RI Governance & Engagement, April 8: Pennsylvania amends proxy guidelines to boost diversity

RI’s regular review of governance and engagement news

The Pennsylvania State Treasury has amended its proxy voting guidelines to encourage more diversity in senior leadership at companies. It will now maintain an open dialogue with corporate leadership and board nominating committees to include representation of women and minorities as well as “sponsor, submit and support” shareholder resolutions that seek a greater representation of women on corporate boards. Link

JP Morgan is facing shareholder resolutions on political contributions and mortgage loan servicing at its annual shareholders’ meeting in Columbus, Ohio on May 17. The proposals – from various investor groups including Walden Asset Management, Calvert Investments and Domini Social Investments – are included in the bank’s newly released proxy statement. It’s also facing a resolution on genocide-free investments.

The Canadian Coalition of Good Governance, the 45-member investor group representing C$1.6trn (€1.16trn) in assets has applauded a new set of shareholder democracy proposals from the Ontario Securities Commission. It urged the OSC to adopt measures “without delay” to bring Canada up to an international standard of good governance.
The Canadian Investor Relations Institute (CIRI) added: “Improving the state of shareholder democracy will undoubtedly contribute to the transparency and integrity of Canadian capital markets.”

Occidental Petroleum has become the first US company to hold a so-called “fifth analyst briefing” focusing exclusively on corporate governance, reports Financial News. The company said its lead independent director and the chair of the executive compensation and human resources committee will participate in a call with institutional investors hosted by F&C Asset Management. Deborah Gilshan, corporate governance counsel at the UK’s Railpen Investments, and Elizabeth McGeveran, senior vice president at F&C Asset Management, have been visiting US corporates to ask them to consider holding the ”fifth analyst call”.

Ethics Metrics, the US independent ratings and reports company, has published a checklist of 10 questions about corporate governance and compliance that it says fiduciaries of financial companies should be asking to gauge their true financial health. Link*Board members at the $49.7bn* (€34.8bn) Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management have voted to take a more “activist stance” at investee companies over pay, diversity, predatory lending practices and support for sustainability and climate change activities, according to a report in the Boston Herald. It quoted state Treasurer Steven Grossman as saying the aims was to maximize shareholder value and support the values of Massachusetts residents and pensioners.

Barrick Gold, the Canadian mining firm that is excluded from the investment universe of investors such as the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, says in its annual report that it will “begin a process to make annual environmental data at each operation publicly available” in 2011. It previously said it plans to appoint an independent director to its board to boost to corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitment and set up an external CSR Advisory Board

South Africa’s state-owned ZAR911bn (€95.5bn) Public Investment Corporation has expressed its concern over the way the board of coatings firm Freeworld Coatings has handled a takeover approach from Japan’s Kansai Paint, according to the Business Report. The intervention follows the adjournment of Freeworld’s annual general meeting, with the PIC quoted as saying many shareholders are “not convinced” the board is acting in their or the company’s best interests.

New York City Comptroller John Liu, who is responsible for the five NYC Pension Funds, has written to fellow Citigroup shareholders calling for them to support the funds’ proposal that the bank launch an independent audit of its mortgage and foreclosure practices. The move comes in advance of a vote on the funds’ proposal at Citigroup’s annual shareholders meeting on April 21. The $113bn NYC Funds have 62m shares in Citi worth $276m. Link

Transocean’s senior management have announced that they are voluntarily donating their 2010 safety bonuses to the Deepwater Horizon Memorial Fund. The offshore drilling firm, a partner with BP in the Deepwater rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last year, had faced criticism over the payments. Said CEO Steven Newman: “We offer our most sincere apologies and we regret the impact this matter has had on the entire Transocean family.”