By Jeff Conant, Friends of the Earth
While most Americans are sheltering in place, homeschooling their kids, or finding ways to support their neighbors through the coronavirus crisis, the Securities and Exchange Commission seems to be taking the opportunity to kneecap investors who care about climate change, labor rights and protecting democracy.
A new proposed rule SEC rule would drastically limit the ability of everyday shareholders to influence corporations. Instead, it would hand more power to corporate executives focused on maximizing short-term profits.
Now that coronavirus has forced Americans to turn their attention to fighting a global pandemic, the SEC quietly announced that it would delay action and extend the comment period for a set of proposed rules — but not for its changes to proxy advisor rules. Recently, Senators Sherrod Brown and Chris Van Hollen wrote to SEC Chairman Jay Clayton urging him to suspend efforts to make rules unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as with so many other regulations protecting the environment, Trump Administration officials are pushing full steam ahead to empower corporate polluters at the expense of the environment.
Shareholder resolutions have become instrumental in the fight for a more healthy and just world. Shareholder resolutions pushed Big Oil and Gas companies to report on the risks of climate change and build business plans in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement. They have forced companies like ADM, Bunge, Tyson and Kroger to get conflict palm oil and deforestation out of their supply chains.
Perhaps most importantly, resolutions highlighting human rights risks in global supply chains have helped to curtail human trafficking and forced labor. But Trump’s corporate cronies are pressuring the SEC to wipe these rules off the books to make it more difficult for ordinary investors to vote with their dollars. And they’d love to do it while Americans’ attention is directed elsewhere.
We need shareholders who care about our environment — including Blackrock and other institutional investors who talk a good game about social responsibility — to use their power to vote on the side of the environment. The SEC shouldn’t use the distraction of one global crisis to attack and undermine our ability to address the next one.
The Trump Administration has been systematically dismantling existing regulations on the environment, the financial system, healthcare, labor, and so many other critical issues.
The move by the SEC bows to the Trump deregulatory agenda and deals a serious blow to our power to hold corporations accountable. Issuing this rule now would be the clearest possible sign that Jay Clayton and his allies on the SEC are more interested in pushing a corporate agenda than in behaving with integrity.
Engaged environmentalists need to make clear that Trump’s disdain for democracy can’t undermine our ability to make change. Especially not now.