The purpose of this paper is to examine social issue proxy filings by shareholders of US corporations in a period commonly referred to as the “shareholder spring” to understand who the filers are, what issues are typically the focus of the filings, what the dominant strategy is of various filers and the success rate of proxy-based shareholder social activism.
Using the shareholder-filed proxy as the unit of analysis, the study parsed the data from 410 proxies to gain insight into the process of shareholder social activism.
Religious groups, in contrast to large pension and mutual funds, use a small shareholding approach to form coalitions with other stakeholders to gain voting support. Proxies that call for disclosure elicit greater support than those that demand a change in a company’s business practices. If the goal of shareholder social activism is to keep the proxy issue alive from one shareholder meeting to the next, then non-individual proxy filers can be considered successful.
While the study only considered proxies for 250 of the Fortune 500 companies, there is evidence that social activism can succeed if a coalition strategy is used and the shareholder’s motives appear to be legitimately altruistic.
It is important for corporate managers to consider the prevailing shareholder sentiment on social issues because such sentiments largely echo general societal concerns.
While the debate is still unsettled on the shareholder versus the stakeholder argument, there is a high level of scrutiny on how a company operates in the larger societal context.
Propelled by the Dodd–Frank law and the shareholder spring movement, certain types of shareholders (primarily religious groups) are quite adept at eliciting support for social issues because of both their legitimacy and by the strategy that they follow.
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