CalPERS’ campaign to support “proxy access” expands to 34 companies

Largest US pension fund writes to investors to drum up support for boardroom accountability

The campaign by the California Public Employees Retirement Systems (CalPERS) to muster shareholder support for ‘proxy access’ (the right for shareholders to nominate directors) has now stretched to a total of 34 companies.

In what is shaping up as a major push to garner support amongst investors, the $308.4bn (€280.4bn) pension fund, the largest in the US, is putting its weight behind New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Boardroom Accountability Project.

Earlier this month, RI reported that CalPERS and Stringer had written similarly worded letters to shareholders in companies including Duke Energy, Cabot Oil & Gas and Arch Coal urging urge support for their non-binding proposals on proxy access at forthcoming annual meetings.

Since then, the letters, signed by CalPERS’ Director of Global Governance Anne Simpson and Stringer and filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission regulator, have kept on coming.

Among the new targets are oil and gas producer Apache Corporation, food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, online auction site eBay and coal company Peabody Energy. Also targeted are the likes of ConocoPhillips, Anadarko Petroleum and Marathon Oil.
The funds, which have a combined $468bn in assets under management, are calling shareholders with 3% ownership for three continuous years at the companies to have the ability to nominate up to 25% of the board. The project was launched in November 2014 and has targeted 75 companies.One company that is resisting the campaign is mining firm Freeport-McMoRan, which says it will put forward its own proposal next year.

Commenting in its new proxy filing, Freeport said: “While we (the board) appreciate the proponent’s efforts to aid in the establishment of proxy access across the market…we do not believe that it is in our stockholders’ best interests to impose a proxy access regime that has not been specifically tailored to the company’s ownership and governance structures.”

Freeport did not specify what proxy access regime – i.e. shareholding threshold – it would prefer, noting that this was an issue its board wanted to discuss with all its stockholders before making a decision. However, it did stress that board candidates had to be people “who understand the industry in which the company operates, as well as the environmental risks, finance, auditing, governance and other issues relevant to the success of the large publicly-traded global natural resources company.” As an example, Freeport said directors would have to correctly assess the viability of mining projects amid “volatile stock and commodity price environments.”

The company added that following its discussions with shareholders, it would present its own proxy access proposal for its AGM in 2016. Freeport’s AGM for this year will be held on June 10.

With reporting by Jan Wagner.