Friday, May 22, 2015
I haven’t met Hollywood producer Edward Zwick, who brought the movie and the concept of Blood Diamonds to the world’s attention, but I have had the honor of meeting with medical rock star, and Nobel Prize nominee Dr. Denis Mukwege. Both Zwick and Mukwege had joined numerous NGOs in advocating for a mandatory conflict minerals law in the EU. I met the doctor when I visited Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011 on a fact finding trip for a nonprofit that focuses on maternal and infant health and mortality. Since Mukwege works with mass rape victims, my colleague and I were delighted to have dinner with him to discuss the nonprofit. I also wanted to get his reaction to the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals regulation, which was not yet in effect. I don’t remember him having as strong an opinion on the law as he does now, but I do remember that he adamantly wanted the US to do something to stop the bloodshed that he saw first hand every day.
The success of the Dodd-Frank law is debatable in terms of stemming the mass rape, use of child slaves, and violence against innocent civilians. Indeed, earlier this month, over 100 villagers were raped by armed militia. A 2014 Human Rights Watch report confirms that both rebels and the Congolese military continue to use rape as a weapon of war to deal with ethnic tensions. I know this issue well having co-authored a study on the use of sexual and gender-based violence in DRC with a medical anthropologist. With all due respect to Dr. Mukwege (who clearly know the situation better than I), that research on the causes of rape, but more important, my decade of experience in the supply chain industry have lead me to believe that the US Dodd-Frank law was misguided. The law aims to stem the violence by having US issuers perform due diligence on their supply chains. I have spoken to a number of companies that have told me that it would have been easier for the US to just ban the use of minerals from Congo because the compliance challenges are too high. Thus it was no surprise that last year’s SEC filings were generally vague and uninformative. It remains to be seen whether the filings due in a few weeks will be any better.
To me Dodd-Frank is a convenient way for the US government to outsource human rights enforcement to multinational corporations. Due diligence and clean supply chains are good, necessary, and in my view nonnegotiable, but they are not nearly enough to deal with the horrors in Congo. Nonetheless, in a surprise move, the EU Parliament voted this week to go even farther than the US law. According to the Parliament’s press release:
Parliament voted by 400 votes to 285, with 7 abstentions, to overturn the Commission's proposal as well as the one adopted by the international trade committee and requested mandatory compliance for "all Union importers" sourcing in conflict areas. In addition, "downstream" companies, that is, the 880, 000 potentially affected EU firms that use tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold in manufacturing consumer products, will be obliged to provide information on the steps they take to identify and address risks in their supply chains for the minerals and metals concerned… The regulation applies to all conflict-affected high risk areas in the world, of which the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes area are the most obvious example. The draft law defines 'conflict-affected and high-risk areas' as those in a state of armed conflict, with widespread violence, the collapse of civil infrastructure, fragile post-conflict areas and areas of weak or non-existent governance and security, characterised by "widespread and systematic violations of human rights".
(emphasis mine). I hope this proposed law works for the sake of the Congolese and all of those who live in conflict zones around the world. The EU member states have to sign off on it, so who knows what the final law will look like. Some criticize the law because the list of “conflict-affected areas” is constantly changing. Although that’s true, I don’t think that criticism should affect passage of the law. The bigger flaw in my view is that there are a number of natural resources from conflict-affected zones- palm oil comes to mind- that this regulation does not address. This law, like Dodd-Frank does both too much and not enough. In an upcoming book chapter, I propose that governments use procurement and other incentives and penalties related to executive compensation and clawbacks to drive human rights due diligence and third-party audits (sorry, I'm prohibited from posting a link to it but it's forthcoming from Cambridge University Press).
In the meantime, I will wait for the DC Circuit to rule on constitutional aspects of the Dodd-Frank bill. I will also be revising my most recent law review article on the defects of the disclosure regime to address the EU development. I will post the article next week from Havana, Cuba, where I will spend 10 days learning about the Cuban legal system and culture. Given my scholarship and the recent warming of relations between the US and Cuba, I may sneak a little research in as well, and in two weeks I will post my impressions on the challenges and opportunities that US companies will face in the Cuban market once the embargo is lifted. Adios!
May 22, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, May 21, 2015
My last post outlined the criminological and behavioral ethics theories that help explain why corporate executives commit unethical and illegal acts. I’d like to unpack that a bit more by providing some specific rationalizations used by white collar offenders. This list includes the first five rationalizations to be identified by researches (sometimes called the “famous five”), and then supplements three others that are particularly relevant. Not surprisingly, there are disagreements as to exactly how many rationalizations there are and precisely how they operate. But, as one team of researchers put it, what is interesting about rationalization theory is what rationalizations do, “not the flavors they come in.”
Denial of Responsibility. Called the “master account,” the denial of responsibility rationalization occurs when the offender defines her conduct in a way that relieves her of responsibility, thereby mitigating “both social disproval and a personal sense of failure.” Generally, offenders deny responsibility by claiming their behavior is accidental or due to forces outside their control. White collar offenders deny responsibility by pleading ignorance, suggesting they were acting under orders, or contending larger economic conditions caused them to act illegally.
Denial of Injury. This rationalization focuses on the injury or harm caused by the illegal or unethical act. White collar offenders may rationalize their behavior by asserting that no one will really be harmed. If an act’s wrongfulness is partly a function of the harm it causes, an offender can excuse her behavior if no clear harm exists. The classic use of this technique in white collar crime is an embezzler describing her actions as “borrowing” the money—by the offender’s estimation, no one will be hurt because the money will be paid back. Offenders may also employ this rationalization when the victim is insured or the harm is to the public or market as a whole, such as in insider trading or antitrust cases.
