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Shareholder spring and social activism: a study of 2013-2015 proxy filings

Ram Subramanian (Stetson University, DeLand, Florida, USA)

Corporate Governance

ISSN: 1472-0701

Article publication date: 5 June 2017

Abstract

Purpose

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.

Design/methodology/approach

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.

Findings

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.

Research limitations/implications

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.

Practical implications

It is important for corporate managers to consider the prevailing shareholder sentiment on social issues because such sentiments largely echo general societal concerns.

Social implications

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.

Originality/value

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.

Keywords

Citation

Subramanian, R. (2017), "Shareholder spring and social activism: a study of 2013-2015 proxy filings", Corporate Governance, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 560-573. https://doi.org/10.1108/CG-08-2016-0170

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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