A group of Yale students aims to corral the $26bn college endowment into implementing its own guiding ethical principles and engaging with ExxonMobil on climate change by filing a shareholder resolution alongside major institutional investors calling on the oil major to report how much money it has paid lobbyists to campaign against climate change abatement policies.
The resolution filed by the Dwight Hall Socially Responsible Investment Fund, an undergraduate group that manages the Hall’s own endowment, has been co-filed with shareholders including Walden Asset Management, AP7, the $27bn Swedish National Pension Fund, and the lead filer, the United Steelworkers (USW), the largest industrial trades union in North America, which represents around 5,000 Exxon workers. It coat-tails action by New York Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman, who is investigating ExxonMobil for allegedly lying to its investors and the public over the risks of climate change and the impact on the oil-giant’s business. Schneiderman has yet to announce if he will pursue a full case, but observers say he appears to be investigating ExxonMobil under the Martin Act, a powerful US anti-fraud law. The Attorney General of California, Kamala Harris, has said the state is also investigating ExxonMobil on the same issue.
The Yale/USW resolution, filed for inclusion in the 2016 proxy statement ahead of ExxonMobil’s AGM on May 25, calls for comprehensive reporting of Exxon’s lobbying expenditures and related policy.The aim of the students is to prompt the college’s endowment to back a directive it implemented in 2014 saying it would support “reasonable and well-constructed resolutions seeking … company support of sound and effective governmental policies on climate change.”
The Yale endowment’s policy on ethical investing – The Ethical Investor – adopted in 1972, favours corporate engagement as a strategy to reducing corporate social injury; and calls for divestment when shareholder engagement appears ineffective.
Jonathan Macey, the chair of Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, has said: “The Dwight Hall resolution seeks to achieve transparency in Exxon’s lobbying activities. I believe that corporate lobbying activities should be directed at encouraging government activities that restrict fossil fuel emissions and deter climate change. As such I support, and I would encourage the ACIR [Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility] …to support Dwight Hall’s shareholder proposal if it is included in Exxon’s 2016 proxy statement, as I hope it will be.”
The Yale students said investigative reporting alleged that Exxon obstructed governmental policy efforts on climate change despite early recognition of the severe consequences and anthropogenic nature of climate change.
Gabe Rissman, a senior member of the Dwight Hall SRI Fund, said “Although these investigations focus on past actions, Exxon’s lobbying continues to endanger its reputation as well as policy efforts to combat climate change.”