Denial of the Victim. Even if a white collar offender accepts responsibility for her conduct and acknowledges that it is harmful, she may insist that the injury was not wrong by denying the victim in order to neutralize the “moral indignation of self and others.” Denying the victim takes two forms. One is when the offender argues that the victim’s actions were inappropriate and therefore he deserved the harm. The second is when the victim is “absent, unknown, or abstract,” which is often the case with property and economic crimes. In this instance, the offender may be able to minimize her internal culpability because there are no visible victims “stimulat[ing] the offender’s conscience.” White collar offenders may use this rationalization in frauds against the government, such as false claims or tax evasion cases, and other crimes in which the true victim is abstract.
Condemning the Condemners. White collar offenders may also rationalize their behavior by shifting attention away from their conduct on to the motives of other persons or groups, such as regulators, prosecutors, and government agencies. By doing so, the offender “has changed the subject of the conversation”; by attacking others, “the wrongfulness of [her] own behavior is more easily repressed.” This rationalization takes many forms in white collar cases: the offender calls her critics hypocrites, argues they are compelled by personal spite, or asserts they are motivated by political gain. The claim of selective enforcement or prosecution is particularly prominent in this rationalization. In addition, white collar offenders may point to a biased regulatory system or an anticapitalist government.
Appeal to Higher Loyalties. The appeal to higher loyalties rationalization occurs when an individual sacrifices the normative demands of society for that of a smaller group to which the offender belongs. The offender does not necessarily reject the norms she is violating; rather, she sees other norms that are aligned with her group as more compelling. In the white collar context, the group could be familial, professional, or organizational. Offenders rationalizing their behavior as necessary to provide for their families, protect a boss or employee, shore up a failing business, or maximize shareholder value are employing this technique. Notably, female white collar offenders have been found to appeal to higher family loyalties more than their male counterparts.
Metaphor of the Ledger. White collar offenders may accept responsibility for their conduct and acknowledge the harm it caused, yet still rationalize their behavior by comparing it to all previous good behaviors. By creating a “behavior balance sheet,” the offender sees her current negative actions as heavily outweighed by a lifetime of good deeds, both personal and professional, which minimizes moral guilt. It seems likely that white collar offenders employ this technique, or at least have it available to them, as evidenced by current sentencing practices—almost every white collar sentencing is preceded by a flood of letters to the court supportive of the defendant and attesting to her good deeds.
Claim of Entitlement. Under the claim of entitlement rationalization, offenders justify their conduct on the grounds they deserve the fruits of their illegal behavior. This rationalization is particularly common in employee theft and embezzlement cases, but is also seen in public corruption cases.
Claim of Relative Acceptability/Normality. The final white collar rationalization entails an offender justifying her conduct by comparing it to the conduct of others. If “others are worse” or “everybody else is doing it,” the offender, although acknowledging her conduct, is able to minimize the attached moral stigma and view her behavior as aligned with acceptable norms. In white collar cases, this rationalization is often used by tax violators and in real estate and accounting frauds.
I’ve identified the use of these rationalizations by white collar offenders such as Rajat Gupta, Peter Madoff, Allen Stanford, and others. But I’d be interested to hear from readers where they’ve seen “vocabularies of motive” in the white collar world. (If you’re not sure, try starting with Bloomberg's oral history of Drexel Burnham Lambert, in what has to be the largest collection of rationalizations ever assembled.)
Business and Human Rights Junior Scholars Conference
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Last week, I looked lovingly at a picture of a Starbucks old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwich. It had 580 calories. I thought about getting the sandwich and then reconsidered and made another more “virtuous” choice. These calorie disclosures, while annoying, are effective for people like me. I see the disclosure, make a choice (sometimes the “wrong” one), and move on.
Regular readers of this blog know that I spend a lot of time thinking about human rights from a corporate governance perspective. I thought about that uneaten sandwich as I consulted with a client last week about the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. The law went into effect in 2012 and requires retailers, sellers, and manufacturers that exceed $100 million in global revenue that do business in California to publicly disclose the degree to which they verify, audit, and certify their direct suppliers as it relates to human trafficking and slavery. Companies must also disclose whether or not they maintain internal accountability standards, and provide training on the issue in their direct supply chains. The disclosure must appear prominently on a company’s website, but apparently many companies, undeterred by the threat of injunctive action by the state Attorney General, have failed to comply. In April, the California Department of Justice sent letters to a number of companies stating in part:
If your company has posted the required disclosures on its Internet website or, alternatively, takes the position that it is not required to comply with the Act, we request that – within 30 days of this letter’s date – you complete the form accessible at http://oag.ca.gov/sb657 and provide this office with (1) the web links (URLs) to both your company’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act disclosures and its homepage containing a link to the disclosures; and/or (2) information demonstrating your company is not covered by the Act.
There are no financial penalties for noncompliance. Rather, companies can face reputational damage and/or an order from the Attorney General to post something on their websites. A company complies even if that disclosure states that the company does no training, auditing, certification, monitoring or anything else related to human trafficking or slavery. The client I spoke to last week is very specialized and all of its customers are other businesses. Based on their business profiles, those “consumers” are not likely to make purchasing decisions based on human rights due diligence. I will be talking to another client in a few weeks on the California law. That client is business to consumer but its consumers specifically focus on low cost—that’s the competitive advantage for that client. Neither company-- the B2B nor the B2 (cost conscious)C-- is likely to lose significant, if any business merely because they don’t do extensive due diligence on their supply chains. Similarly, Apple, which has done a great job on due diligence for the conflict minerals law will not set records with the sale of the Apple Watch because of its human rights record. I bet that if I walked into an Apple Store and asked how many had seen or heard of Apple’s state of the art conflict minerals disclosure, the answer would be less than 1% (and that would be high).
