Wednesday, October 7, 2015
As some of you may know, I have been focused on crowdfunding intermediation in my research of late. My articles in the U.C. Davis Business Law Journal and the Kentucky Law Journal both touch on that topic, and a forthcoming chapter in an international crowdfunding book and several articles in process follow along that trail. (I also have the opportunity to look into gatekeeper intermediary issues outside the crowdfunding context at an upcoming symposium at Wayne State University Law School, about which I will say more in a subsequent post.) The underlying literature on financial intermediation is super-interesting, and it continues to grow in breadth and depth as I research and write.
Given my interest in this area, I was delighted to see that Larry Cunningham is contributing to the debate, following on his already-rich work relating to Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. As you may recall, Larry was our guest here at the Business Law Prof Blog back in 2014. You can read my Q&A with him here and his posts here and here.
Larry recently posted an essay responding to Kathryn Judge's Intermediary Influence, 82 U Chi L Rev 573 (2015). In her article, Professor Judge shows "how intermediaries acquire influence over time and how they have used that influence to promote high-fee arrangements." She then uses this descriptive analysis both to explain existing phenomena in the financial markets and to identify significant implications for the same.
Forthcoming in the University of Chicago Law Review Dialogue, Larry's responsive essay, Berkshire versus KKR: Intermediary Influence and Competition, compares the infamous private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts to his beloved Berkshire Hathaway. His focus? The M&A market. His bottom line?
I have extended Judge’s insights with an illustration from the acquisitions market, depicting one firm (KKR) that epitomizes intermediary influence, in contrast to a rival (Berkshire)—the anti-intermediary par excellence. The juxtaposition affirms the portrait of intermediary influence that Judge paints as well as the potential for correction through lower-priced competition and fee disclosure she posits.
I have given Larry's essay a skim, and that quick pass has enticed me into giving both it and Professor Judge's article a good, thorough read in the not-too-distant future.
Monday, October 5, 2015
Alicia Plerhoples (Georgetown) has the details about the first benefit corporation IPO: Laureate Education.*
She promises more analysis on SocEntLaw (where I am also a co-editor) in the near future.
The link to Laureate Education's S-1 is here. Laureate Education has chosen the Delaware public benefit corporation statute to organize under, rather than one of the states that more closely follows the Model Benefit Corporation Legislation. I wrote about the differences between Delaware and the Model here.
Plum Organics (also a Delaware public benefit corporation) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the publicly-traded Campbell's Soup, but it appears that Laureate Education will be the first stand-alone publicly traded benefit corporation.
*Remember that there are differences between certified B corporations and benefit corporations. Etsy, which IPO'd recently, is currently only a certified B corporation. Even Etsy's own PR folks confused the two terms in their initial announcement of their certification.
October 5, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, October 2, 2015
Today I will present on a panel with colleagues that spent a week with me this summer in Guatemala meeting with indigenous peoples, village elders, NGOs, union leaders, the local arm of the Chamber of Commerce, a major law firm, government officials, human rights defenders, and those who had been victimized by mining companies. My talk concerns the role of corporate social responsibility in Guatemala, but I will also discuss the complex symbiotic relationship between state and non-state actors in weak states that are rich in resources but poor in governance. I plan to use two companies as case studies.
The first corporate citizen, REPSA (part of the Olmeca firm), is a Guatemalan company that produces African palm oil. This oil is used in health and beauty products, ice cream, and biofuels, and because it causes massive deforestation and displacement of indigenous peoples it is also itself the subject of labeling legislation in the EU. REPSA is a signatory of the UN Global Compact, the world's largest CSR initiative. Despite its CSR credentials, some have linked REPSA with the assassination last month of a professor and activist who had publicly protested against the company's alleged pollution of rivers with pesticides. The "ecocide," that spread for hundreds of kilometers, caused 23 species of fish and 21 species of animals to die suddenly and made the water unsafe to drink. REPSA has denied all wrongdoing and has pledged full cooperation with authorities in the murder investigation. The murder occurred outside of a local court the day after the court ordered the closing of a REPSA factory. On the same day of the murder other human rights defenders were also allegedly kidnaped by REPSA operatives although they were later released. Guatemala's government is reportedly one of the most corrupt in the world-- the President resigned a few weeks ago and went to jail amidst a corruption scandal-- and thus it is no surprise that the government has allegedly done little to investigate either the ecocide or the murder.
The other case study concerns Tahoe, a Canadian mining company with a US subsidiary that used private security forces who shot seven protestors. Tahoe is facing trial in a Canadian court, a case that is being watched worldwide by the NGO community. Interestingly, the company's corporate social responsibility and the board's implementation are indirectly at issue in the case. Tahoe feels so strongly about CSR that it has a CSR blog and quarterly report online touting its implementation of international CSR standards, including its compliance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, the Equator Principles (related to risk management for project finance in social risk projects), the IFC Performance Standards and a host of other initiatives related to grievance mechanisms for those seeking an access to remedy for human rights abuses. Tahoe is in fact a member of the CSR Committee of the International Bar Association. Nonetheless, despite these laudable achievements, none of the families that my colleagues and I met with in the mining town mentioned any of this nor talked about the "Cup of Coffee With the Mine" program promoted in the CSR report. Of course, it's possible that Tahoe has made significant reforms since the 2013 shootings and if so, then it should be applauded, but the families we met in June did not appear to give the company much credit. Instead they talked about the birth defects that their children have and the fact that they and their crops often go for days without water. They may not know the statistic, but some of the mining processes use the same amount of water in one hour that a family of four would use in 20 years.
Of note, the Guatemalan government only requires a 1% royalty for the minerals mined in the country rather than the 30% that other countries require, although legislation is pending to change this. Guatemala also provides its police and military as guards for the mines to protect the Canadian company from its own citizens. Guatemala probably helps shore up security because even though 98% of the local citizens voted against the mine, the mine commenced operations anyway despite both international and Guatemalan human rights law that requires free, prior, and informed consent (see here).
