Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What's next for conflict minerals legislation? My views and the GAO report

Last week, a reporter interviewed me regarding conflict minerals.The reporter specifically asked whether I believed there would be more litigation on conflict minerals and whether the SEC's lack of enforcement would cause companies to stop doing due diligence. I am not sure which, if any, of my remarks will appear in print so I am posting some of my comments below:

I expect that if conflict minerals legislation survives, it will take a different form. The SEC asked for comments at the end of January, and I've read most of the comment letters. Many, including Trillium Asset Management, focus on the need to stay the course with the Rule, citing some success in making many mines conflict free. Others oppose the rule because of the expense. However, it appears that the costs haven't been as high as most people expected, and indeed many of the tech companies such as Apple and Intel have voiced support for the rule. It's likely that they have already operationalized the due diligence. The SEC has limits on what it can do, so I expect Congress to take action, unless there is an executive order from President Trump, which people have been expecting since February. 
 
The Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa held a hearing on conflict minerals on April 5, and some of the witnesses and Senators talked about what hasn't worked with the rule. Although the situation has improved, the violence continues, most notably with the murder of a member of the UN Group of Experts just last week. Rick Goss from the Information Technology Council testified the while the Rule has had some benefits such as increased transparency and raising global awareness, there are also things that don't work. He discussed fact that the illicit trade in gold continues and criminal elements are still exploiting other resources. A number of his and other witness' proposed solutions were more holistic and geopolitical and went beyond the SEC's purview, and I think that's where the government should look when trying to address these issues. You may see a push toward a safe harbor, which came up in some of the comment letters, and which was a point of discussion during the Senate testimony. With a safe harbor, the issuer could rely on supplier certifications.
 
Lack of enforcement or less enforcement could cause more issuers to continue to do business or start doing business there because it will be less onerous. On the other hand, with with the EU's conflict mineral rules, which will come into play in 2021 and which covers the same minerals (but is not limited in geography) you may find that the big issuers decide to stay the course with due diligence.
 
I have been focusing my research on the consumer aspect of these name and shame laws. While there have been conflict-free campuses and conflict-free cities (and some of them sent letters to the SEC), I haven't seen solid evidence that shows that consumers are boycotting the companies that aren't doing the full due diligence that 1502 requires or rewarding those that do. Apple is a stand-out in conflict minerals compliance but they also happen to sell something that people really want.
 
Although firms like Trillium state that investors like the transparency, they are likely benefitting from an improved supply chain in general because companies that attempted to follow 1502 by necessity had to upgrade systems and supplier protocols.
 
So in sum, I think that the firms that are already doing what they are supposed to may continue to do so (or scale back just a little) and may tout these voluntary efforts in their CSR reports. Those who have been unable to determine the origin of their minerals won't likely do any more than they have to or may just source their minerals elsewhere.
 
If Congress keeps the rule, I recommend that the SEC:
 
1) limit reporting obligations to those companies that manufacture products;
2) add a de minimis exception to the Conflict Minerals Rule; and
3) include a safe harbor provision to allow issuers to rely upon defined contract provisions and supplier certifications.
 
Ideally, theTrump government should take the onus of the responsibility for solving this human rights crisis off the private sector and instead work with the Congolese government, other governments, and NGOs on holistic solutions, especially as it relates to the members of the armed forces, who are also involved in illegal mineral trade and human rights abuses.
 

Just today, the GAO issued a report on conflict minerals. Dodd-Frank requires an annual report on the effectiveness of the rule "in promoting peace and security in the DRC and adjoining countries." Of note, the report explained that:

After conducting due diligence, an estimated 39 percent of the companies reported in 2016 that they were able to determine that their conflict minerals came from covered countries or from scrap or recycled sources, compared with 23 percent in 2015. Almost all of the companies that reported conducting due diligence in 2016 reported that they could not determine whether the conflict minerals financed or benefited armed groups, as in 2015 and 2014. (emphasis added).

The Trump Administration, some SEC commissioners, and many in Congress have already voiced their concerns about this legislation. I didn't have the benefit of the GAO report during my interview, but it will likely provide another nail in the coffin of the conflict minerals rule. 

 

 

 

April 26, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Is Ideological Diversity in the Legal Academy?

More than a few legal blogs and scholars have taken note of a recent paper by Adam Bonica (Stanford University), Adam S. Chilton (University of Chicago), Kyle Rozema (Northwestern University) and Maya Sen (Harvard University), “The Legal Academy’s Ideological Uniformity.”  The paper finds that those in the legal academy are more liberal than those in legal profession generally.  Anecdotally, I have to say I am not surprised. 

The abstract of the piece is as follows:

We find that approximately 15% of law professors are conservative and that only approximately one out of every twenty law schools have more conservative law professors than liberal ones. In addition, we find that these patterns vary, with higher-ranked schools having an even smaller presence of conservative law professors. We then compare the ideological balance of the legal academy to that of the legal profession. Compared to the 15% of law professors that are conservative, 35% of lawyers overall are conservative. Law professors are more liberal than graduates of top 14 law schools, lawyers working at the largest law firms, former federal law clerks, and federal judges. Although we find that professors are more liberal than the alumni at all but a handful of law schools, there is a strong relationship between the ideologies of professors from a law school and the ideologies of alumni from that school. However, this relationship is weaker for schools with more conservative alumni.

