New York funds withdraw supply chain sustainability proposal at IBM

“Untimely receipt” scuppers sustainability motion for AGM

The five New York City Pension funds have had to withdraw a resolution on supply chain sustainability for computer giant IBM’s next annual shareholder meeting due to a technicality.

The funds, which have a combined value of $126bn (€96bn), had sought to table a motion at the April 30 meeting, requesting that IBM’s major suppliers should be required to produce annual verifiable sustainability reports.

But the company successfully argued to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that the proposal arrived too late for inclusion into its proxy voting materials ahead of the AGM.

The funds missed the November 12 filing deadline by one day due to the three-day Veterans Day holiday weekend, explained IBM Senior Counsel Stuart Moskowitz in a letter to the SEC.

“In light of the technical circumstances identified in Mr. Moskowitz’s letter, and on behalf of the New York City Pension Funds and Retirement Systems, I hereby withdraw the shareholder proposal from consideration at IBM’s 2013 annual meeting,” wrote Michael Garland, New York’s Assistant Comptroller for Environmental, Social and Governance, in a letter to IBM’s Company Secretary Michelle Browdy late last month.

But he added: “Notwithstanding our decision to withdraw the proposal, we believe the underlying request – that IBM require its significant suppliers toprepare annual sustainability reports using an internationally recognized reporting framework – is in the best long­ term interests of the corporation and its shareholders, and would complement the company’s existing supply chain risk management practices.

“We therefore reserve the right to re-submit the proposal in the future.”

The funds had success with similar proposals at peer group companies Apple, Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Oracle in 2012.

In 2012 they submitted 61 proposals on various environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues at 58 companies, according to a review of its proxy voting season.

In other news, the $154bn California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) has reiterated its plan for Ohio-based industrial group Timken Co. to spin off its steel business into a separate company.

CalSTRS and Ralph Whitworth’s $6bn Relational Investors are pressing the company on the issue, having filed an advisory shareholder proposal in 2012.

Now, in a letter to the company’s shareholders, CalSTRS’ Director of Corporate Governance, Anne Sheehan, said the move would “allow management to increase focus on managing each independent business optimally, leading to improved operating characteristics and maximizing shareholder value in the long-term”.