Given this turmoil, perhaps it was actually the more risky climate of mining in Guatemala that caused Goldcorp to sell a 26% stake in Tahoe earlier this year rather than the stated goal of focusing on core assets. Norway's pension fund had already divested in January due to Tahoe's human rights record in Guatemala. Maybe these investors hadn't read the impressive Tahoe CSR report. With the background provided above, my abstract for my book chapter and today's talk is below. I welcome your thoughts in the comment section or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Americans and Europeans have come to expect even small and medium sized enterprises to engage in some sort of corporate social responsibility (“CSR”). Large companies regularly market their CSR programs in advertising and recruitment efforts, and indeed over twenty countries require companies to publicly report on their environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) efforts. Definitions differ, but some examples may be instructive for this Chapter. For example, the Danish government, which mandates ESG reporting, defines CSR as “considerations for human rights, societal, environmental and climate conditions as well as combatting corruption in … business strategy and corporate activities.” The United States government, which focuses on responsible business conduct, has explained, “CSR entails conduct consistent with applicable laws and internationally recognised standards. Based on the idea that you can do well while doing no harm, RBC is a broad concept that focuses on two aspects of the business-society relationship: 1) the positive contribution businesses can make to economic, environmental, and social progress with a view to achieving sustainable development, and 2) avoiding adverse impacts and addressing them when they do occur.”
Business must not only have a legal license to operate in a country, they must also have a social license. In other words, the community members, employees, government officials, and those affected by the corporate activities—the stakeholders—must believe that the business is legitimate. It is no longer enough to merely be legally allowed to conduct business. Corporate social responsibility activities can thus often add a veneer of “legitimacy.”
With this in mind, what role does business play in society in general and in a country as complex as Guatemala in particular? Guatemalan citizens, including over two dozen different indigenous groups, have gone from fighting a bloody 36-year civil war to fighting corrupt leadership that often appears to put the interests of local and multinational businesses above that of the people. For example, although the Canadian Trade Commission has an office with resources related to CSR in Guatemala, some of the most egregious allegations of human rights abuses relate to mining companies from that country. Similarly, many of the multinationals that proudly publish CSR reports and even use the buzzwords “social license” in slick videos on their websites are the same corporations accused in lawsuits by human rights and environmental defenders. How do these multinationals reconcile these acts? How and when will consumers and socially-responsible investors hold corporations accountable for these acts? Is the Guatemalan government abdicating its responsibility to its own people or is the government in fact complicit with the multinationals? And finally, do foreign governments bear any responsibility for the acts of multinationals acting abroad? This chapter will explore this continuum from corporate social responsibility to corporate accountability using the case study of Guatemala in general and the extractive and palm oil industries in particular.
October 2, 2015 in Commercial Law, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Litigation, Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 25, 2015
Stephen Choi (NYU), Jill Fisch (Penn), Marcel Kahan (NYU), and Ed Rock (Penn) have posted an interesting new paper entitled Does Majority Voting Improve Board Accountability?
The authors report the dramatic increase in majority voting provisions. In 2006, only 16% of the S&P 500 companies used majority voting, but by January of 2014, over 90% of the S&P 500 companies had adopted some form of majority voting. (pg. 6). As of 2012, 52% of mid-cap companies and 19% of small-cap companies had adopted majority voting provisions. (pg. 7)
For the most part, the spread of majority voting has not led to significant reduction in election of nominated directors. In over 24,000 director nominations from 2007 to 2013, at companies with majority voting provisions, "only eight (0.033%) [nominees] failed to receive a majority of 'for' votes." (pg.4)
The authors claim that their "most dramatic finding is":
a substantial difference between early and later adopters of majority voting. The early adopters of majority voting appear to be more shareholder-responsive than other firms. These firms seem to have adopted majority voting voluntarily, and the adoption of majority voting has made little difference in shareholder-responsiveness going forward. By contrast, later adopters, as a group, seem to have adopted majority voting only semi-voluntarily. Among this group, majority voting seems to have led to more shareholder-responsive behavior. (pg. 2)
As the authors suggest, their article "highlights the importance of segregating early and later adopters of the [corporate governance] innovations, because the reasons for and the effects of adoption may differ systematically between these groups." (pg. 44)
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Last week I blogged about the Yates Memorandum, in which the DOJ announced that any company that expected leniency in corporate deals would need to sacrfice a corporate executive for prosecution. VW has been unusually public in its mea culpas apologizing for its wrongdoing in its emission scandal this week. VW’s German CEO has resigned, the US CEO is expected to resign tomorrow, and other executives are expected to follow.
It will be interesting to see whether any VW executives will serve as the first test case under the new less kind, less gentle DOJ. Selfishly, I’m hoping for a juicy shareholder derivatives suit by the time I get to that chapter to share with my business associations students. That may not be too far fetched given the number of suits the company already faces.
This comes to us courtesy of Rachel Ezrol at Emory Law:
A Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative & Feminism and Legal Theory Workshop Project
A Workshop on Vulnerability at the Intersection of the Changing Firm and the Changing Family
When: October 16-17, 2015
Where: Emory University School of Law
Registration is FREE for Emory students, faculty, and staff.
From the Call for Papers:
Theories of dependency situate the limitations that attend the caregiving role in the construction of the relationship between work and family. The “worker,” defined without reference to family responsibilities, becomes capable of autonomy, self-sufficiency, and responsibility through stable, full-time employment. The privatized family, created by the union of spouses, is celebrated in terms of a self-sufficient ideal that addresses dependency within its own ranks, often through the gendered assumptions regarding responsibility for caretaking. The feminist project has long critiqued these arrangements as they enshrine the inequality that follows as natural and inevitable and cloak the burdens of caretaking from examination or critique. The interpenetrations of the family and the firm have thus been understood as both multiple and wide-ranging. Both this system and the feminist critique of it, however, are associated with the construction of wage labor that arose with industrialization. This workshop will apply the lens of vulnerability to consider the implications that arise from large scale changes in the structure of employment - changes that place this prior ideal of stable self-sufficiency beyond the reach of much of the population.