Jonathan Adler recently discussed the paper in a piece for The Volokh Conspiracy How ‘ideologically uniform’ is the legal academy? Adler notes, that the paper's "findings are based upon an examination of reported political donations. While this is an admittedly imperfect measure of ideology, it does allow for comparisons across population groups." I agree on both counts.   

I am particularly interested in (and a bit skeptical of) the use of political donations as the proxy for ideology.  I understand why the authors used that proxy: the information is available and it does, as Adler says, provide for comparisons.  My skepticism is not about their process or choice, but merely about whether it tells us very much about legal ideology. I think it tells us primarily about political party. And even there, in a primarily two-party system, it only tells us about preferences between those two parties, and if the data is primarily presidential, about those two specific candidates. 

My point is that legal ideology is often different that political party choice. When choosing between two parties, we all have priorities of our views, too. For example, I am a far bigger believer in the ability of markets to solve problems than many of my colleagues.  I am more skeptical of government intervention and increased regulation than many of my colleagues. But because of a few priorities that tip my balancing test, I would almost certainly come out "liberal" in using my modest contributions to political parties as the assessment of my ideology.  

In assessing legal ideology, though, I would argue diversity comes more from how we view the law than particular candidates or certain social issues. Obviously, it is much harder to assess that, but I think it should matter when considering how law schools teach.  

Some legal programs (like SEALS) have been seeking diversity of viewpoints, along with other measures of diversity, for panel and discussions groups. This is a good thing. It's not always easy to assess, though. Maybe we should just ask. Here's how I'd assess my own legal ideology: When it comes to economic regulation, my thinking is much more in line with former law professor and SEC Commissioner Troy A. Paredes than I am with, say, Elizabeth Warren. When it comes to business entities law, I am far more Bainbridge than Bebchuck.  For environmental law, more Huffman or Adler than Parenteau. Of course, I have at various times agreed and disagreed with them all.  

I, like many others, am very skeptical of an ideological litmus test or quota system. And yet I also think there is value in embracing different perspectives and viewpoints.  Ultimately, I don't care how someone votes when I assess whether they are a good legal scholar, a good colleague, and a good teacher. I do care that they value diversity of all kinds (including ideological), and I care that they believe in encouraging and faciltitating productive discourse. There is little value in lockstep thinking in any arena, and that is particularly true in legal education. I'm glad this discussion is part of how we consider moving forward in legal education.  

April 26, 2017 in Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law and Economics, Law School, Lawyering, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Is Hashtag Activism Finally Changing Corporate Culture?

Ratings behemoth Bill O'Reilly is out of a job at Fox News “after thorough and careful review of the [sexual harassment] allegations” against him by several women. Fox had settled with almost half a dozen women before these allegations came to light, causing advertisers to leave in droves once the media reported on it. According to one article, social media activists played a major role in the loss of dozens of sponsors. Despite the revelations, or perhaps in a show of support, O’Reilly’s ratings actually went up even as advertisers pulled out. Fox terminated O’Reilly-- who had just signed a new contract worth $20 million per year-- the day before its parent company’s board was scheduled to meet to discuss the matter. The employment lawyer in me also wonders if the company was trying to preempt any negligent retention liability, but I digress.

An angry public also took to social media to expose United Airlines' after its ill-fated decision to have a passenger forcibly removed from his seat to make room for crew members. However, despite the estimated 3.5 million impressions on Twitter of #BoycottUnited, the airline will not likely suffer financially in the long term because of its near monopoly on some key routes. United’s stock price nosedived by $800 million right after the disturbing video surfaced, but has rebounded somewhat with EPS beating estimates. Check out Haskell Murray's recent post here for more perspective on United.

Pepsi and supermodel Kendall Jenner also suffered more embarrassment than financial loss after people around the world erupted on social media over an ad that many believed trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement. Pepsi pulled the controversial ad within 24 hours. Some believe that Pepsi may suffer in sales, but I’m not so sure. Ironically, Pepsi’s stock price went up during the scandal and went down after the company apologized.

Pepsi and United both suffered public relations nightmares, but the skeptic in me believes that consumers will ultimately focus on what’s most important to them- convenience, quality, price, and in Pepsi’s case, taste. I recently attended my 25th law school reunion, and all of my colleagues who used a ride sharing app used Uber nowithstanding its well-publicized leadership scandals and the #deleteuber campaign. Indeed, many social media campaigns actually backfire. The #grabyourwallet boycott of Ivanka Trump’s brand raised public awareness but may have actually led to its recent record sales.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether social media campaigns and threats of consumer boycotts actually cause long-standing and permanent changes in corporate culture or policy. There is no doubt, however, that CEOs and PR departments will be working more closely than ever in the age of viral videos and 24-hour worldwide Twitter feeds.