People buy products because they want them. The majority of people won’t bother to look for what’s in or behind the product, although that information is readily available through apps or websites. If that information stares the consumer in the face (thanks Starbucks), then the consumer may make a different choice. But that assumes that (1) the consumer cares and (2) there is an equally viable choice.
To be clear, I believe that companies must know what happens with their suppliers, and that there is no excuse for using trafficked or forced labor. But I don’t know that the use of disclosures is the way to go. Some boards will engage in the cost benefit analysis of reputational damage and likelihood of enforcement vs cost of compliance rather than having a conversation about what kind of company they want to be. Many board members will logically ask themselves, “should we care if our customers don’t care?”
My most recent law review article covers this topic in detail. I’ll post it in the next couple of weeks because I need to revise it to cover the April development on the California law, and the EU’s vote on May 19 on their own version of the conflict minerals law. In the meantime, ignorance is bliss. I’m staying out of Starbucks and any other restaurant that posts calories- at least during the stressful time of grading exams.
May 14, 2015 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (3)
My post from last week posed the question of why corporate executives do what they do. Why do they commit unethical and illegal acts? If you ask almost anyone this, the answer comes back the same: corporate executives are greedy. That’s why they lie, cheat, and steal. Follow that up with the question of what should be done about it, and most people say that more law and more prison time is the solution.
I’ve never bought into that thinking (as to the cause or the fix). Sure, some of us are greedy. And some small percentage of us are looking to break the law to advance our own interests at every opportunity. But I’ve seen too many good people do bad things, and vice versa, to think that the cause of illegal corporate behavior (or almost any behavior) is somehow an inherently binary condition—good or bad, right or wrong, greedy or selfless. The reality is that many of us are both good and bad at the same time. But how does that actually work? How can someone like Rajat Gupta, the former managing director of Goldman Sachs, spend his time chairing three international humanitarian organizations and positively impacting “humanity writ large” (can you say that?), while also passing boardroom secrets to his billionaire hedge fund pal, Raj Rajaratnam?
Criminological and behavioral ethics theories help explain this duality. In the 1960’s, a criminologist named Donald Cressey conducted a study of hundreds of convicted embezzlers. Cressey determined that three key elements are necessary for violations of trust—the essence of almost all white-collar crime—to occur: (1) an individual possesses a “nonshareable problem,” i.e., a problem the individual feels cannot be solved by revealing it to others; (2) the individual believes the problem can be solved in secret by violating a trust, which is usually tied to their employment; and (3) the individual “verbalizes” the relationship between the nonshareable problem and the illegal solution in “language that lets him look on trust violation as something other than trust violation.” Put another way, the individual uses words and phrases during an internal dialogue that makes the behavior acceptable in his mind, such as by telling himself he is “borrowing” the embezzled money and will pay it back. Cressey believed that these verbalizations—what we commonly call rationalizations—were “the crux of the problem” of white collar crime, because they allowed an offender to keep his perception of himself as an honest citizen intact while acting in a criminal manner. This, in essence, is the psychological mechanism that allows good people to do bad things.
Importantly, Cressey (and others after him) found that rationalizations were not simply after-the-fact excuses offenders used to lessen their culpability upon being caught. Instead, rationalizations were “vocabularies of motive,” words and phrases that existed as group definitions labeling deviant behavior as appropriate, rather than excuses invented by the offender “on the spur of the moment.” In other words, offender rationalizations are drawn from larger society and put into use prior to the commission of criminal acts. This insight—that offenders rationalize their unethical or criminal conduct before they act, which then allows their conduct to proceed—is considered a key insight into white collar criminal behavior and has greatly influenced criminologists and behavioral ethicists alike.
In the next post, I will set out some of the most common rationalizations used by white collar offenders. And we’ll see that these rationalizations are present in many, if not most, of today’s headline-grabbing cases of corporate wrongdoing.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Earlier today, Reuters published a fascinating investigative journalist piece by Joshua Schneyer & Brian Grow raising questions about Dow Chemical's CEO Andrew Liveris. Drawing facts and allegations from internal auditor reports, filings in retaliation and employment suits, Dow documents regarding Liveris's nearly $720,000 reimbursement of improper spending, and documents related to an alleged pet charity in Greece create the backdrop for an interesting story that suggests officer wrong-doing and raises fiduciary duty concerns. This may be an interesting story to watch unfold, or at least a great afternoon procrastination excuse.
Friday, May 1, 2015
I’ve been thinking a lot about whistleblowers lately. I serve as a “management” representative to the Department of Labor Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee and last week we presented the DOL with our recommendations for best practices for employers. We are charged with looking at almost two dozen whistleblower laws. I've previously blogged about whistleblower issues here.
Although we spend the bulk of our time on the WPAC discussing the very serious obstacles for those workers who want to report safety violations, at the last meeting we also discussed, among other things, the fact that I and others believed that there could be a rise in SOX claims from attorneys and auditors following the 2014 Lawson decision. In that case, the Supreme Court observed that: “Congress plainly recognized that outside professionals — accountants, law firms, contractors, agents, and the like — were complicit in, if not integral to, the shareholder fraud and subsequent cover-up [Enron] officers … perpetrated.” Thus, the Court ruled, those, including private contractors, who see the wrongdoing but may be too fearful of retaliation to report it should be entitled to SOX whistleblower protection.
We also discussed the SEC's April KBR decision, which is causing hundreds of companies to revise their codes of conduct, policies, NDAs, confidentiality and settlement agreements to ensure there is no language that explicitly or implicitly prevents employees from reporting wrongdoing to the government or seeking an award.