Issues For Discussion May Include:
This workshop will use vulnerability theory to explore the implications of the changing structure of employment and business organizations in the information age. In considering these changes, we ask in particular:
- How does the changing relationship between employment and the family, and particularly the disappearance of the breadwinner capable of earning a stable “family wage,” affect our understanding of the family and its association with care and dependency?
- How does the changing structure of employment and business organization affect possibilities for reform? What should be the role of a responsive state in directing these shifting flows of capital and care?
- How might a conception of the vulnerable subject help our analysis of the changing nature of the firm? What relationships does it bring into relief?
- What kind of legal subject is the business organization? Are there relevant distinctions among business and corporate forms in regard to understanding both vulnerability and the need for resilience?
- How are business organizations vulnerable? The family? Have these vulnerabilities shifted over time, and what forms of resilience are available for both institutions to respond to new economic realities?
- What, if any, should be the role of international and transnational organizations in a neoliberal era? What is their role in building both human and institutional resilience?
- Is corporate philanthropy an adequate response to the retraction of state regulation? What forms of resilience should be regulated and which should be left to the ‘free market’?
- How does the Supreme Court's willingness to assign rights to corporate persons (Citizen's United, Hobby Lobby), affect workers, customers and communities? The relationship between public and private arenas?
Program Coordinator | Emory University School of Law
1301 Clifton Road | Atlanta, GA 30322 | Room G500 Gambrell Hall
404-712-2420 (t) | 404-727-1973 (f)
Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative
Feminism and Legal Theory Project
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Yesterday (September 22, 2015) the SEC announced proposed rules regarding mutual funds and ETFs aimed at regulating liquidity and redemption risks as well as enhancing disclosures. Included in the 400+ pages of proposed rules and analysis, the SEC focused on swing pricing, a practice to mitigate the impact of forward pricing required under Rule 22c-1 of the Investment Company Act. Before this feels too in the weeds of securities law, let’s discuss what this means. Funds are required to redeem shareholders’ interests at NAV (net asset value pricing), when faced with redemption requests by shareholders wanting to exit the fund. The fund then sells assets to pay the NAV to the departing shareholder or keeps a certain pool of assets liquid to meet such requests. The costs of these trades or lost investment cost of the liquid assets are born by the shareholders who remain in the funds. Additionally, shareholders who purchase new shares of the fund, do so at the daily NAV, which doesn’t reflect the liquidity cost imposed by the departing shareholders. Similarly, when the fund receives the investment of new shareholders, the fund invests that money, but the purchase price NAV does not reflect the trading cost of when the fund purchases new portfolio assets. Consider these helpful examples from the proposed rules:
If a fund has valued portfolio asset X at $10 at the beginning of day 1, and market activity on day 1 (including the fund’s sale of portfolio asset X) decreases the market value of portfolio asset X to $9 at the end of day 1, the fund’s remaining holdings of portfolio asset X at the end of day 1 would be valued at $9 to reflect the asset’s market value on that day. However, staff outreach has shown that it is common industry practice, as permitted by rule 2a-4, for the fund’s current NAV to not reflect the actual price at which the fund has sold the portfolio assets until the next business day following the sale. In the example above, if the fund selling portfolio asset X sold the asset during the day at $8 on day 1, the price that the fund received for these asset sales would not be reflected in the fund’s NAV until day 2. Thus, redeeming shareholders would have received an exit price that would reflect portfolio asset X being valued at the close of the market at $9 on day 1, whereas remaining shareholders would hold shares on day 2 whose value reflects portfolio asset X being sold at $8 (the actual price that the fund received when it sold the asset on day one).
Similarly, as noted above, the price that a purchasing shareholder pays for fund shares normally does not take into account trading and market impact costs that arise when the fund buys portfolio assets to invest the proceeds received from shareholder purchases. ….. the fund’s NAV on day 1 (and the purchase price an incoming shareholder were to receive on day 1) reflects portfolio asset X being valued at $10, but the fund were to purchase additional shares of portfolio asset X on day 2 at $11, the price that a purchasing shareholder pays on day 1 would not reflect the costs of investing the proceeds of the shareholder’s purchases of fund shares. These costs instead would be reflected in the fund’s NAV on days following the shareholder’s purchase, and thus would be borne by all of the investors in the fund, not only the shareholders who purchased on day 1. p.186-187
Shareholders who exit mutual funds pay for none of these transaction costs and entering shareholders only pay a fraction of them. Who foots the long-term bill? The existing fund shareholders do. I wrote about this feature of mutual fund investment here on BLPB last December when I was thinking about the impact of mutual fund investment features on long-term shareholders like retirement and 529 College Plan investors—investors I refer to as Citizen Shareholders in my scholarship.
To address these transaction costs the SEC proposed rule 22c-1(a)(3) to allow for partial swing pricing (not mandating it) when redemptions and purchases exceed a certain threshold. In addition to enhancing the NAV’s reflection of the true value of the fund, swing pricing may deter first mover advantage incentives to redeem shares early in negative liquidity stress. To understand more about liquidity and redemption risks, you can also read the accompanying White Paper from the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis: Liquidity and Flows of U.S. Mutual Funds.
The Commission is seeking comments on the proposed partial swing pricing (and other rule amendment). These changes are proposed in conjunction with other liquidity management tools and disclosure enhancements, features that I hope to highlight here on BLPB in future posts.
For those of you interested in securities laws, this post requires no further explanation or introduction. For readers more concerned with traditional corporate governance, the proposed rules should be of interest to you as well. These rules signal an increased focus by the SEC on mutual funds and ETFs regarding pricing, risk management, and disclosure. Institutional investors wield tremendous voting power and financial clout in public companies-- pressures imposed on these investors will be felt secondarily by the operating companies whose stock is held by these funds. If there was ever a meaningful distinction between corporate governance and securities, those boundary lines are under increasing pressure in light of institutional investor ownership trends.
Finally, let me just say that after a long hiatus from blogging....it is good to be back.