April 19, 2017 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Bonus Post for a Monday: International Haiku Poetry Day

I rarely post twice in one day, but I am making an exception today.  After posting this morning, I learned that today is International Haiku Poetry Day.  I loved Haiku poetry as a kid.  I still love it as an adult.  It has structure--a structure that, in my opinion, encourages both brevity and creativity.

In honor of this special day, I wrote a personal haiku for my Facebook page.

Yoga feeds the soul
And calms the body and mind.
Breathe and move. Repeat.

I am pretty proud of that one, inspired by my Monday night Iyengar practice.  So, I thought I would try my hand at a BLPB haiku.  Here goes.

A new President.
Time to revamp business regs!
Uncertainty reigns.

The inspiration for this haiku is obvious . . . .  :>)

Prefer more humorous verse? I also loved limericks.  So, I checked to see whether there might be an International or National Limerick Day.  Indeed, it appears that we will celebrate limericks on Friday, May 12, 2017.  Hmm . . . .

 

April 17, 2017 in Current Affairs, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (2)

Visioning the Publicly Held Benefit Corporation

As Haskell earlier announced here at the BLPB, The first U.S. benefit corporation went public back in February--just before publication of my paper from last summer's 8th Annual Berle Symposium (about which I and other BLPB participants contemporaneously wrote here, here, and here).  Although I was able to mark the closing of Laureate Education, Inc.'s public offering in last-minute footnotes, my paper for the symposium treats the publicly held benefit corporation as a future likelihood, rather than a reality.  Now, the actual experiment has begun.  It is time to test the "visioning" in this paper, which I recently posted to SSRN.  Here is the abstract.

Benefit corporations have enjoyed legislative and, to a lesser extent, popular success over the past few years. This article anticipates what recently (at the eve of its publication) became a reality: the advent of a publicly held U.S. benefit corporation — a corporation with public equity holders that is organized under a specialized U.S. state statute requiring corporations to serve both shareholder wealth aims and social or environmental objectives. Specifically, the article undertakes to identify and comment on the structure and function of U.S. benefit corporations and the unique litigation risks to which a publicly held U.S. benefit corporation may be subject. In doing so, the article links the importance of a publicly held benefit corporation's public benefit purpose to litigation risk management from several perspectives. In sum, the distinctive features of the benefit corporation form, taken together with key attendant litigation risks for publicly held U.S. benefit corporations (in each case, as identified in this article), confirm and underscore the key role that corporate purpose plays in benefit corporation law.

Ultimately, this article brings together a number of things I wanted to think and write about, all in one paper.  While many of the observations and conclusions may seem obvious, I found the exploration helpful to my thinking about benefit corporation law and litigation risk management.  Perhaps you will, too . . . .

April 17, 2017 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Litigation, Management, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 14, 2017

United Airlines, the Law, and Company Culture

By now, I am sure virtually all of our readers have heard about the United Airline issue involving the dragging of a passenger off the plane.

If not, you can catch up here, here, and here. And you can watch the viral video here.  

Shortly following the incident, United Airlines stock dropped sharply, losing hundreds of millions of dollars of value. (Of course, it is difficult to tell how much of this drop is related to the incident).

The CEO of United Airlines' first public statement was tone deaf at best. He wrote, "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers" when better terms would have been "unacceptable" and "immediate corrective procedures." There is not evidence that they "had" to remove passengers; they removed passengers because they wanted to transport some of their employees on that flight. The internal e-mail to the corporation's employees was no better, calling the passenger "disruptive and belligerent."

My social media feeds, which include many lawyers and legal academics, are full of debate over whether United Airlines acted within the bounds of the law and their terms & conditions. While this is an interesting discussion, I think it is largely beside the point in this case. Regardless of whether United Airlines was legally correct, they surely could have handled the situation better (by offering more money for volunteers to go on a later flight, by explaining the terms of the deal better, by having their employees transported in another plane, etc.)

United Airlines is already paying a heavy public relations price. One thinks they would have learned from the United Airlines Breaks Guitars incident that went viral a few years ago and which I use in my negotiation classes every year.

After this incident, I just kept thinking how unlikely it would be for something like this to happen at Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines has a famously great company culture. See here, here, and here. Their employees always treat me significantly better than any other airline employee I have dealt with on my travel. Southwest Airlines is not perfect--I don't love their odd boarding procedure, for example---but they do strive to treat their consumers and their own employees extremely well, not just as poorly as the law will allow.

Southwest Airlines' company culture has also translated to remarkably reliable profits. Perhaps United needs to take notes.

Note: This appears to detail the rights of passengers who are denied boarding (up to $1,350) that many in the media are citing, though one can wonder whether this applies since the passenger in question had already boarded.

April 14, 2017 in Business Associations, CSR, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Toughness and the Barkley Marathons

Barkley

Today’s topic does not have a direct connection to business law, but I do think toughness is important to students, professors, and lawyers. And the Barkleys Marathon is all about toughness, and maybe insanity. So indulge me. I have been thinking about the race, which happened this past weekend, all week. My wife said I wasn't allowed to talk about the Barkley Marathons anymore, so I am going to write about it here.

