manager Voting Shaped Corporate Action on Racial Justice in 2020.”

“Corporations have too often reinforced structural racism and white supremacy with political spending practices that harm and disenfranchise Black, Indigenous and other communities of color,” said Eli Kasargod-Staub, Executive Director of Majority Action. “More and more investors now recognize and are calling on corporate leaders to change these practices that both undermine democracy and threaten long-term shareholder value.”

Report highlights

Included below are just a few of the notable figures from the report.

  • “BlackRock and Vanguard voted overwhelmingly against proposals directly related to issues of racial justice in a company’s operations and/or governance.” They included board diversity, workforce issues, pay disparities, and civil rights issues in the United States.”
  • “Of the 178 S&P 500 companies that had no Black directors as of their 2020 annual meetings, BlackRock voted to support the entire board at 163 companies and Vanguard voted to support the entire board at 166 companies.”
  • “As of mid-November, 56 S&P 500 companies had no directors with racially or ethnically diverse backgrounds. BlackRock had voted to support the entire board at 52 of these companies at their 2020 annual meetings, while Vanguard voted to support the entire board at 51.”

Some see the actions by these big name money management companies as actively trying to strengthen the level of White Supremacy corporate board members have long enjoyed. But, there’s something regular people can do about it.

Shareholders are pushing back

If you own stocks in Coca-Cola, Southern Company, AFLAC, Home Depot, UPS or Delta, you may be eligible to vote in the upcoming board elections.

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Those with a 401K can reach out to your corporate governance department or account manager. You can ask if they invest in or use the services of any of those companies (they almost definitely do.) Many are taking a public stance against the suppressive laws in Georgia and demanding no donations go to the lawmakers who are pushing for them.

If you don’t have stocks or a 401k, you can search this online document to see if BlackRock is managing any public funds from your state. Then, you can find out who is in charge of that fund and call or email them. You can also try searching online for your city’s municipal investment trust or public trusts in your state.
And if all of this feels like too much, that’s okay. Many have begun donating to groups on the ground like Black Voters Matter or Fair Fight.

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