Two weeks ago, I spoke in front of a couple hundred internal auditors and certified fraud examiners about how various developments in whistleblower laws could affect their investigations, focusing mainly on Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Whistleblower. I felt right at home because in my former life as a compliance officer and deputy general counsel, I spent a lot of time with internal and external auditors. Before I joined academia, I testified before Congress on what I thought could be some flaws in the law as written. Specifically, I had some concerns about the facts that: culpable individuals could receive awards; individuals did not have to consider reporting wrongdoing internally even if there was a credible, functioning compliance program; and that those with fiduciary responsibilities were also eligible for awards without reporting first (if possible), which could lead to conflicts of interest. The SEC did make some changes to Dodd-Frank. The agency now weighs the whistleblower’s participation in the firm’s internal compliance program as a factor that may increase the whistleblower’s eventual award and considers interference with internal compliance programs to be a factor that may decrease any award. It also indicated that compliance or internal audit professionals should report internally first and then wait 120 days before going external.
Before I launched into my legal update, I gave the audience some sobering statistics about financial professionals:
- 23% have seen misconduct firsthand
- 29% believe they may have to engage in illegal or unethical conduct to be successful
- 24% would engage in insider trading if they could earn $10 million and get away with it
I also shared the following awards with them:
- $875,000 to two individuals for “tips and assistance” relating to fraud in the securities market;
- $400,000 to a whistleblower who reported fraud to the SEC after the employee’s company failed to address internally certain securities law violations;
- $300,000 to an employee who reported wrongdoing to the SEC after the company failed to take action when the employee reported it internally first;
- $14 million- tip about an alleged Chicago-based scheme to defraud foreign investors seeking U.S. residency; and
- More than $30 million to a tipster living in a foreign country, who would have received more if he hadn't delayed reporting
I also informed them about a number of legal developments that affect those that occupy a position of trust or confidence. These white-collar whistleblowers have received significant paydays recently. Last year the SEC paid $300,000 to an employee who performed “audit or compliance functions.” I predicted more of these awards, and then to prove me right, just last week, the SEC awarded its second bounty to an audit or compliance professional, this time for approximately 1.4 million.
I asked the auditors to consider how this would affect their working with their peers and their clients, and how companies might react. Will companies redouble their efforts to encourage internal reporting? Although statistics are clear that whistleblowers prefer to report internally if they can and don’t report because they want financial gain, will these awards embolden compliance, audit, and legal personnel to report to the government? Will we see more employees with fiduciary duties coming forward to report wrongdoing? Does this conflict with any ethical duties imposed upon lawyers or compliance officers with legal backgrounds? SOX 307 describes up the ladder reporting requirements, but what happens to the attorney who chooses to go external? Will companies consider self-reporting to get more favorable deferred and nonprosecution agreements to pre-empt the potential whistleblower?
I don’t have answers for any of these questions, but companies and boards should at a minimum look at their internal compliance programs and ensure that their reporting mechanisms allow for reports from outside counsel and auditors. In the meantime, it’s now entirely possible that an auditor, compliance officer, or lawyer could be the next Sherron Watkins.
And by the way, if you were in Busan, South Korea last Wednesday, you may have heard me on the morning show talking about whistleblowers. Drop me a line and let me know how I sounded.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
OK. So, Tennessee is not Delaware. But the Tennessee legislature and Supreme Court have been busy bees this spring on business law matters. Here's the brief report.
In the last week of the legislative term, the Tennessee Senate and House adopted the For-Profit Benefit Corporation Act, about which I earlier blogged here, here, and here. Although I remain skeptical of the legislation, it looks like the governor will sign the bill. So, we will have benefit corporations in Tennessee. We'll see where things go from there . . . .
The Tennessee legislature also passed a technical corrections bill for the Tennessee Business Corporation Act. The bill was drafted by the Tennessee Bar Association's Business Entity Study Committee (on which I serve and to which I have referred in the past), a joint project of the Tennessee Bar Association's Business Law Section and Tax Law Section. The governor has already signed this bill into law.
Separately, in a bit of a stealth move (!), the Tennessee Supreme Court recently announced the establishment of a business court, an institution many other jurisdictions already have. The court is being introduced as a pilot project in Davidson County (where Nashville resides)--but only, as I understand it, to iron the kinks out before introducing the court on a permanent basis. Interestingly, the Tennessee Bar Association Business Law Section Executive Council was not informed about the new court project until its public announcement in the middle of March. Although we found that a bit odd, the "radio silence" is apparently attributable to the excitement of the Tennessee Supreme Court to get the project started effective as of May 1 and the deemed lack of need for a study on the subject before proceeding. Regardless, I think it's safe to say that the bar welcomes the introduction of a court that specializes in business law cases as a matter of principle. Again, we'll see where it goes from here.
A few reflections on all this follow.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Last week, the Deal Professor, Steven Davidoff Solomon, wrote an article titled, The Boardroom Strikes Back. In it, he recalls that shareholder activists won a number of surprising victories last year, and more were predicted for this year. That prediction made sense, as activists were able to elect directors 73% of the time in 2014. This year, though, despite some activist victories, boards are standing their grounds with more success.
I have no problem with shareholders seeking to impose their will on the board of the companies in which they hold stock. I don't see activist shareholder as an inherently bad thing. I do, however, think it's bad when boards succumb to the whims of activist shareholders just to make the problem go away. Boards are well served to review serious requests of all shareholders, but the board should be deciding how best to direct the company. It's why we call them directors.
As the Deal Professor notes, some heavy hitters are questioning the uptick in shareholder activism:
Some of the big institutional investors are starting to question the shareholder activism boom. Laurence D. Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, with $4 trillion, recently issued a well-publicized letter that criticized some of the strategies pushed by hedge funds, like share buybacks and dividends, as a “short-termist phenomenon.” T. Rowe Price, which has $750 billion under management, has also criticized shareholder activists’ strategies. They carry a big voice.