If you have not seen the documentary on Netflix entitled The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats its Young, watch it. See the documentary's trailers here and here. See more about the race here.

I will save you from this overlong, mostly unrelated post with a page break, but if you are interested, you can proceed and read below.

Continue reading

April 7, 2017 in Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Equal Pay Day Applied to M & A

The Washington Post reports

Back in 2015, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff admitted something many CEOs wouldn't: The company had found a pay gap between the men and women who worked for the cloud computing giant, and it was spending $3 million to fix it. Now after acquisitions and rampant growth at the company brought in 7,000 new employees in the past year, he's doing it again, announcing Tuesday that the company has spent another $3 million to adjust for a pay gap that affects 11 percent of its more than 25,000 employees.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Benioff said he believed the re-opened gap was largely because of the company's acquisitive streak -- it bought 14 companies in its last fiscal year, the largest in its history. When companies acquire others, Benioff said, "you buy their pay practices, and this pay practice -- of, basically, gender discrimination -- is quite dramatic through our industry and other industries," he said.

If one cares about equal pay, and I think people should (beyond just today), one needs to account for it in the purchase price of another entity.  This is a great reminder about the due diligence process. We need to think about all the things that matter to our clients (and ask them what those things are). The cost of implementing those things that matter, in addition to all the traditional things we worry about in an acquisition, should be accounted for if we want to maximize benefit for clients.   

April 4, 2017 in Compensation, Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Impact Esq. and Kickstarter's 2016 Benefit Statement

Attorney Kyle Westaway has started a monthly e-mail that compiles information about social enterprise and impact investing law. You can subscribe here.

In the latest Impact Esq. newsletter, Kyle included a link to the Kickstarter’s 2016 Benefit Statement. Kyle wrote that he had “never seen [a benefit report] as strong as Kickstarter’s.” Personally, I am not sure I would go that far. I think Greyston Bakery’s Report and Patagonia’s Report are at least as good. I do think the Kickstarter report is relatively good, but the bar is incredibly low, as many benefit corporations are ignoring the statutory reporting requirement or doing a pathetically bad job at reporting.

While the Kickstarter report is more detailed than most, it still reads mostly like a PR piece to me. The vast majority of the report is listing cherry-picked, positive statistics. That said, Kickstarter did note a few areas for possible improvement, which is extremely rare in benefit report. Kickstarter stated that they could do more to promote “sustainability,” that they could do more to encourage staff to “take advantage of the paid time off we provide for volunteering,” and that they wanted to “encourage greater transparency from creators, better educate backers about the risks and rewards of this system, and further empower our Integrity team in their work to keep Kickstarter safe and trusted.” These “goals” for improvement are quite vague, and I would have liked to see more specific goals.

A few other things to note:

  • University of Pennsylvania produced a study, which was cited and used in the report. I think involving universities in the creation of these reports could be a good idea, though possible conflicts should be considered.
  • “Including both salary and equity, our CEO's total compensation equaled 5.52x the median total compensation of all non-CEO, non-founder employees in 2016. For context, a 2015 study examining the executive pay gap found that the average CEO earns 204 times that of the median worker for the same company.” I would be interested in how Kickstarter’s number compares to companies in their industry, especially direct competitors. I imagine the CEO/Employee compensation ratio is lower in the technology industry, where the market demands fairly high employee compensation, but even considering the industry, Kickstarter's ratio still seems quite low.
  • “Kickstarter overall team demographics: 53% women; 47% men. 70% White/Caucasian; 12% Asian; 12% two or more races; 4% Hispanic or Latino; 2% Black/African American.” This seems to be a good bit more diverse, especially as to gender, than other technology companies who have released similar data.
  • “Everyone who works at Kickstarter receives an annual Education Stipend to explore their interests outside the office. In 2016, our employees used their stipends towards blacksmithing classes, a bookmaking class, a synthesizer, pottery courses, an herbal medicine workshop, art supplies, improv classes, a neon light making seminar, and embroidery.” I didn’t see how much the education stipend was, but this seems like a good perk.
  • “We donated 5% of our after-tax profits to six organizations working to build a more creative and equitable world.” Profits are easier to manipulate than revenues; I’d like to see a revenue floor (as Patagonia does – donating the greater of 10% of profits and 1% of revenues). That said 5% of profits can be significant and does show some commitment to these causes.

March 24, 2017 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, CSR, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What does the EU know that the U.S. Doesn’t About the Effectiveness of Conflict Minerals Legislation?

Earlier this month, the EU announced plans to implement its version of conflict minerals legislation, which covers all “conflict-affected and high-risk areas” around the world. Once approved by the Council of the EU, the law will apply to all importers into the EU of minerals or metals containing or consisting of tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold (with some exceptions). Compliance and reporting will begin in January 2021. Importers must use OECD due diligence standards, report on their progress to suppliers and the public, and use independent third-party auditors. President Trump has not yet issued an executive order on Dodd-Frank §1502, aka conflict minerals, but based on a leaked memo, observers believe that it's just a matter of time before that law is repealed here in the U.S. So why is there a difference in approach?

