Boston Common divests Cisco Systems over human rights

Investor also expresses concerns over proxy voting

Boston Common Asset Management, the US-based sustainable asset manager, has dumped Cisco Systems’ shares over the Internet technology firm’s weak human rights risk management and poor response to investor concerns.
And the firm has slammed Cisco’s “deceptive” announcement of vote results on proxy items at its last annual shareholder meeting on November 18.

The move is the latest divestment of a marquee corporate name, following Northwest & Ethical’s recent jettisoning of mining firm’s Vedanta. Divestment is typically seen as the last resort of investors after failed engagement.

Boston Common, a leading activist investor and a member of the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment, has led a 20m-share investor coalition which has been engaging the company on its human rights record.

“Boston Common’s decision to divest comes after years of campaigning Cisco for greater transparency and accountability on key human rights and business development concerns,” said Dawn Wolfe, associate director of environmental, social, andgovernance (ESG) research at Boston Common, in a statement. “When pressed for details on how Cisco addresses these risks, they come up short.”
For its part, Cisco says it continually evaluates and addresses human rights issues within its business operations and in the communities where it operates and that it partners with various NGOs.

Boston Common had earlier written to independent board member John Hennessy requesting his assistance in establishing “meaningful dialogue” between Cisco and shareholders on human rights.

“For all its talk about the ‘human network’ and adherence to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Cisco has not demonstrated in any concrete way that it fully recognizes its potential impact on human rights around the world,” Nevin Dulabaum, president of Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust, was quoted as saying by Boston Common.

Boston Common says Cisco apparently attempted to downplay votes in favour of shareholder sponsored proposals on the proxy ballot, saying the company used two different methods to calculate the results.