As I earlier noted, I participated in a continuing legal education program at The University of Tennessee College of Law last Friday on the basics of crowdfunding. My partners in crime for the last hour of the event were two folks from Chattanooga, Tennessee (yes, home of the famous choo choo) who have been involved in crowdfunding efforts for local businesses. One used crowdfunding to finance a change in the location of a business; the other used crowdfunding to gauge interest in his business concept and raise seed capital. They described their businesses and financing efforts in the second segment of the program (after a foundational hour on crowdfunding from me).
The business location change was for The Camp House, a coffeehouse owned and operated as part of The Mission Chattanooga, a local church. Private events, including music performances, also take place at the venue. The Camp House raised over $32,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Causeway. Matt Busby, Director of The Camp House, educated us on donation crowdfunding through a non-profit platform.
The new business concept and capital raise was for Treetop Hideaways (a/k/a, The Treehouse Project), a business that designed, built, and rents time in a luxury treehouse. The principals raised over $34,000 on Kickstarter. One of the two men behind this project, Enoch Elwell, offered us practical information about reward crowdfunding. Enoch also told attendees about his work with local entrepreneurs through CO.LAB and CO.STARTERS.
In the last hour of the program, the three of us reflected on crowdfunding successes and failures and speculated about the future of crowdfunding (using their experiences and my research as touchstones). It was a wide-ranging discussion, filled with disparate tidbits of information on business formation, finance, and governance, as well as professional responsibility and the provision of practical, cost-sensitive legal advice. Both Matt and Enoch turned out to be great folks to talk to about business finance, choice of entity, and the role of lawyers in small business formation and operation. Their observations were thoughtful and sensible. I learned a lot from them, and participants (practitioners and students) also indicated that they learned a lot. Everyone had fun. It was pure business lawyer/law student joy on a Friday afternoon! :>)
For those who were not at the program on Friday and would have liked to have been there, all is not lost. We plan to post a recorded version of all three program segments here in a few weeks. Continuing legal education credit will be available in Tennessee for viewing the online recording, upon completion of the test provided and payment of the applicable fee.
Friday, September 11, 2015
Last week I ventured a few blocks from Belmont's campus to our neighbor Vanderbilt University Law School for their conference on The Future of International Corporate Governance.
One of the many interesting papers presented was Independent Directors in Singapore: Puzzling Compliance Requiring Explanation by Dan Puchniak and Luh Luh Lan, both of the National University of Singapore.
The entire paper is worth reading, but I want to share three take-aways with our readers.
"[O]nly a handful of jurisdictions [roughly 7%] have ever adopted the American concept of the independent director (i.e., where directors who are independent from management only— but not substantial shareholders—are deemed to be independent)." (pg. 6)
Singapore adopted an American-style definition of "independent director" in 2001, which did not include independence from substantial shareholders. Despite this weaker definition of independence in a jurisdiction with much more concentrated shareholding than the U.S., Singapore enjoyed relative success through "functional substitutes" that limited the private benefits of control. According to the authors, these "functional substitutes" include social relationships in Family Controlled Firms ("FCFs")" and legally imposed limits on the controlling government shareholder in Government Linked Companies ("GLCs").
Despite relative success with the American-style definition of "independent director," Singapore changed its definition "independent director" to require independence from management and 10%+ shareholders in their 2012 Corporate Code (effective at the start of 2015). This change seems prompted, at least in part, by scandals involving S-Chip companies (non-Singapore based companies that are listed on the Singapore Exchange.) The authors suggest that these S-Chip companies do not have the same "functional substitutes" as the FCFs and GLCs.
The article includes a helpful history of Singapore's recent corporate codes, and is a useful article for comparative corporate governance research. I do wonder if the "functional substitutes" explain quite as much as the authors suggest, but I highly recommend the article, especially for those interested in international corporate law.
September 11, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Family Business, Haskell Murray, International Business, International Law, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Are Crooked Executives Finally Going to Jail? DOJ’s New White Collar Criminal Guidelines and the Questions for Compliance Officers and In House Counsel
I think my life as a compliance officer would have been much easier had the DOJ issued its latest memo when I was still in house. As the New York Times reported yesterday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has heard the criticism and knows that her agency may face increased scrutiny from the courts. Thus the DOJ has announced via the “Yates Memorandum” that it’s time for some executives to go to jail. Companies will no longer get favorable deferred or nonprosecution agreements unless they cooperate at the beginning of the investigation and provide information about culpable individuals.
This morning I provided a 7-minute interview to a reporter from my favorite morning show NPR’s Marketplace. My 11 seconds is here. Although it didn’t make it on air, I also discussed (and/or thought about) the fact that compliance officers spend a great deal of time training employees, developing policies, updating board members on their Caremark duties, scanning the front page of the Wall Street Journal to see what company had agreed to sign a deferred prosecution agreement, and generally hoping that they could find something horrific enough to deter their employees from going rogue so that they wouldn’t be on the front page of the Journal. Now that the Yates memo is out, compliance officers have a lot more ammunition.
On the other hand, the Yates memo raises a lot of questions. What does this mean in practice for compliance officers and in house counsel? How will this development change in-house investigations? Will corporate employees ask for their own counsel during investigations or plead the 5th since they now run a real risk of being criminally and civilly prosecuted by DOJ? Will companies have to pay for separate counsel for certain employees and must that payment be disclosed to DOJ? What impact will this memo have on attorney-client privilege? How will the relationship between compliance officers and their in-house clients change? Compliance officers are already entitled to whistleblower awards from the SEC provided they meet certain criteria. Will the Yates memo further complicate that relationship between the compliance officer and the company if the compliance personnel believe that the company is trying to shield a high profile executive during an investigation?
I for one think this is a good development, and I’m in good company. Some of the judges who have been most critical of deferred prosecution agreements have lauded today’s decision. But, actions speak louder than words, so a year from now, let’s see how many executives have gone on trial.
September 10, 2015 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
A while back, the CLS Blue Sky Blog featured a post by Michael Peregrine on an article authored by Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine (Documenting The Deal: How Quality Control and Candor Can Improve Boardroom Decision-making and Reduce the Litigation Target Zone, 70 Bus. Law. 679 (2015)) offering pragmatic advice to corporate directors in deal-oriented decision making. Michael's post summarizes points made by Justice Strine in his article, including (of particular importance to legal counsel) those set forth below.
