Asset managers tight-lipped on reproductive rights proposals

RI asked big asset managers for voting positions on proposals at Walmart, TJX and Lowe’s in the wake of the US Supreme Court leak on Roe v Wade.

Investors will have the opportunity to have their say in the coming weeks on the issue of reproductive rights, with three new proposals at US retail giants TJX, Walmart and Lowe’s. 

The resolutions, filed months before the leak from the US Supreme Court on Roe v Wade, now take on additional significance following the likely repeal of the landmark 1973 legislation which made abortion legal across the US. 

The trio, separately, are asked to report publicly on known and potential risks and costs to their business “caused by enacted or proposed state policies severely restricting access to reproductive health care”. Furthermore, they are asked to detail any strategies “beyond litigation and legal compliance” they may undertake to “minimise or mitigate these risks”. 

Several big US companies, including Starbucks, Amazon and Citgroup, have made commitments in recent months to support workers with travel costs to help bypass state laws curbing abortion access. 

RI reached out to 17 large European and US asset managers to ask how they would be voting on the proposals, but none disclosed their position. 

Seven including BlackRock, Amundi, JP Morgan AM and BNP Paribas Asset Management – declined to comment or said it was their policy not to pre-disclose voting positions.  

Five – including Legal & General Investment Management, Schroders and Axa Investment Management – acknowledged RI’s request but did not comment by the deadline given.

State Street Global Advisors, T Rowe Price, Fidelity and Wellington did not respond. 

A spokesperson for DWS Group confirmed to RI that it intends to vote at all three AGMs, but said it was still in process of preparing its positions.   

Shelley Alpern, director of corporate engagement at Rhia Ventures, a US impact fund focused on women’s reproductive and maternal health which assisted in the coordination of the three proposals, told RI that she was not surprised at the silence from investors.  

Companies and investors are not used to thinking about reproductive healthcare as a business issue, she said. “[A]bortion is stigmatised and not much discussed in the workplace (if at all). People don’t know how common it is and how fundamental it is to women’s professional trajectories,” Alpern told RI via email.  

She added that companies were either “not paying attention or in denial of the Supreme Court’s intention to undo Roe”. “We’ve been in dialogue with leading companies for three years on this topic and to a company, each said they were taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to see if the Court would really overturn Roe before taking any action.” 

But the likely fate of the legislation moves the issue “past the theoretical”, Jonas Kron, chief advocacy officer at Trillium Asset Management, told RI. The Boston-based investment house was behind the proposal at TJX.  

TJX’s response to the Trillium proposal was “basically, ‘trust us, we’ve got this covered’,” he said. All three companies, unsuccessfully, sought to exclude the shareholder proposals via the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s ‘no action’ process, the mechanism by which firms seek the blessing of the regulator to omit resolutions.  

Kron said that investors might have been less inclined to support their proposal while the issue was still theoretical, but it has now become “more relevant because it is a live question that TJX has to figure out the answer to”.  

“Even if you’re going to be just a hard-bitten bottom liner, there are economic and financial consequences for the company, and I think even the most hard-bitten investor is going to want to have more information about how a company is going to handle this,” he said.  

On economic costs, Alpern pointed RI to a study by the US non-profit Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which estimated that abortion restrictions cost the US economy over $100 billion a year and deprive it of more than half a million workers. 

Lowe’s annual meeting takes place on 27 May, followed by Walmart on 1 June and then TJX on 7 June.