US investors target Accenture, IBM, Pepsi and Pfizer over politics of US Chamber of Commerce

Tension between SRI investors and Chamber continues.

A group of US investors has filed shareholder resolutions at four major corporate members of the US Chamber of Commerce: Accenture, IBM, Pepsi and Pfizer, challenging their boards to review their policies and oversight of political expenditures through trade associations. The investors said that despite good corporate governance records, the four companies were compliant to political lobbying by the Chamber of Commerce against issues such as healthcare reform and climate change. US SRI investors and the country’s Chamber of Commerce have locked horns over numerous issues in recent years including climate change, engagement, proxy access and say-on-pay. A legal challenge at the end of September from the US Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable on proxy access (the ability to nominate company directors for a shareholder vote), recently prompted the US Securities & Exchange Commission to postpone its availability to investors for the 2011 AGM season. It prompted the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the $131.8bn scheme – the secondlargest in the US – to threaten its own legal riposte against what it called a “roll back” on shareholder rights. Adam Kanzer, general counsel at Domini Social Investments and a filer of the resolution at IBM, said: “The Chamber of Commerce is an aggressively partisan organization that is standing in the way of solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems, from health care to climate change. We are asking why these companies would lend their good names—and their implicit endorsement— to the Chamber’s agenda, which often runs contrary to their own stated policies and practices. We are simply asking them to do what directors are supposed to do: ask hard questions and exercise meaningful oversight.” The resolution is also expected to be filed with several other companies on the Chamber’s Board. The Board has over 100 members including, AT&T, Caremark, Caterpillar, Deere & Company, Dow Chemical, FedEx, JPMorgan Chase & Co., UPS, and Xerox. The filing group of investors includes Walden Asset Management, Domini Social Investment and the Christopher Reynolds Foundation.