- "Counsel can play an important role in assuring the engagement of the strongest possible independent financial advisor, and structuring the engagement to confirm the provision of the full breadth of deal-related financial advice to the board; not simply the delivery of a fairness opinion or similar document."
- "[I]n the M&A process, it is critical to be clear in the minutes themselves about what method is being used, and why."
- "Lawyers and governance support personnel should be particularly attentive to documenting in meeting minutes the advice provided by financial advisors about critical fairness considerations or other transaction terms, and the directors’ reaction to that advice."
- "[P]laintiffs’ lawyers are showing an increasing interest in seeking discovery of electronic information that may evidence the attentiveness of individual directors to materials posted on the board portal."
Michael concludes by noting the thrust of Justice Strine's points--that "a more thoughtful approach to the fundamental elements of the M&A process will enhance exercise of business judgment by disinterested board members, and their ability to rely on the advice of impartial experts." All of the points made reflect observations of the Chief Justice emanating from Delaware jurisprudence. Michael also notes that the points made by Justice Strine have application to decision making in other forms of business association as well as the corporation.
I could not agree more with the thesis of the post and the article. Maybe it's just my self-centered, egotistical, former-M&A-lawyer self talking, but good lawyering can make a difference in M&A deals and the (seemingly inevitable) litigation that accompanies them. I wrote about this in my article, A More Critical Use of Fairness Opinions as a Practical Approach to the Behavioral Economics of Mergers and Acquisitions, commenting on Don Langevoort's article, The Behavioral Economics of Mergers and Acquisitions. We should be teaching this in the classroom as we frame the lawyer's role in M&A transactions. I use a quote from Steve Bainbridge to introduce this matter to my Business Associations, Corporate Finance, and Cross-Border M&A students:
Successful transactional lawyers build their practice by perceptibly adding value to their clients’ transactions. From this perspective, the education of a transactional lawyer is a matter of learning where the value in a given transaction comes from and how the lawyer might add even more value to the deal.
Stephen M. Bainbridge, Mergers and Acquisitions 4 (2003). Great stuff, imv. I am sure this quote or one like it is in the current version of this book somewhere, too. But I do not have that with me as I write this. Perhaps if Steve reads this he will add the current cite to the comments . . . ?
At any rate, I want to make a pitch for highlighting the role of the lawyer in guiding the client through the legal minefields--territory that only we can help clients navigate most efficaciously. As business law educators, we have a podium that enables us to do this with law students who are lawyers-in-training about to emerge from the cocoon-like academic environment into the cold, cruel world in which fiduciary duty (derivative and direct) and securities class action litigation is around every transactional corner. Let's give them some pointers on why and how to take on this task!
Thursday, September 3, 2015
Has Wal-Mart reformed? Last week I blogged about whether conscious consumers or class actions can really change corporate behavior, especially in the areas of corporate social responsibility or human rights. I ended that post by asking whether Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest gun dealer, had bowed down to pressure from activist groups when it announced that it would stop selling assault rifles despite the fact that gun sales are rising (not falling as Wal-Mart claims). Fellow blogger Ann Lipton did a great post about the company’s victory over shareholder Trinity over a proposal related to the sale of dangerous products (guns with high capacity magazines). There doesn’t appear to be anything in the 2015 proxy that would necessitate even the consideration of a change that Wal-Mart fought through the Third Circuit to avoid.
So why the change? Is it due to the growing public weariness over mass shootings? Did they feel the sting after Senator Chris Murphy praised them for ceasing the sale of Confederate flags but called them out on their gun sales? Even the demands of a Senator won’t overcome the apparent lack of political will to enact more strict gun control, so fear of legislation is not a likely factor either. Selling guns doesn't even conflict with the very specific initiatives in their comprehensive GRI-referenced global responsibility report.
Maybe the CEO just wants to do what he believes is the right thing. After all, he announced to great fanfare in February that the retailer would be raising minimum wages for associates. But just this week the chain announced that it would be cutting back on worker hours in many stores. Was the pay raise a “cruel PR stunt” as some have complained or it good business sense for a company that has failed to live up to investor expectations and needs to retain good talent and reduce turnover?
A few weeks ago when I did a crash course in US corporate law and governance in Panama, I had a lengthy debate with the head of CSR for a Latin American company. I (cynically) told her that in my ideal(ist) world, companies should adopt a stakeholder view and look beyond profit maximization. However, I believed that most large companies in fact implemented CSR programs to enhance reputation, avoid onerous legislation, and mitigate enterprise risks. The company that builds the school or the drinking well in a remote area of a third-world country does good for the community but it also has workers who can send their children to school, educates the next generation of employees, and makes sure that the community has potable water so that workers don't get sick. Its CSR builds good will in the community that can be worth more than gold. The smart company makes sure that it has a social license to operate as well as legal license.
So back to Wal-Mart. Does the retailer need a social license to boost sagging sales or does it just need different merchandise? In other words is the retailer trying to get more customers by stopping the sale of assault rifles? Was that announcement timed to blunt the effect of the announcement about cutting back hours? Or is Doug McMillon simply doing what he believes makes sense for the shareholders and the stakeholders? The cynic in me says that there’s a business reason other than low sales for the change in position on guns and that there was always a business reason for the rise in wages.
September 3, 2015 in Ann Lipton, Commercial Law, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (1)
Friday, August 28, 2015
I’m the socially-conscious consumer that regulators and NGOs think about when they write disclosure legislation like the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals law that I discussed last week. I drive a hybrid, spend too much money at Whole Foods for sustainable, locally-farmed, ethically-sourced goods, make my own soda at home so I minimize impacts to the environment with cans and plastic bottles, and love to use the canvas bags I get at conferences when I shop at the grocery store. As I (tongue in cheek) pat myself on the back for all the good I hope to do in the world, I realize that I may be a huge hypocrite. I know from my research that consumers generally tell survey takers that they want ethically sourced goods, but they in fact buy on quality, price, and convenience.
