Shareholders of publicly traded corporations listed in the United States may place items on company proxy ballots to be voted on at corporate annual meetings. In recent years, shareholder activists focused on social and environmental concerns have regularly used the shareholder-proposal process to advance ideas motivated primarily by social, economic, or policy concerns.
In 2017, for the first time in the 12 years tracked in the Manhattan Institute’s Proxy Monitor database, some environment-related shareholder proposals have received majority shareholder support. Three substantively identical environment-related shareholder proposals introduced at oil or electricity companies each received the support of a majority of shareholders.
This finding explores the shift in support for environment-related shareholder proposals during the 2017 proxy season.
- Environment-related shareholder proposals have constituted a plurality of all shareholder proposals in 2017—almost 20% of all shareholder proposals.
- The proposals winning the support of shareholder majorities asked the companies to publish an annual assessment of portfolio risk from government policies related to climate change, based on targets set by the December 2015 “Paris Agreement.”
- Two of the companies at which the climate-change proposals received majority shareholder support faced substantively identical proposals in 2016, which received markedly lower support.
o This shift is curious, from a share-value perspective: the 2016 U.S. presidential election’s outcome lowers climate-change policy risks for energy companies.
o Some institutional investors—including the world’s largest, BlackRock—shifted support toward climate-change-related shareholder proposals in response to public campaigns by social-investing activists.
o In light of these campaigns’ success, such social-investing campaigns directed at institutional investors can be expected to intensify going forward.
Proxy Monitor is a project sponsored by the Manhattan Institute. It aims to shed light on the influence of outside shareholder proposals on publicly traded corporations.
James R. Copland is a senior fellow and director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute. Margaret M. O'Keefe is the project manager for Proxy Monitor.