I am on record being critical of boards letting short-term planning be their primary filter, because I think it can hurt long-term value in many instances. I don't, however, think buybacks or dividends are inherently incorrect, either. Whether the idea comes from an activist shareholder or the board doesn't really matter to me. The board just needs to assess the idea and decide how to proceed.
[Please click below to read more.]
Monday, April 27, 2015
The following guest blog post on my recent article, Institutional Investing When Shareholders Are Not Supreme, is available at Columbia's Blue Sky Blog discussing institutional investors' attitudes towards alternative business forms and similar issues raised by Etsy's IPO.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Marco Ventoruzzo (Penn State Law) alerts us to the upcoming international conference for the sixtieth anniversary of the Rivista delle società, which will be held in Venice, on San Giorgio Maggiore, on 13-14 November 2015. The title of the conference is "Rules for the Market and Market for Rules. Corporate Law and the Role of the Legislature." The program and information on how to register (and other logistics) can be found here. It looks like only an Italian version of the program is available on the website as of the time this is being posted, but I have an English version. So, please just contact me if you want one.
Marco notes that the conference, organized every ten years by the Rivista, is one of the major events for corporate law scholars and practitioners in Italy (and probably in Europe as a whole). He anticipates well over 300 participants from several European countries, the U.S., and elsewhere. He notes that, as an additional incentive to participate, the venue is probably one of the most spectacular that can be imagined. San Giorgio is a tiny island in the Venice lagoon, just in front of Saint Mark's Square, that overlooks the entire Venetian waterfront. On the island, inhabited since Roman times, the conference will be hosted in a monastery partially designed by Andrea Palladio in the XVI century.
Hat tip to Marco for this announcement.
Last week the New York Times hosted a debate about the Public Corporation's Duty to Shareholders. Contributors include corporate law professors Stephen Bainbridge, Tamara Belinfante, Lynn Stout, David Yosifan and Jean Rogers, CEO of Sustainability Accounting Standards Board.
This collection of essays is not only more interesting than anything that I could write, but it is also the type of short, assessable debate that would be a great starting point for discussion in a seminar or corporations class.
Friday, April 17, 2015
At the end of next week, I will be at the University of Connecticut School of Business and the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center for their Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Conference.
Further information about the conference is available here, a portion of which is reproduced below:
In October 2014, Connecticut joined a growing number of states that empower for-profit corporations to expand their core missions to expressly include human rights, environmental sustainability, and other social objectives. As a new legal class of businesses, these benefit corporations join a growing range of social entrepreneurship and enterprise models that have the potential to have positive social impacts on communities in Connecticut and around the world. Designed to evaluate and enhance this potential, SE2 will feature a critical examination of the various aspects of social entrepreneurship, as well as practical guidance on the challenges and opportunities presented by the newly adopted Connecticut Benefit Corporation Act and other forms of social enterprise.
Presenters at the academic symposium on April 23 are:
- Mystica Alexander, Bentley University
- Norman Bishara, University of Michigan
- Kate Cooney, Yale University
- Lucien Dhooge, Georgia Institute of Technology
- Gwendolyn Gordon, University of Pennsylvania
- Gil Lan, Ryerson University
- Diana Leyden, University of Connecticut
- Haskell Murray, Belmont University
- Inara Scott, Oregon State University
Presenters at the practitioner conference on April 24 are:
- Gregg Haddad, State Representative, Connecticut General Assembly (D-Mansfield)
- Spencer Curry & Kieran Foran, FRESH Farm Aquaponics
- Sophie Faris, Community Development, B-Lab
- James W. McLaughlin, Associate, Murtha Cullina LLP
- Michelle Cote, Managing Director, Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
- Mike Brady, CEO, Greyston Bakery
- Jeff Brown, Executive Vice President, Newman’s Own Foundation
- Justin Nash, President, Veterans Construction Services, and Founder, Til Duty is Done
- Vishal Patel, CEO & Founder, Happy Life Coffee
- Anselm Doering, President & CEO, EcoLogic Solutions
- Dafna Alsheh, Production Operations Director, Ice Stone
- Tamara Brown, Director of Sustainable Development and Community Engagement, Praxair
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Regular readers know that I have blogged repeatedly about my opposition to the US Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule, which aims to stop the flow of funds to rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Briefly, the US law does not prohibit the use of conflict minerals, but instead requires certain companies to obtain an independent private sector third-party audit of reports of the facilities used to process the conflict minerals; conduct a reasonable country of origin inquiry; and describe the steps the company used to mitigate the risk, in order to improve its due diligence process. The business world and SEC are awaiting a First Amendment ruling from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on the “name and shame” portion of the law, which requires companies to indicate whether their products are DRC Conflict Free.” I have argued that it is a well-intentioned but likely ineffective corporate governance disclosure that depends on consumers to pressure corporations to change their behavior.
The proposed EU regulation establishes a voluntary process through which importers of certain minerals into the EU self-certify that they do not contribute to financing in “conflict-affected” or “high risk areas.” Unlike Dodd-Frank, it is not limited to Congo. Taking note of various stakeholder consultations and the US Dodd-Frank law, the EU had originally limited the scope to importers, and chose a voluntary mechanism to avoid any regional boycotts that hurt locals and did not stop armed conflict. Those importers who choose to certify would have to conduct due diligence in accordance with the OECD Guidance, and report their findings to the EU. The EU would then publish a list of “responsible smelters and refiners,” so that the public will hold importers and smelters accountable for conducting appropriate due diligence. The regulation also offers incentives, such as assistance with procurement contracts.
One of the problems with researching and writing on hot topics is that things change quickly. Two days after I submitted my most recent article to law reviews in March criticizing the use of disclosure to mitigate human rights impacts, the EU announced that it was considering a mandatory certification program for conflict minerals. That meant I had to change a whole section of my article. (I’ll blog on that article another time, but it will be out in the Winter issue of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review). Then just yesterday, in a reversal, the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee announced that it would stick with the original voluntary plan after all.The European Parliament votes on the proposal in May.