I thought about that research when I read the New York Times expose and CEO Jeff Bezos’ response about Amazon’s work environment. As a former defense-side employment lawyer and BigLaw associate for many years, I wasn’t in any way surprised by the allegations (and I have no reason to believe they are either true or false). I have both provided legal defenses and lived the life alleged by some former and current Amazonians. But now that I research and teach on corporate social responsibility and strive to be more socially conscious myself, can I in fact shop at Amazon? I considered this because I ordered almost a dozen packages to be delivered to me over the past weeks. I was literally about to click “order now” for another delivery when I was reading the article. And then I clicked anyway.
I confess that I may be the consumer discussed in an article I cite in my research entitled “Sweatshop Labor is Wrong Unless the Shoes are Cute: Cognition Can Both Help and Hurt Moral Motivated Reasoning.” As the authors point out, “Our findings show that consumers will actually change what they believe if they strongly desire a product … As long as companies continue to create value and maintain loyalty, it is likely store shelves won’t see ‘sweatshop-free’ products.”
I’ve argued that for that reason, consumers generally don’t have as much impact as people think. While hashtag activism in an era of slacktivism may raise awareness in social movements, I’m not sure that it does much to change company behavior, with the notable exception of SeaWorld, which has seen a drop in attendance after a CNN story about treatment of killer whales and subsequent calls for boycott.
Maybe I’m wrong. I look forward to seeing what, if anything, Costco shoppers do when/if they learn about the putative class action lawsuit filed this week in California claiming that Costco knowingly sold shrimp farmed by Thai slaves and misled consumers. According to the complaint (which has graphic pictures), “this case arises from the devaluing of human life. Plaintiff and other California consumers care about the origin of the products they purchase and the conditions under which the products are farmed, harvested or manufactured. Slavery, forced labor and human trafficking are all practices which are considered to be abhorrent, morally indefensible and acts against the interests of all humanity.” The complaint also cites Costco’s supplier code of conduct and notes that its practices are inconsistent with its statement of compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act, another name and shame disclosure law meant to root out slavery and human trafficking. This is the first US lawsuit related to these kinds of disclosures, but may not be the last.
Costco was supposed to be one of the good guys with its fair wages and benefits compared to its competitors and its “reasonable” CEO salary. This favorable PR has likely cloaked Costco with the CSR halo effect, where consumers believe that when a company does something good for workers, for example, the company also cares about the environment, even though there may be no relationship between the two. This may cause them to spend more money with the company, and some believe, may cause regulators to look more favorably upon a firm.
Will socially conscious consumers stop buying at Costco? Will they stand their ground and rush over to Whole Foods? Although I don’t have a Costco card, I admit I have considered it because I liked the labor practices and for years have refused to shop in another big box retailer because of its treatment of workers. I’m also interested to see what investors think of Costco. What will the shareholders resolutions look like next year? In 2015, the only shareholder proposal in the proxy concerned “reducing director entrenchment.” How will this lawsuit affect the stock price, if at all?
Next week I will explore the Wal-Mart decision to stop selling assault rifles. Did Trinity and other socially-responsible investors get their way after all?? Wal-Mart’s CEO says no, but I’m not so sure.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. I am married to the best husband and dad in the entire world. (Sorry to slight all of my many male family members and friends who are spouses or fathers, but I am knowingly and seriously playing favorites here!) My husband and I bought the anniversary memento pictured below a few years ago, and it just seems to be getting closer and closer to the reality of us as a couple (somewhat endearing, but aging) as time passes . . . .
Of course, our wedding was not the only important event in 1985. There's so much more to celebrate about that year! In fact, it was a banner year in business law. Here are a few of the significant happenings, in no particular order. Most relate to M&A doctrine and practice. I am not sure whether the list is slanted that way because I (a dyed-in-the-wool M&A/Securities lawyer) created it or whether the M&A heyday of the 1980s just spawned a lot of key activity in 1985.
- Smith v. Van Gorkom was decided. It was my 3L year at NYU Law. I remember the opinion being faxed to my Mergers & Acquisitions instructor during our class and being delivered--a big stack of those goofy curly thermal fax paper sheets--to the table in the seminar room where we met. Cool stuff. As I entered practice, business transactional lawyers were altering their advisory practices and their board scripts to take account of the decision.
- Unocal v. Mesa Petroleum was decided. The Delaware Supreme Court established its now famous two-part standard of review for takeover defenses, finding that "there was directorial power to oppose the Mesa tender offer, and to undertake a selective stock exchange made in good faith and upon a reasonable investigation pursuant to a clear duty to protect the corporate enterprise. Further, the selective stock repurchase plan chosen by Unocal is reasonable in relation to the threat that the board rationally and reasonably believed was posed." (The italics were added by me.) More changes to transactional practice . . . .
- Moran v. Household International was decided. As a result, I spent a large part of my first five years of law practice promoting and writing poison pills that innovated off the anti-takeover tool validated in this case. The firm I worked for was on the losing side of the Moran case, so we determined to build a better legal mousetrap, which then became the gold standard.
- The Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act (RULPA) was amended by the Uniform Law Commission. Among the 1985 changes was an evolution of the rules relating to the liability of limited partners for partnership obligations. The 2001 version of the RULPA took those evolutions to their logical end point, allowing limited partners to enjoy limited liability for partnership obligations even if the limited partners exercise management authority over the partnership.
- Landreth Timber Co. v. Landreth was decided. Stock is a security under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, unless the context otherwise requires. The Court determined that instruments labeled stock that have the essential attributes of stock should be treated as stock in an offering context, even when the stock is transferred to sell a business. Bye-bye "sale of business" doctrine . . . .