In response to a request for comments from the SEC, the U.S Chamber of Commerce, which led the legal battle against §1502, claimed, “substantial evidence shows that the conflict minerals rule has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo…The reports public companies are mandated to file also contribute to ―information overload and create further disincentives for businesses to go public or remain public companies. Accordingly, the Chamber strongly supports Congressional repeal of Section 1502 due to its all-advised and fundamentally flawed approach to solving a geopolitical crisis, and the substantial burden it imposes upon public companies and their shareholders.”

The Enough Project, which spearheaded the passage of §1502, submitted an eight-page statement to the SEC last month stating, among other things, that they “strongly oppose[] any suspension, weakening, or repeal of the current Conflict Minerals Rule, and urge[] the SEC to increase enforcement of the Rule….The Rule has led to improvements in the rule of law in the mining sectors of Congo, Rwanda, and other Great Lakes countries, contributed to improvements in humanitarian conditions in Congo and a weakening of key insurgent groups, and resulted in tangible benefits for U.S. corporations and their supply chains.”

I agree that the Rule has led to increased transparency and efficiency in supply chains (although some would differ), and less armed control of mines. But I’m not sure that the overall human rights conditions have improved as significantly as §1502’s advocates (and I) would have liked.

As Amnesty International’s 2016/2017 report on DRC explains in graphic detail, “armed groups committed a wide range of abuses including: summary executions; abductions; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; rape and other sexual violence; and the looting of civilian property... various ... armed groups (local and community-based militias) were among those responsible for abuses against civilians. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continued to be active and commit abuses in areas bordering South Sudan and the Central African Republic. In… North Kivu, civilians were massacred, usually by machetes, hoes and axes. On the night of 13 August, 46 people were killed … by suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group from Uganda that maintains bases in eastern DRC…Hundreds of women and girls were subjected to sexual violence in conflict-affected areas. Perpetrators included soldiers and other state agents, as well as combatants of armed groups…Hundreds of children were recruited by armed groups...”

Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report isn’t any better. According to HRW, “dozens of armed groups remained active in eastern Congo. Many of their commanders have been implicated in war crimes, including ethnic massacres, killing of civilians, rape, forced recruitment of children, and pillage. In … North Kivu, unidentified fighters continued to commit large-scale attacks on civilians, killing more than 150 people in 2016 … At least 680 people have been killed since the beginning of the series of massacres in October 2014. There are credible reports that elements of the Congolese army were involved in the planning and execution of some of these killings. Intercommunal violence increased as fighters … carried out ethnically based attacks on civilians, killing at least 170 people and burning at least 2,200 homes.

Finally, according to a February 17, 2017 statement from the Trump Administration, “the United States is deeply concerned by video footage that appears to show elements of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo summarily executing civilians, including women and children. Such extrajudicial killing, if confirmed, would constitute gross violations of human rights and threatens to incite widespread violence and instability in an already fragile country. We call upon the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to launch an immediate and thorough investigation, in collaboration with international organizations responsible for monitoring human rights, to identify those who perpetrated such heinous abuses, and to hold accountable any individual proven to have been involved.”

Most Americans have no idea of the atrocities occurring in DRC or other conflict zones around the world. I have spent the past few years researching business and human rights, particularly in conflict zones in Latin America and Africa. I filed an amicus brief in 2013 and have written and blogged about the failure of disclosure regimes a dozen times because I don’t believe that name and shame laws stop the murder, rape, conscription of  child soldiers, and the degradation of innocent people. I applaud the EU and all of the NGOs that have attempted to solve this intractable problem. But it doesn't seem that enough has changed since my visit to DRC in 2011 where I personally saw 5 massacre victims in the road on the way to visit a mine, and met with rape survivors, village chiefs, doctors, members of the clergy and others who pleaded for help from the U.S. Unfortunately, I don’t think this legislation has worked. Ironically, the U.S. and EU legislation go too far and not far enough. I hope that if the U.S. and EU focus on a more holistic, well-reasoned geopolitical solution with NGOS, stakeholders, and business.

March 22, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 13, 2017

More on the U.S. Private and Public Equity Markets

As you may know, I have had an abiding curiosity about the line between the U.S  private and public securities markets in large part because of my work on crowdfunding.  Almost three years ago, I published a post on the topic here at the BLPB.  I posted on the referenced paper here.  That paper recently was republished in a slightly updated form by The Texas Journal of Business Law,  the official publication of the Business Law Section of the State Bar of Texas (available here).

As a result of this work, my interest was (perhaps unsurprisingly) piqued by a this paper by Amy and Bert Westbrook.  Enticingly titled "Unicorns, Guardians, and the Concentration of the U.S. Equity Markets," the article documents concentrations in both private and public equity markets in the United States and makes a number of interesting observations.  I was especially intrigued by the article's identification of a potential resulting peril of this market concentration: the aggregation of both corporate management and ownership in the hands of the few.

