RI Governance & Engagement, Nov. 17: US manager targets Cisco on freedom of expression

RI’s regular round-up of governance news.

Domini Social Investments has tabled a shareholder proposal on human rights, freedom of expression and the fragmentation of the Internet at Cisco Systems for the US network equipment maker’s annual meeting on December 7 at Santa Clara, California. The board is advising shareholders to vote against the proposal. There are also resolutions calling for a board committee on environmental sustainability from private shareholder John Harrington. Proxy statement

PGGM, the Dutch health care pension giant, has adopted a responsible investment policy on its investment in agricultural commodities. It says its “conscious of the international social debate” over the role of investors in the pricing of agricultural commodities, especially futures. And it adds: “Having considered a great deal of research, its own experience and internal discussions, PGGM is convinced that long-term commodity price trends in the world market are determined by relationships between the supply of and demand for physical commodities.”

The Florida State Board of Administration voted against the remuneration report at UK publishing company Centaur Media plc, which held its AGM on November 16. The fund also voted against four directors.

Sino-Forest, the Toronto-listed forestry company with operations in China, has issued what it says is an independent directors report rebutting allegations by Muddy Waters, the research firm, that the company misrepresented its assets. Sino-Forest, whose shares have been suspended pending an investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission, is also being sued by NEI Investments, the Candian ethical mutual fund company, and Bâtirente, the building workers pension fund to recover losses.
Link to report

Germany-based proxy voting advisory firm VIP (Vereinigung Institutionelle Privatanleger) says it is supporting fund firm Perpetual’s campaign to get independent directors at Australian mining firm Soul Pattinson – ahead of the company’s annual general meeting in Sydney on December 2.

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) has awarded a $200m mandate to activist hedge fund investor Blue Harbour Group.
The mandate comes from the $139.2bn public pension’s corporate governance portfolio, reports P&I.

Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon) has requested a Florida court dismiss a lawsuit brought by state Attorney General, Pam Bondi, accusing it of profiting from foreign-exchange trades at the expense of the state retirement fund. BNY Mellon is fighting several lawsuits regarding foreign-exchange transactions made on behalf of public pension funds that say they were overcharged by the bank.
In a court filing, the bank said: “The contract does not contain any promise to buy and sell foreign currencies to and from the fund at actual cost or at the rates that BNY Mellon itself obtained on the interbank market.”Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg and New Zealand have prohibited investment in cluster munitions, according to a report looking at the state of implementation of the International Convention on Cluster Munitions by the Cluster Munition Coalition.

The Alaskan Legislature is to hear bills that could require the state’s $37bn Permanent fund and government retirement accounts to divest from companies that do business with Iran. Previous bills that sought to end investment in Sudan and South Africa were unsuccessful.

A group of 150 Brazilian social and environmental organizations have written to local banks, Itaú, Banco do Brasil, Bradesco, Santander, and Caixa Econômica Federal, saying that Norte Energia, developer of the controversial Belo Monte dam, has not complied with the Equator Principles, to which they are signatories. Banktrack, the NGO, reports that the Brazilian government has pointed to the banks as possible co-financiers of the dam.

US sustainable funds firm Trillium Asset Management says it withdrew a shareholder proposal at energy company Anadarko Corp. on Marcellus Shale risks following a productive dialogue in which the company agreed to improve its public reporting. “There is still more to be done and we will continue to advocate at Anadarko and other companies for increased transparency and the safest practices,” Trillium said in its third-quarter market report.

CN Rail has won the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance’s ‘Governance Gavel’ award for the Best Disclosure of Board Governance Practices and Director Qualifications. The award for Best Disclosure of Approach to Executive Compensation went to TD Bank Financial Group.
The Calvert Social Index fund voted against the entire nine board candidates at proxy voting processing firm Broadridge Financial Solutions’ AGM on November 16, according to data on ProxyDemocracy.org.

Fund firms Legal & General, F&C, Co-operative Asset Management, Railpen, Aviva Investors, Newton Investment Management and Jupiter Asset Management have joined forces to press companies on the FTSE 100 index companies to put more women on their boards. They will also consider the issue of gender representation when voting board members at company shareholder meetings, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Singapore state investor, the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. (GIC), says it has sold most of its holdings of scandal-hit Japanese optics firm Olympus. “GIC disposed of almost all of its investments on first suspicion of possible wrongdoing in Olympus,” it said. GIC was the 10th largest shareholder in Olympus.