That's enough on 30th anniversaries for this post. I am sure you all will think of more 30th anniversaries in business law that we can celebrate in 2015. Feel free to leave those additional 1985 memories in the comments.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Today’s post will discuss the DC Circuit’s recent ruling striking down portions of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule on First Amendment grounds for the second time. Judge Randolph, writing for the majority, clearly enjoyed penning this opinion. He quoted Charles Dickens, Arthur Kostler, and George Orwell while finding that the SEC rule requiring companies to declare whether their products are “DRC Conflict Free” fails strict scrutiny analysis. But I won’t engage in any constitutional analysis here. I leave that to the fine blogs and articles that have delved into that area of the law. See here, here here, here, here, and more. The NGOs that have vigorously fought for the right of consumers to learn how companies are sourcing their tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold have had understandably strong reactions. One considers the ruling a dangerous precedent on corporate personhood. Global Witness, a well respected NGO, calls it a dangerous and damaging ruling.
Regular readers of this blog know that I filed an amicus brief arguing that the law meant to defund the rebels raping and pillaging in the Democratic Republic of Congo was more likely to harm than help the intended recipients—the Congolese people. I have written probably a dozen blog posts on Dodd-Frank 1502 and won’t list them all but for more information see some of my most recent posts here, here, and here. The goal of this name and shame law is to ensure that consumers and investors know which companies are sourcing minerals from mines that are controlled by rebels. The theory is that consumers, armed with disclosures, will pressure companies to make sure that they use only “conflict-free” minerals in their cameras, cell phones, toothpaste, diapers, jewelry and component parts. I assume that the SEC will seek a full re-hearing or some other relief even though Chair May Jo White has said, “seeking to improve safety in mines for workers or to end horrible human rights atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are compelling objectives, which, as a citizen, I wholeheartedly share … [b]ut, as the Chair of the SEC, I must question, as a policy matter, using the federal securities laws and the SEC’s powers of mandatory disclosure to accomplish these goals.”
I agree with Chair White even though I applaud the efforts of companies like Apple and Intel to comply with this flawed law. Indeed, the Enough Project, which with others has led the fight for this and other laws, now reports that there are 140 “conflict-free” smelters. But the violence continues as just this week the press reports that the Congolese government announced that it is investigating its own peacekeeprs/soldiers for rape in the neighboring Central African Republic and the UN acknowledged that fighting between armed militias is still a problem and that they are still resisting state authority. News reports indicated two days ago that clinics are closing because of fear of attack by Ugandan rebels. This hits particularly close to me because my connection with DRC and the conflict mineral fight stems from the work that an NGO that I work with has done training doctors and midwives in the heart of the conflict zone there.
I don’t know how effective Dodd-Frank will be if the issuers don’t have to disclose what the court has called the Scarlet letter of “non DRC-conflict free.” But more important, as I argue in my writings, I don’t think that consumers’ buying habits match what they say when surveyed about ethical sourcing. In my most recent article (which I will post once the editors are done), I point out the following:
A recent survey used to support the new UK Modern Slavery Act indicates that two-thirds of UK consumers would stop buying a product if they found out that slaves were involved in the manufacturing process and that they would be willing to pay up to 10% more for slave-free products…The numbers are similar but slightly lower for those surveyed in the United States. But note, “when asked if they would be willing to pay more for their favourite products if this ensured they were produced without the use of modern slavery: 52% of American consumers said they would pay more to ensure products were produced without modern slavery; 27% were not sure; 21% said they would not pay more.” This means that at least 20% and possibly almost half of informed consumers would not likely change their buying habits. (italics added).
I’m probably more informed than most about the situation in the DRC because I have been there and read almost every report, blog post, article, hearing committee transcript and tweet about conflict minerals. I have seen children digging gold out of the ground while armed rebels stood guard. I have met the village chiefs in the conflict zones. I have been detained by the UN peacekeepers who wanted to know what I was researching and then warned me not to visit the mines because of the five dead bodies (which I saw) lying in the road from a rebel attack the night before. I have stayed in monasteries guarded by men with machine guns and been warned that if I left after dark I was just as likely to be raped by a police officer as a rebel. I have met with many women who were gang raped by rebels and members of the Congolese army. I have had dinner with Nobel nominee Dr. Denis Mukwege, who back in 2011 wanted to know why the US wasn’t stopping the atrocities. I know the situation is terrible. But it won't change and hasn’t changed because of a corporate governance disclosure that most average consumers won’t read (even if the SEC had prevailed) and won’t necessarily act on if they did read it.
Next week I will post about my personal conflict with disclosures. Should I, who refuses to shop at a certain big box retailer, still shop at Amazon now that an expose has revealed a very harsh workplace? What about Costco and others? Stay tuned.
August 21, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Nonprofits, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Apparently the corporate tax inversion crackdown by the Obama administration is not working. The Financial Times reported this week that three companies have announced plans to redomicile in Europe in just one week. I’m not sure that I will have time to discuss inversions in any detail in my Business Associations class, but I have talked about it in civil procedure, when we discuss personal jurisdiction.
From my recent survey monkey results of my incoming students, I know that some of my students received their business news from the Daily Show. In the past I have used Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and Stephen Colbert to illustrate certain concepts to my millennial students. Here are some humorous takes on the inversion issue that I may use this year in class. Warning- there is some profanity and obviously they are pretty one-sided. But I have found that humor is a great way to start a debate on some of these issues that would otherwise seem dry to students.
1) Steve Colbert on corporate inversions-1- note the discussion on fiduciary duties
3) Jon Stewart- inversion of the money snatchers and on corporate personhood toward the end.
For those of you who are political junkies like me, I thought I would share a video that I showed when I taught a seminar on corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility. This video focuses on political campaigns, and for a number of reasons, this campaign season seems to be in full gear already. Indeed, Professor Larry Lessig from Harvard is mulling a run for president in part to highlight the need for reform in campaign financing. Below is Stephen Colbert’s take on SuperPACs and political financing.
1) Colbert's shell corporation- note the discussion of the incorporation in Delaware and the meeting of the board of directors
Enjoy, and best of luck for those starting classes next week.
