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Walmart targeted as SRI investors focus on lobbying, climate change at 2014 AGMs

Responsible investors reveal focus for proxy voting

Zevin Asset Management, the US socially responsible investor with $394m (€289.7m) in assets, has filed a proposal for the next annual general meeting (AGM) of Walmart requiring the US retail giant to report on its lobbying activities.

It’s just one of a range of resolutions being filed at companies for the 2014 US proxy voting season by socially responsible investors in the US targeting companies on public policy and climate change.

Boston-based Zevin contends that the proposal is necessary because of Walmart’s lack of transparency about its lobbying efforts. It cited Walmart’s unwillingness to discuss its involvement with the US Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobby in Washington, as an example.

Zevin’s proposal said: “As shareholders, we encourage transparency and accountability in our company’s use of corporate funds to influence legislation and regulation. Transparent reporting would reveal whether the company assets are being used for objectives contrary to Walmart’s long-term interests.”

It is interested in detail about Walmart’s affiliation with organisations that write and endorse “model legislation” – bills that are pre-written for legislators. The group that’s best known for promoting model legislation aimed at, among other things, cutting taxes, reducing public employee pay and scaling back workplace rights is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Zevin’s proposal for Walmart is part of a larger engagement effort with other SRI investors including Walden Asset Management, the Unitarian Universalist Service Association (UUA), the Christopher Reynolds Foundation and the Needmor Fund.They have decided to focus on pressing energy companies about their positions on climate change and examine the extent to which other companies are involved with political lobbying.

Walden said that seven energy firms had already received the proposals regarding climate change disclosure. They are: American Electric Power, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, Dominion Resources and Exxon Mobil.

Dominion Resources is also one of the companies that the SRI investors have targeted for more transparency about lobbying. The others are Microsoft, Occidental Petroleum, Pfizer, Time Warner and United Parcel Service (UPS), and the investors said they were particularly concerned with any involvement with ALEC. Beyond Walden, Zevin and the UUA, this campaign includes the State of Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds and the New York State Common Retirement Fund.

Walden said the group had withdrawn its proposal at Microsoft after the software giant criticised ALEC’s lobbying against efforts by US state governments to promote renewable energy. Regarding Time Warner and Occidental Petroleum, Walden said they would allow shareholder votes. Dominion, meanwhile, has turned to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to have similar proposals excluded from their AGMs. UPS had also planned to do this but the investors have since withdrawn their proposal.

At Pfizer, the investors last month withdrew their proposal after the drugs giant sought to have it excluded on the grounds that shareholders had already voted down a similar resolution in 2011 (RI report). Robert Jones, Pfizer’s Director of Government Relations, is a member of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Council, while Ken Cole, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at the firm, sits on the Board of Directors at the Chamber of Commerce.