Reaction from the NGO community was swift. Global Witness explained:
Today the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) wasted a ground-breaking opportunity to tackle the deadly trade in conflict minerals. […] Under this proposal, responsible sourcing by importers of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold would be entirely optional. The Commission’s proposed voluntary self-certification scheme would be open to approximately 300-400 companies—just 0.05% of companies using and trading these minerals in the EU, and would have virtually no impact on companies’ sourcing behaviour. The law must be strengthened to make responsible sourcing a legal requirement for all companies that place these minerals on the European market–in any form. This would put the European Union at the forefront of global efforts to create more transparent, responsible and sustainable business practices. It would also better align Europe with existing international standards on responsible sourcing, and complement mandatory requirements in the US and in twelve African countries.
I’m all for due diligence in the supply chain and for forcing companies to minimize their human rights impacts. Corporations should do more than respect human rights-- they must pay when they cause harm. I plan to spend part of my summer researching and writing in Latin America about stronger human rights protections for indigenous peoples and the deleterious actions of some multinationals.
But a mandatory certification scheme on due diligence is not the answer because it won’t solve deep, intractable problems that require much more widespread reform. To be clear, I don't think the EU has the right solution either. Reasonable people can disagree, but perhaps the members of the EU Parliament should look to Dodd-Frank. SEC Chair Mary Jo White disclosed last month that the agency had spent 2.75 million dollars, including legal fees, and 17,000 hours writing and implementing the conflict minerals rule. A number of scholars and activists have argued that the law has in fact harmed the Congolese it meant to help and news reports have attempted to dispel some of the myths that led to the passage of the law.
So let’s see what happens in May when the EU looks at conflict minerals again. Let’s see what happens in June when the second wave of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals filings come in. As I indicated in my last blog post about Dodd-Frank referenced above, the first set of filings was particularly unhelpful. And let’s see what happens in December when parents start the holiday shopping—how many of them will check on the disclosures before buying electronics and toys for the members of their family? Most important, let's see if someone can actually tie the money and time spent on conflict minerals disclosure directly to lower rates of rape, child slavery, kidnapping, and forced labor-- the behaviors these laws intend to stop.
April 16, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
"Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made." -- John Godfrey Saxe
This is a brief legislative update on the progress of Tennessee's current bills, introduced in the house (HB0767--amendment not yet filed) and senate (SB0972), to institute the benefit corporation as a distinct for-profit business corporation in the State of Tennessee. The links provided are to the current versions of the bill, which reflect a significant amendment, as described below.
As you may know from my prior posts (including here and here), I am a benefit corporation skeptic. Please read those posts for details. And within the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) Business Law Section Executive Council and Business Entity Study Committee (our state bar committee that vets changes to Tennessee business associations and other business laws), I am not alone. We have rejected bills of this kind several times over the past few years when the matter has been put to us for review by the TBA. This year was no different. We opposed the benefit corporation bills that were introduced in Tennessee this year, too.
What was different this time around, was that the folks at B Lab had gotten the attention of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Tennessee, who appear(ed) to have some misunderstandings about the current state of Tennessee corporate governance law and came to push for adoption of the bill in committee in both houses of the legislature. Given that we were late to the party and that the members of our TBA Council and Committee are very busy lawyers, our efforts to re-educate members of the relevant committees were not as effective as we would have liked. But we ultimately were afforded two weeks to attempt to write an amended bill--one that better reflected Tennessee law and norms.
Now, any of you who have worked on a project like this before know that two weeks is not enough time to do a professionally responsible job in spotting and tracking down all of the issues that the introduction of a new business form routinely and naturally raises. Heck. We couldn't even get all the constituents around the table that we would want around the table to debate and review the legislation in two weeks! [It seems hardest to find a plaintiff's bar lawyer to sit in with us, but we found a great one for our recent work on the Tennessee Business Corporation Act (TBCA).] Our requests for more time to work on the proposed legislation were, however, rejected.
So, we set out to make a better sausage . . . .
Thursday, April 9, 2015
It’s that time of year again where I have my business associations students pretend to be shareholders and draft proposals. I blogged about this topic last semester here. Most of this semester’s proposals related to environmental, social and governance factors. In the real world, a record 433 ESG proposals have been filed this year, and the breakdown as of mid-February was as follows according to As You Sow:
Environment/Climate Change- 27%
Political Activity- 26%
Summaries of some of the student proposals are below (my apologies if my truncated descriptions make their proposals less clear):
1) Netflix-follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the core standards of the International Labour Organization
2) Luxottica- separate Chair and CEO
3) DineEquity- issue quarterly reports on efforts to combat childhood obesity and the links to financial risks to the company
4) Starbucks- provide additional disclosure of risks related to declines in consumer spending and decreases in wages
5) Chipotle- issue executive compensation/pay disparity report
6) Citrix Systems-add board diversity
7) Dunkin Donuts- eliminate the use of Styrofoam cups
8) Campbell Soup- issue sustainability report
9) Shake Shack- issue sustainability report
10) Starbucks- separate Chair and CEO
11) Hyatt Hotels- institute a tobacco-free workplace
12) Burger King- eliminate GMO in food
13) McDonalds- provide more transparency on menu changes
14) Google-disclose more on political expenditures
15) WWE- institute funding cap
One proposal that generated some discussion in class today related to a consumer products company. As I skimmed the first two lines of the proposal to end animal testing last night, I realized that one of my friends was in-house counsel at the company. I immediately reached out to her telling her that my students noted that the company used to be ”cruelty-free,” but now tested on animals in China. She responded that the Chinese government required animal testing on these products, and thus they were complying with applicable regulations. My students, however, believed that the company should, like their competitors, work with the Chinese government to change the law or should pull out of China. Are my students naïve? Do companies actually have the kind of leverage to cause the Chinese government to change their laws? Or would companies fail their shareholders by pulling out of a market with a billion potential customers? This led to a robust debate, which unfortunately we could not finish.