[W]ealth has concentrated and private equity markets have emerged that serve as alternatives to the public equity market. At the same time, the public equity market has become dominated by highly concentrated shareholding, in the form of institutional investors, especially index funds, and the occasional founder. Both developments have resulted in concentrations of capital that mirror the concentration of management that concerned Berle and Means. For Berle and Means, the concern was concentrated management and dispersed ownership. The concern now is that both management and ownership are concentrated in the hands of very few people.

Very interesting . . . .  And this is only one of the conclusions that the authors draw.  As a foundation for its assertions, the article documents the concentration of ownership in both private and public markets, tying current participation in both markets back to salient economic and social data and trends.  The full abstract from SSRN is set forth below, for your convenience.

Developments in the private and public equity markets are changing the role equity investment plays in the United States, and therefore what "stock market" means as a matter of political economy. During the 20th century, securities and other laws did much to tame the "animal spirits" of industrial capitalism, epitomized by the "Robber Barons." In order to raise large sums, businesses offered stock to the public, thereby subjecting themselves to the securities laws. Compliance required not only disclosure, transparency, but more subtly, that the firms themselves undergo a process of Weberian rationalization. A relatively broad middle class was comfortable investing in such corporations, and the governance of firms and thus much of the economy was understood to be answerable to this class. Citizens understood such arrangements as theirs, part of "the American way."

In recent years, in conjunction with rising inequality in the United States, there has been a decisive shift from broad-based ownership of firms to much more concentrated forms of ownership in both private and public markets. Private equity markets are concentrated by legal definition: relatively few people are qualified to participate directly. Yet private equity has become the preferred method of capital formation, epitomized by "unicorns," firms valued at over $1 billion without being publicly traded. Public equity markets are dominated by funds with trillions of dollars under management, and small staffs, who are in effect "guardians" for the portfolios that ensure long-term stability for individuals and institutions, notably through retirement and endowments. The governance of the U.S. economy has to a surprising degree become a matter of grace: the nation now relies on a small elite to make good decisions on its behalf about the allocation of capital, the governance of firms, and the preservation of portfolio value. This consolidation of ownership rivals that of the late 19th century, and may challenge the law to address the equity markets in new ways.

I think you'll enjoy this one.  At the very least, it's a great read for those of you who, like me, are interested in analyses of the U.S securities markets.  But perhaps more broadly, with contentious changes in federal business regulation in the offing under the current administration in Washington, this work should contribute meaningfully to the debate.

March 13, 2017 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joan Heminway, Private Equity, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Best Binge-worthy Movies on Business

Every year, I offer my students the option of writing an extra credit paper on what Hollywood gets wrong about business. They can also apply what they've learned to a popular movie, television show, or book (the Godfather, Game of Thrones, and Sex and the City have provided some of the more interesting analogies). Often I provide a list of TV shows or movies that they can consider. Today, I’m asking my co-bloggers and our readers for their binge-worthy movie or TV choices. Some movie lists for business students are here, here, here, and here but I welcome your suggestions. For those of you who aren’t in my class and just want a break from the news, these lists may come in handy.

March 8, 2017 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Film, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Conference on Doing Business in Cuba: Legal, Ethical, and Compliance Challenges

Businesses from small farmers to cruise lines are anxiously awaiting President Trump's policy on Cuba and how/if he will rescind President Obama's Executive Orders relaxing restrictions on doing business with the island.

If you're in the South Florida area next Friday March 10th, please consider attending the timely conference on Doing Business in Cuba: Legal, Ethical, and Compliance Challenges from 8:00 am-4:30 pm at the Andreas School of Business, Barry University. The Florida Bar has granted 6.5 CLE credits, including for ethics and for certifications in Business Litigation and International Law. The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust is organizing the event.

As a member of the Commission and an academic who has just completed my third article on Cuba, I'm excited to provide the opening address for the event. I'm even more excited about our speakers John Kavulich, President, U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc;  the general counsel of Carnival Cruise Lines;  mayors of Miami Beach, Coral Gables, and Doral; director of the Miami International Airport; a number of academic experts from local universities; Commissioners Nelson Bellido and Judge Lawrence Schwartz; and outside counsel  from MDO Partners, Akerman LLP, Holland & Knight, Greenberg Traurig, Squire Patton Boggs, and Gray Robinson.

It promises to be a lively and substantive discussion.

Registration closes on Monday, March 6th. The $50 admission fee includes breakfast, lunch, and all materials. Go to ethics.miamidade.gov or call 305-579-2594 to register or for more information.  You can also leave comments below or email me at mnarine@stu.edu.

March 1, 2017 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Few Irritating Things

I don't know if it's the time of year or if I am just a little off, but I am generally grumpy today. So, I am going to vent a bit.  