August 13, 2015 in Business Associations, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, International Business, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
This weekend I will be in Panama filling in at the last minute for the corporate law session for an executive LLM progam. My students are practicing lawyers from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Paraguay and have a variety of legal backgrounds. My challenge is to fit key corporate topics (other than corporate governance, compliance, M & A, finance, and accounting) into twelve hours over two days for people with different knowledge levels and experiences. The other faculty members hail from law schools here and abroad as well as BigLaw partners from the United States and other countries.
Prior to joining academia I spent several weeks a year training/teaching my internal clients about legal and compliance matters for my corporation. This required an understanding of US and host country concepts. I have also taught in executive MBA programs and I really enjoyed the rich discussion that comes from students with real-world practical experience. I know that I will have that experience again this weekend even though I will probably come back too brain dead to be coherent for my civil procedure and business associations classes on Tuesday.
I have put together a draft list of topics with the help of my co-bloggers and based in part on conversations with some of our LLM and international students who have practiced law elsewhere but who now seek a US degree:
Agency- What are the different kinds of authority and how does that affect liability?
Key issues for entity selection
- ease of formation
- ownership and control
- tax issues
- asset protection/liability to third parties for obligations of the business /piercing the veil of limited liability
- attractiveness to investors
- continuity and transferability
Main types of business forms in the United States
-Partnership/General and Limited
- C Corporation
- S Corporation
- Limited Liability Company
Fiduciary Duties/The Business Judgment Rule
Basic Securities Regulation/Key issues for Initial Public Offering/Basic Disclosures (students will examine the filings for an annual report and an IPO)
The Legal System in the United States
-how do companies defend themselves in lawsuits brought in the United States?
-key Clauses to Consider when drafting dispute resolution clauses in cross border contracts
Corporate Social Responsibility- Business and Human Rights
Enterprise Risk Management/What are executives of multinationals worried about?
Yes, this is an ambitious (crazy) list but the goal of the program is to help these experienced lawyers become better business advisors. Throughout the sessions we will have interactive exercises to apply what they have learned (and to keep them awake). So what am I missing? I would love your thoughts on what you think international lawyers need to know about corporate law in the US. Feel free to comment below or to email me at email@example.com. Adios!
August 12, 2015 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Lawyering, Litigation, LLCs, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
The following position posting was provided to us via e-mail:
RUTGERS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW (CAMDEN CAMPUS) invites applications from entry-level and lateral candidates for one or more tenure-track or tenured faculty positions. Possible areas of particular interest include, but are not limited to, corporate law, corporate governance, commercial law, securities regulation, and other areas of business law. We will consider candidates with an interest in building upon our newly devised Certificate Program in Corporate/Business Law. All applicants should have a distinguished academic background and either great promise or a record of excellence in both scholarship and teaching. We encourage applications from women, people of color, persons with disabilities, and others whose background, experience, and viewpoints would contribute to the diversity of our faculty. Contact: Professor Arthur Laby, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee; Rutgers University School of Law; 217 North Fifth Street; Camden, NJ; 08102; firstname.lastname@example.org. Rutgers University is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all in every aspect of its operations.
Readers of this blog know I am fond of writing about Henry Ford and the Dodge v. Ford case (PDF here). This summer, I am still working my way through Fordlandia, by Greg Grandin. It's a really interesting read.
Henry Ford had plans to build a town in the Amazon that would run like an ideal American town. The industry would be rubber for car tires, and he was sure he could make a town that produced rubber AND moral people. He was wrong.
The book provides more about Ford than just his Amazon city planning. It highlights all sorts of what I will call "interesting" ideas Ford had (many of the quite appalling), and it provides context for a person who was far more interesting and disruptive than many people appreciate. A good summary of the book is available from NPR here, where the author explains:
"Ford basically tried to impose mass industrial production on the diversity of the jungle," Grandin says. But the Amazon is one of the most complex ecological systems in the world — and didn't fit into Ford's plan. "Nowhere was this more obvious and more acute than when it came to rubber production," Grandin says.
Ford was so distrustful of experts that he never even consulted one about rubber trees. If he had, Grandin says, he would have learned that plantation rubber can't be grown in the Amazon. "The pests and the fungi and the blight that feed off of rubber are native to the Amazon. Basically, when you put trees close together in the Amazon, what you in effect do is create an incubator — but Ford insisted."
As Grandin explains, Ford's plans are a lasting disaster:
[T]he most profound irony is currently on display at the very site of Ford’s most ambitious attempt to realize his pastoralist vision. In the Tapajós valley, three prominent elements of Ford’s vision—lumber, which he hoped to profit from while at the same time finding ways to conserve nature; roads, which he believed would knit small towns together and create sustainable markets; and soybeans, in which he invested millions, hoping that the industrial crop would revive rural life—have become the primary agents of the Amazon’s ruin, not just of its flora and fauna but of many of its communities.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Mozaffar Khan, George Serafeim, and Aaron Yoon of Harvard Business School have posted an interesting working paper entitled Corporate Sustainability: First Evidence on Materiality. The abstract follows:
An increasing number of companies make sustainability investments, and an increasing number of investors integrate sustainability performance data in their capital allocation decisions. To date however, the prior academic literature has not distinguished between investments in material versus immaterial sustainability issues. We develop a novel dataset by hand-mapping data on sustainability investments classified as material for each industry into firm-specific performance data on a variety of sustainability investments. This allows us to present new evidence on the value implications of sustainability investments. Using calendar-time portfolio stock return regressions we find that firms with good performance on material sustainability issues significantly outperform firms with poor performance on these issues, suggesting that investments in sustainability issues are shareholder-value enhancing. Further, firms with good performance on sustainability issues not classified as material do not underperform firms with poor performance on these same issues, suggesting investments in sustainability issues are at a minimum not value-destroying. Finally, firms with good performance on material issues and concurrently poor performance on immaterial issues perform the best. These results speak to the efficiency of firms’ sustainability investments, and also have implications for asset managers who have committed to the integration of sustainability factors in their capital allocation decisions.
The authors' materiality determination is based on industry-specific guidance from the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). I have been following SASB’s work for some time now, but would still like to learn more about the organization if any of our readers have more detail than is available online.