I look forward to Tuesday’s class when we will continue these discussions and I will show them the sobering statistics of how often these proposals tend to fail. Hopefully we can also touch on the Third Circuit decision, which may be out on the Wal-Mart/Trinity Church shareholder proposal issue.These are certainly exciting times to be teaching about business associations and corporate governance.
April 9, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
In December, 2014 the Second Circuit in US v. Newman addressed liability of remote tippees. In Newman, a lawyer told a friend who told a roommate information regarding the sale of SPSS Inc. to IBM that found its way into later trades by a cohort of analysts at hedge funds and investment firms. (Op. at 5-7). The Second Circuit in Newman vacated insider trading convictions and narrowed the standard for "improper benefit", reconsideration of which was denied last week, and thus stands pending review by the U.S. Supreme Court. To qualify as an improper benefit under Newman, there must be proof of a meaningfully close relationship, where the "the personal benefit received in exchange for confidential information must be of some consequence." (Op. at 22). Newman also made clear that liability standards are the same whether the tippee's liability arises under the classical or the misappropriate theories. (Op. at 11).
Judge Jed S. Rakoff, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, issued an order denying a motion to dismiss the SEC's civil charges against Daryl Payton and Benjamin Durrant III, defendants in Newman who received their information from the roommate of the friend of the lawyer. This is the first case to examine the impact of the Newman opinion in the civil context. Judge Rakoff wrote:
Significantly while a person is guilty of criminal insider trading only if that person committed the offense “willfully,” i.e., knowingly and purposely, a person may be civilly liable if that person committed the offense recklessly, that is, in heedless disregard of the probable consequences. (Op. at 2)
Judge Rakoff concluded that the SEC's "Amended Complaint more than sufficiently alleges that defendants knew or recklessly disregarded that Martin received a personal benefit in disclosing information to Conradt, and that Martin in doing so breached a duty of trust and confidence to the owner of the information. (Op. at 16).
Peter J. Henning, a professor at Wayne State University Law School, writes in his article in the DealB%k that:
Judge Rakoff’s analysis provides at least some guidance on how to assess the new landscape under the Newman opinion. Courts tend to apply securities law decisions interchangeably in criminal and civil cases, so the Justice Department can cite his opinion as a favorable precedent in other cases involving tippees.
This and other insider trading enforcement actions by the SEC can be tracked here.
Monday, April 6, 2015
Recently, I received the following conference announcement via e-mail:
Understanding the Modern Company
Organised by the Department of Law, Queen Mary University of London,
in cooperation with University College London
Saturday 9 May 2015, 09.00 to 17.00
Centre for Commercial Law Studies
Queen Mary University of London
67-69 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London WC2A 3JB
From their origin in medieval times to their modern incarnation as transnational bodies that traverse nations, the company remains an important, yet highly misunderstood entity. It is perhaps not surprising then that understanding what a company is and to whom it is accountable remains a persistent and enduring debate across the globe.
Today, the company is viewed in a variety, and often contradictory, ways. Some see it as a public body; others view it as a system of private ordering, while still others see it as a hybrid between these two views. Companies have also been characterized as the property of their shareholders, a network, a team, and even akin to a natural person. Yet the precise nature of the company and its role in society remain a modern mystery.
This conference brings together a wealth of scholars from around the world to explore the nature and function of companies. By drawing from different backgrounds and perspectives, the aim of this conference is to develop a normative approach to understanding the modern company.
Professor William Bratton, University of Pennsylvania
Professor Christopher Bruner, Washington & Lee University
Professor Karin Buhmann, Roskilde University
Dr Barnali Choudhury, Queen Mary University of London
Professor Janet Dine, Queen Mary University of London
Professor Luca Enriques, University of Oxford
Professor Brandon Garrett, University of Virginia
Professor Martin Gelter, Fordham Law School
Professor Paddy Ireland, University of Bristol
Dr Dionysia Katelouzou, King’s College London
Professor Andrew Keay, University of Leeds
Professor Ian Lee, University of Toronto
Dr Marc Moore, University of Cambridge
Dr Martin Petrin, University College London
Professor Beate Sjåfjell, University of Oslo
Professor Lynn Stout, Cornell University
To register, please visit: www.bit.ly/QM-Modern-Company
Thursday, April 2, 2015
In connection with the current legislative debate on benefit corporations in Tennessee (which has been gathering momentum since I last wrote on the topic), I have repeatedly asked about the impetus for the bill. Of course, there is the obvious "push" for benefit corporation legislation by the B Lab folks, who have gotten the ear of folks at the Chamber, convincing them that the legislation is needed in Tennessee to protect social enterprise entities from the application of a narrow version of the shareholder wealth maximization norm (a conclusion that I dispute in my earlier post). But what else? What real parties in interest in Tennessee, if any, have expressed a desire that Tennessee adopt this form of business entity?
There is anecdotal information from one venture attorney that some Tennessee entrepreneurs have indicated a preference for the benefit corporation form and have specifically requested that their business be organized as a Delaware benefit corporation. Leaving aside the Delaware versus Tennessee question, why are these entrepreneurs looking to organize their businesses as benefit corporations? Where does this idea come from?
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Below is a call for papers and description of a weeklong project on business and human rights. If you are interested, please contact one of the organizers below. I plan to participate and may also be able to answer some questions.