First, a regular irritation that is no shock to regular readers is the "limited liability corporation." I probably should have stopped the Westlaw alert for that terms, which comes through nearly every single day with multiple cases and news items.  A new case from the U.S. District Court in Kansas, Pipeline Prods., Inc. v. Horsepower Entm't, No. CV 15-4890-KHV, 2017 WL 698504, at *1 (D. Kan. Feb. 22, 2017), is typical.  The court states: 

Pipeline Productions, Inc. is a Kansas corporation with its principal place of business in Lawrence, Kansas. Backwood Enterprises, LLC is an Arkansas limited liability corporation with its principal place of business in Lawrence, Kansas. . . . 

The Madison Companies, LLC is a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Horsepower Entertainment, a Delaware limited liability company, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Madison with its principal place of business in Greenwood Village, Colorado.

Irritation 1: Arkansas does not have an entity called a "limited liability corporation." Arkansas, as is typical, has a corporation entity and a limited liability company entity.  They are different.  The fact that the court gets the entity right for the two Delaware LLCs suggests to me that the filings from Backwood Enterprises, LLC, is the likely source of the language.  Still, courts should be getting this right.  (It won't shock me if my obsession with this is irritating more than one reader. C'est la vie.) 

Irritation 2: The case also references a "wholly-owned subsidiary."  This is a common reference, but "wholly owned" does not need a hyphen when used a compound adjective.  This source cites the one I tend to follow, from my public relations days: 

When a compound modifier–two or more words that express a single concept–precedes a noun, use hyphens to link all the words in the compound except the adverb very and all adverbs that end in -ly. —AP Stylebook, 2013 edition. Boldface added.

Spot on.  The site also provides a good hint:

*Warning: Not every word that ends in -ly is an adverb. Watch out for nouns like family and supply, and adjectives like only. For example, “family-oriented websites”; supply-side economics”; “only-begotten son.”

Since Americans (in particular) love threes, I will follow the Rule of 3s, and add one more. 

Irritation 3: The word "articulate."  Yeah, this is kind of random, but I am done with that word. I cannot come up with a time when another word won't serve as a good substitute, and the loaded way in which the term has evolved means it should be skipped.  See, e.g., here.  This article provides more good background and quotes Condoleezza Rice's former communications counselor, Anna Perez: 

The word perfectly conveys, to quote George Bush, the soft bigotry of low expectations. It literally comes down to that. When people say it, what they are really saying is that someone is articulate ... for a black person.

Before anyone wants to get mad at me for being too "PC," calm down.  I am not saying you can't say it. I am saying you will irritate me if you do.  And if you say it to or about an African-American person, you probably are showing the bias Ms. Perez described. And, yeah, I have heard it said about and to African-Americans in my presence, and it's usually pretty clear the bias is there.  It's an irritation to me, and it's demeaning, even though I think it is, from time to time, well intentioned, if ignorant.  Time to move forward.  What was once "progressive thinking" is not anymore.  Try to catch up if you're really trying to be nice.

I know, everyone has things that irritate them.  It's good to vent now and again. No person attacks or freak outs. Just a good, old-fashioned vent.  Happy Mardi Gras.  

 

February 28, 2017 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, February 24, 2017

Will Buying American Make America Great Again?

A few weeks ago I blogged about the spate of boycotts and buycotts responding to President Trump’s travel ban. Since that time, the #grabyourwallet campaign has taken credit for a number of stores dropping Ivanka Trump’s merchandise. In response, celebrities and others flocked to Nordstrom after criticism by the President’s surrogates about the retailer’s decision to drop the products, even though Nordstrom cited falling sales. Within days, news outlets reported that her perfume was a top seller on Amazon, and that many reviewers indicated that they had bought the product to show support for the President. 

Yesterday, NPR reported that the United Auto Workers will revive its 1980s Buy American campaign, which will not only promote American-made products but will also encourage the boycott of cars made by American companies overseas. I’ve argued in the past that boycotts don’t work, and the NPR story provided some support from a professor who noted, “these campaigns, even with catchy song lyrics, almost never work. For instance, garment work essentially left the U.S. almost completely a few years after [the look for the union label ad] ran, and after the last UAW campaign, the American car companies continued to lose market share.” The New York Times has also examined whether these boycotts have long term effect.

The back and forth between boycotts and buycotts related to the President’s family may prove conventional wisdom wrong. It may be time for an empirical study (not by me) of when and how the boycott/boycott movement can sustain itself.

February 24, 2017 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Business Headlines

Here is a rundown of recent business news headlines:

The Yahoo/Verizon deal takes a $350M haircut to compensate for Yahoo data security breaches in 2013 and 2014.

The Snapchat parent company, SNAP, scheduled blockbuster IPO ($20-23B) is plagued with news that it lost  $514.6 million in 2016, there are questions about the sustainability of its user base, and, for the governance folks out there, there is NO VOTING STOCK being offered.

In what is being called a "whopper" of a deal, Restaurant Brands, the owner of Burger King and Tim Hortons, announced earlier this week a deal to acquire Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen, the fried chicken restaurant chain, for $1.8 billion in cash. 

