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How is the project that brings together shareholders to save America from corporate militancy

Beacon of the world economy for almost five decades, the principle of shareholder capitalism (the one in which the purpose of a corporation is to generate profit for its owners) has been threatened by a militant wave, whose belief is that companies have a moral duty to make the world a better place. If, as progressives say, capitalism “wake up”, the truth is that it aroused the reaction of conservative shareholders, who have organized themselves in initiatives such as the Free Enterprise Project (FEP, or Free Enterprise Project, in free translation). Founded in 2007 by the National Center for Public Policy Research in the United States, the program buys shares in publicly traded companies to ask tough questions at shareholder meetings. The goal is to combat “woke” policies, to drive US corporations out of politics.

Last year, the FEP’s targets included Warner Bros. Discovery, Comcast, Twitter and Coca-Cola. Among the criticisms of the world-famous soda maker was a LinkedIn Learning lesson (later removed), instructing employees to “try to be less white” as part of diversity training, as well as opposition to a bill seen as discriminatory by require identification for voters in Georgia. “We oppose measures that may seek to diminish or restrict access to the vote. We defend broad access, voter convenience, election integrity and political neutrality. Anything that can inhibit these principles can lead to voter suppression.” , said the CEO of Coca-Cola for North America, Alfredo Rivera, at the time.

At a Bank of America shareholders’ meeting, the director of the Free Enterprise Project, Scott Shepard, asked the CEO Brian Moynihan who “specifically explained how requiring voters to show ID to prevent fraud is racist.” The answer, considered by Shepard a small victory, was that perhaps the bank should have a bipartite committee to decide when to get into political issues.

“All the shareholder activism in recent 20 for years it has been on the left and, increasingly, on the far left. Our goal is not for companies to suddenly adopt conservative political positions, but for them to get back into the business of selling soft drinks,” argues Shepard .

In a meeting of shareholders of Progressive, the third largest insurance company in the United States, Ethan Peck, from FEP, questioned “the valuation of superficial characteristics to the detriment of merit” and why the company prioritizes “ skin color and reproductive organs” when hiring employees. CEO Tricia Griffith extolled Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), saying the company wants its workforce “to reflect the customers we serve and for our leaders to reflect the people they lead.”

Asked by Peck if this assumed that “people with a certain skin color think in a certain way”, she ended the conversation: “You can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes if you don’t have a representative organization that represents the country as a whole. You could never know what it’s like to be a woman, I could never feel what it’s like to be a man, so we need to represent everyone.”

Difficulties

A The experience of intervening in shareholder meetings has met with “criminal” resistance from executives, according to Ethan Peck. “Corporate elites take every possible measure to exclude and silence shareholders who pay their multimillion-dollar salaries,” he says. The difficulties encountered by them at meetings range from being allowed to enter the meetings (even though they are owners), to having their questions rephrased or ignored and their shareholder proposals omitted. “Although center-right shareholders are the most discriminated against, executives still despise them more for being shareholders than for being conservatives”, he guarantees.

The hypothesis raised by Peck is that, far from Whether progressive activists or virtue signposts, executives are using “stakeholder capitalism” (in free translation, party capitalism, i.e. employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and society at large) as a euphemism for a “ top coup against the real owners of the companies, the shareholders”. “Executives postulate that corporations are responsible not to their shareholders but to ‘all parties’. This allows corporate leadership to confiscate shareholder power under the guise of helping others. It’s no different from communism, really: ‘Give me your property; It’s for the greater good!’”, denounces Peck.

According to him, some corporations used the protocols to combat Covid-19 to hold virtual meetings (which made it possible to pre-select, modify or omit comments and questions from shareholders) or to demand vaccination (which excluded many shareholders). “Our questions were totally ignored at meetings by Alphabet, Amazon, Meta, Twitter, BlackRock, JPMorgan, Visa, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Exxon, Chevron and others. At Apple, Raytheon, Boeing, US Bancorp, Marriott, Nordstrom and others, our questions have been strategically reworded to easy questions by a moderator. Pfizer and Netflix didn’t bother to answer any questions. American Express, Abbott Laboratories and AES have completely denied us entry”, he lists.

At the Lincoln Financial meeting, Ethan Peck was the only shareholder present. When questioning then-President Bill Cunningham about Lincoln’s support for the Human Rights Campaign (which participated in lobbying against the bill banning teaching about gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grade in Florida) he had his question shielded by an advisor and ended up unanswered.

The Free Enterprise Project also denounces that the elections of corporate directors are unreliable. Of the 57 meetings at which its members were present at 2022, no candidate failed to be elected, according to Peck. “In fact, I have never seen a board member receive less than 90% of the vote. There is a simple explanation for this: BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street and other giants of passive management vote on behalf of their clients – who are the real shareholders – to put in power those board members who despise shareholders”, he laments.

Engaged Shareholders

Investors interested in fighting woken capitalism can become engaged shareholders by joining the Free Enterprise Project. On the program’s website, there are a series of practical guidelines, explaining how to participate in a shareholders’ meeting, ask questions in a virtual or in-person meeting, prepare a good question, vote and present proposals at meetings.

Contrary to boycotts, which “are ineffective and, frankly, a waste of time and energy”, the project believes that the fight against progressivism will occur through the engagement of conservative activist shareholders. “We strongly encourage shareholders to be actively involved as owners of the company. The best way to hold these corporations accountable is to attend annual shareholders’ meetings, vote for their proxies, question business executives during question-and-answer sessions, and vote for board members who have abandoned their fiduciary duties. “Frequently Asked Questions” from the site.

Davos Forum

The concept of “stakeholder capitalism” is more than five decades old, but has gained strength in recent years. years, with the publication of the Davos Manifesto 2020, signed by the founder and executive president of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab (who coined the term back in the years 2020 ).

“The purpose of a company is to engage all its stakeholders in the creation of shared and sustained value. By creating this value, a company serves not only its shareholders, but all its stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and society at large. The best way to understand and harmonize the divergent interests of all stakeholders is through a shared commitment to policies and decisions that strengthen a company’s long-term prosperity,” states the Manifesto.

The text also defends that “a company is more than an economic unit that generates wealth. It fulfills human and social aspirations as part of a larger social system. Performance should be measured not only by return to shareholders, but also by how it achieves its environmental, social and good governance objectives.”

Meeting Room Initiative

In April, the Free Enterprise Project and 2ndVote (another organization against corporate activism), along with the founder of conservative group Job Creators Network, Bernie Marcus, partnered with former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi and former Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson to create The Boardroom Initiative, an action in defense of capitalism.

“Serving a vocal minority out of ignorance is absolutely unacceptable. When public companies take sides in political debates, it is to the detriment of the company’s shareholders. Free market capitalism – a system responsible for lifting billions out of poverty and improving the world’s standard of living – is under attack, and in many cases corporations are eagerly participating in these attacks out of a misplaced sense of virtue.” Executive of the Initiative.

The work of the coalition intends to realign corporations with their main objectives, through shareholder proposals, the promotion of a diversity of points of view in the companies’ boards and the use of channels digital media to publicize the actions. The idea is to give shareholders the tools they need to “win the fight”. The Boardroom Initiative’s first effort was a shareholder proposal at Bank of America’s annual meeting, calling for an audit of the company’s diversity policies to ensure that no racial or gender groups are excluded in the name of equity or anti-racism.

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