Lat Crit Study Space Project in Guatemala
Corporations, the State, and the Rule of Law
We are excited to invite you to participate in an exciting Study Space Project in Guatemala. Study Space, a LatCrit, Inc. initiative, is a series of intensive workshops, held at diverse locations around the world. This 2015 Study Space project involves a 7 working day field visit to Guatemala between Saturday June 27 (arrival date) and Saturday July 4, 2015 (departure date). We are reaching out to you because we believe that your interests, scholarship, and service record align well with the proposed focus of our trip.
This call for papers proposes a trip to Guatemala to study more closely the phenomena of failed nations viewed from the perspective of the relationship of the state of Guatemala with corporations. With the recent surge of Central American unaccompanied minors and children fleeing with their mothers, the United States has had to confront the human face of children and women whose claim to asylum or other immigration relief is rooted in the dire reality that the countries from which they flee cannot or will not protect them. Largely, these fleeing migrants are escaping violence perpetuated by private actors, at times gang members or even their own parents or spouses. Their stories of flight cannot be disengaged from the broader context in which the violence occurs. Theirs is also the story of failed nations, characterized by ineptitude, weakness, and even worse, indifference or at times even complicity.
This story of failed nations applies beyond the reign of private “rogues” whom everyone agrees are bad actors (i.e., gangs, drug traffickers, violent criminals). The other side of the coin, invisible in this new wave of Central American refugees, is a more nuanced story about the failing role of some of these Central American nations in regulating the acts of corporations, whether owned by the oligarchy or operated by transnational actors. Corporations are entities with great potential to promote and further the public good, such as through job creation and economic development. Corporations, however, can also be the cause of social ills, particularly when left unregulated or at times even supported by the state to pursue private interests that conflict with the public good. In Guatemala, examples of deeply problematic unregulated arenas abound-- from the lack of antitrust legislation to the absence of meaningful environmental protections to protect even the most precious of natural resources, such as water. There is also the misuse of public institutions and laws to shield corporations from their public and fiscal responsibility or to aid them in capitalizing on public goods, including minerals or land. Ironically, here, the state apparatus functions quite effectively to exert its authority in the execution of laws. The failure, however, rests in the illegitimacy of law, not in its execution.
Guatemala is a nation that is experiencing tremendous social upheaval from the acts of corporations on issues that include mining, water uses, deforestation, genetically modified seeds, free-trade zones, and maquiladoras, to name a few. Caught between the state and corporations are the communities most deeply affected by both the absence and the presence of law in ways that appear to conflict with the public interest. The questions that arise include how law can and should restore the balance between the promotion of investment and economic development with the protection of the public interest and the preservation of the public good. These inquiries also involve issues related to the protection of rights, whether of individuals or communities in the collective, including the right to self-determination, the right to food and water, or the right to dignified work.
The purpose of this trip is not to single out Guatemala for scrutiny. The reality is that the bilateral and multilateral relations that Guatemala is forced to sustain with other more powerful nations aggravate many of its pressing problems. Questions about Guatemala’s regulation of corporations must also address the relationship between the powerful transnational forces of globalization and the domestic laws of Guatemala, including those related to trade liberalization and intellectual property. This inquiry must also acknowledge how the absence of accountability of transnational corporations operating in Guatemala in the corporation’s own nation-state – including the power these corporations have to influence law-making-- should lead us to a discussion of shared responsibility and a proposal for solutions that are transnational and international in character.
Should you decide to participate, you would be encouraged and welcomed to suggest specific topics (and field visits) you would like to be included as part of this project. While we are still working on a precise itinerary (which you can help us shape), our projected goals right now are to visit with government officials, non-profits, community groups and the private sector with a special focus on labor and environment. The trip would include time in Guatemala City but also time in key rural sectors. For example, we are planning to visit a transnational mining site and the free-trade zone where maquiladoras are concentrated in Guatemala. As part of the trip, we will include orientations and debriefings with the group so we can share knowledge, impressions, and insights as the trip progresses.
The cost of your participation (excluding flight) is $1,900. This fee will cover housing, food, in-country transportation, conference space, and other fees that we will pay such as to translators, community groups assisting with logistics, and a modest fee to Luis Mogollón (a Guatemalan lawyer with significant law school academic program development experience in Guatemala) who will spend countless hours making this trip safe and enjoyable for all of us. The flight to Guatemala from the United States should range between $600 to $800.
Our aim is to publish essays from this project as a book in Spanish and English. We hope to have between 15-20 contributions. While ideally participants will speak Spanish, we can accommodate non-Spanish speakers (or those who only speak “un poquito”) and will hire interpreters to work with you during the trip to Guatemala. Keep in mind that you may need to conduct some research in Spanish (at least for primary sources) depending on the focus on your project. We also hope to present papers about this project at several conferences upon the completion of our project, including at LatCrit, Inc. and ideally in Guatemala.
The organizing Committee is comprised of Raquel Aldana, Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship at Pacific McGeorge School of Law; Steven Bender, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at Seattle University School of Law; José R. Juárez, Professor of Law and Director of the Spanish for Lawyers Program at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law; Beth Lyon, Director of the Farmworker Legal Aid Clinic and Professor of Law at Villanova University School of Law; Mario Mancilla, Technical Assistant of the Secretariat of Environmental Matters, CAFTA-DR; Luis Mogollón, Adjunct Professor and Consultant of the Inter-American Program from Pacific McGeorge; Rachael Salcido, Professor of Law at Pacific McGeorge School of Law; and Enrique Sánchez-Usera, Chair of the Inter-Disciplinary Studies at the University of Rafael Landívar Law School.
Please do not hesitate to contact any of us with questions. We do hope you decide to join us in this great project.
March 26, 2015 in Business Associations, Call for Papers, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)