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ESG shareholder proposal growth unabated

Richard Collings
Jun 10, 2022
Data: Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios Visuals

Expect there to be a record number of ESG shareholder proposals this year with 924 submissions so far, compared to 837 in 2021 and 754 in 2020, according to data from Harvard, provided and analyzed by Georgeson, a proxy consulting service.

Why it matters: While environmental, social and governance activism activity continues to increase, shareholders (particularly institutional) are beginning to push back on proposals they see as being too prescriptive and aggressive.

Details: Actually passing such proposals, specifically environmental, has proved more difficult: Only 20% of such proposals so far have gotten the thumbs up versus 35% in 2021.

  • Note that in the cases of denim brand Guess and Carl Icahn's involvement in McDonald's and Kroger, the activists agitating for changes failed to win the votes to do so.

By the numbers: While 924 ESG proposals have been filed, only up to 621 of those will likely go to a vote, according to Georgeson, with 286 having already been voted on.

  • Of those 286 proposals, 30 of them were environmental, 107 of them were social and 149 were governance.
  • Not only did environmental proposals face an uphill battle (as noted above), but social proposals are also on track to pass at a much lower rate than last year, with only 9% gaining approval so far this year compared to 18% in 2021.

The intrigue: One new trend emerging is "anti-" or "conservative" ESG proposals, with 52 submitted so far this year compared to 21 last year.

What we're watching: While enough results have rolled in to get a sense of where this proxy season is headed, there are still plenty of proposal votes to track, which will give us a fuller picture later this summer.

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