March 11, 2020

ESG: “They Seek It Here, They Seek It There, Those Institutions Seek It Everywhere”

With apologies to “The Scarlet Pimpernel“, this blog’s title is a fair summary of the results of Morrow Sodali’s annual institutional investor survey. More than 40 global institutional investors with a combined $26 trillion in assets under management participated in the survey, which was conducted in January. Among its other highlights, the survey found that:

– All respondents state that ESG risks and opportunities played a greater role in their investment decisions during the last 12 months, with climate change being top of investors’ list (86%).

– Climate change (91%) and human capital management (64%) are cited as the top sustainability topics that investors will focus on when engaging with boards in 2020.

– Notably, investors now prioritize presence of ESG risks (32%) before a credible activist business strategy when deciding whether to support ESG activists.

– Overwhelmingly 91% of respondents expect companies to demonstrate a link between financial risks, opportunities and outcomes with climate-related disclosures. A total of 68% respondents believe that greater detail around the process to identify these risks and opportunities would significantly improve companies’ climate related disclosures.

– When it comes to the company’s ESG performance and approach, investors recommend SASB (81%) and TCFD (77%) as best standards to communicate their ESG information.

91% of the institutions surveyed said that that board level engagement is the most effective way for investors to influence board policies – and nearly half said they’d consider voting against a director to influence outcomes.

Conflict Minerals: Time for a Fresh Look at Disclosure & Compliance Programs

Remember when everybody thought the Conflict Minerals disclosure requirement was on the way out? Yeah, good times. . . Anyway, this Ropes & Gray memo says that changes in the global regulatory environment and increasing investor demands for information on conflict minerals mean that it’s time for companies to take a fresh look at the way they approach disclosure and compliance. Here’s the intro:

The seventh year of filings under the U.S. Conflict Minerals Rule will be due in slightly under three months. At most companies, conflict minerals reporting and compliance have been more or less static for the last few years. It is time for many companies to take a fresh look at their conflict minerals disclosure and compliance program. In some cases, disclosures have become outdated and compliance programs have not kept pace with market developments.

In addition, over the last few years, the global regulatory landscape has continued to evolve, both with respect to conflict minerals specifically and human rights more broadly, with more changes on the way. Furthermore, investor expectations concerning supply chains – as part of ESG integration by mainstream investors – continue to increase.

The biggest regulatory event on the horizon is EU Conflict Minerals Regulation, which takes effect on January 1, 2021. The EU Regulation generally will require importers of 3TG (tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) minerals into the EU to establish management systems to support due diligence, conduct due diligence and make disclosures about the 3TG they import into the European Union.

The memo provides an in-depth overview of the EU Regulation, and notes that while only a small number of U.S. Form SD filers will also be subject to the EU Regulation, the conflict minerals compliance programs of a large number of U.S.-based companies will need to address the EU Regulation.

Board Governance: Should You Keep Your Ex-CEO on the Board?

Cooley’s Cydney Posner recently blogged about this Fortune article addressing whether your former CEO should remain on the board after their departure. This excerpt says that many governance experts think that’s a bad idea – particularly if your CEO will assume some sort of “Executive Chair” role:

Some governance gurus cited in the article consider making the transition to executive chair a “bad idea.” According to one governance expert, the position of executive chair really “means you’re CEO….The person with the CEO title is really the chief operating officer.” Another expert observed that a good CEO will see that it’s “not fair to the new person.” Another academic doesn’t hold back, calling it “a stupid idea.

All kinds of psychological factors get in the way. Maybe the new CEO owes his or her job to the predecessor. Or maybe the new CEO can’t stand the previous one. Maybe the old CEO brought all the other directors onto the board, and they feel loyal to him or her. It obstructs the new CEO from doing his or her job.” Another problem highlighted was the difficulty for the new CEO to change course or raise issues about the former CEO’s decisions when the former CEO is still in the room. Awkward, at a minimum.

On the other hand, Cydney says that the authors contend that retaining the CEO on the board or in a consulting capacity for a brief time may provide benefits in terms of continuity. Interestingly, the article also says that in situations where the former CEO isn’t a founder, keeping the CEO on the board “is negatively associated with the firm’s post-turnover financial performance.”

John Jenkins