Kraft withdrew its $143B takeover offer for Unilever less than 48 hours after the announcement amid political concerns over the merger.  While Unilever evaluates its next steps, Kraft is perhaps feeling the effects of its controversial takeover of Britain's beloved Cadbury

A final item to note, for me personally, is that today is my last regular contribution to the Business Law Professor Blog. I will remain as a contributing editor, but will miss the ritual of a weekly post--a habit now nearly 4 years in the making.  Thanks to all of the readers and other editors who gave me great incentive to learn new information each week, think critically, connect with teaching, and generally feel a part of a vibrant and smart community of folks with similar interests. 

With gratitude,

Anne Tucker

February 22, 2017 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, M&A | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Balancing the Regulatory Budget: Another Analogy for Consideration

Two weeks ago, I posted on the POTUS's "one in, two out" executive order on executive branch agency regulations.  In that post, I used critiques of a clothing maintenance/closet cleaning system working off the same principle.  Interestingly, a CATO report was released January 31, unbeknownst to me at the time I wrote and published my post, that makes some of the same points.  Since that time, I have wondered whether there is a more wise, effective  way to simply address bloated federal agency regulations.  Here is an idea that currently holds my interest.

In a leadership training program a few years ago, I remember hearing about a technique used in institutional budgeting processes.  A unit leader who is required to submit a proposed budget to a superior or to a central budgeting office is asked to submit with the budget a proposal on what the unit would cut if the budget was cut by 5% (or another desired number) and what the unit would spend on if its budget was increased by 5% (or another desired number).  It struck me that a similar system could be employed to true up federal agency regulations.

Specifically, each agency could be required to establish reasonable, evidence-based objectives for its operations for the forthcoming fiscal year, consistent with the agency's overall mandate. Then, the agency could be compelled to report to the President (or a designee) on the ways in which the agency's current body of regulations succeeds or fails to achieve those objectives and that mandate. Finally, as part of its budget submission, the agency could be asked to (1) suggest which regulations it would eliminate if it had to cut a specific percentage of its existing body of regulations and (2) identify and recommend new regulations for adoption if it had the opportunity to introduce new regulation, in each case with the goal of better achieving the agency's objectives and mandate.

Could a system like this work in curing over-regulation?  Is it too simplistic?  Leave your responses and comments below.

February 20, 2017 in Current Affairs, Joan Heminway | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Racing Dopers and Endorsement Contract Performance Bonuses

Last week Runner’s World reported:

Mariya Savinova-Farnosova, a Russian middle distance runner, was given a four-year ban for doping by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Friday. She will also be stripped of two gold medals she won at the 2011 world outdoor championships and 2012 London Olympics, as well as a 2013 world silver medal, all in the 800 meters.

As a result, U.S. athlete Brenda Martinez will likely soon be upgraded to a silver medal for her performance in the 800 meters at the 2013 world championships and American Alysia Montaño will receive bronze medals for her races at the 2011 and 2013 world championships. Officials will first need to verify the new results.

In this post, I’ll examine how the presumably clean athletes—like Brenda Martinez and Alysia Montaño in this case—should be treated with regards to their endorsement contracts. The main question is:

  • Should the clean athletes be awarded their endorsement contract performance bonuses based on world rankings than have been revised to exclude doping athletes?

Respected law firm Reed Smith has some helpful contract interpretation materials available here, which is relevant to the discussion. All of the following is merely an academic exercise and not legal advice.

Contract Drafting and the Text of the Contract.

As with any contractual issue, we should start with the text of the contracts. Since few of these endorsement contracts are publicly available, I will use the language in Nike’s endorsement contract that was filed in the Nike v. Berian case last year.

A great many contract disputes could be avoided with clear drafting. If an endorsement contract stated that performance bonuses would be paid based on any revised rankings that remove doping athletes, then I imagine that language would control and the clean athletes would promptly get paid the difference between their old and new ranking. Doping has been uncovered frequently enough in sports like cycling and track & field (aka “athletics”) that such a contractual clarification might be helpful to include on the front end of the drafting process.

The proposed Nike contract in the Berian case does contain promised performance bonuses, based on world rankings, with additional bonuses for Olympic and World Championship Medals (pg. 14), but I did not see any guidance regarding world rankings that are revised due to doping. The potential bonuses in the Berian case were fairly significant, with the top bonus of $150,000 exceeding the proposed annual base pay of $125,000. The contract does allow Nike to terminate the contract due to any sponsored athlete’s doping offense (pg. 9), but, again, I don’t see anything about doping by the athlete’s competitors.

Contract Interpretation.

As the Reed Smith contract interpretation flowchart correctly states, judges attempt to construe contracts in accordance with the parties’ intent. We first look at the text of the contract, and can only look at the contract language if the wording in unambiguous. If the contract language is ambiguous (reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation) then the court may be able to look beyond the contract (parol evidence) to determine the intent of the parties.

Here, I think the parties' intent might be interpreted either way. On one hand, the athlete could argue that the intent was to award bonuses based on the fair world rankings, which would exclude drug cheats. On the other hand, the sponsor could argue that they were paying for publicity, and that the revised rankings publicity is typically significantly less than the publicity surrounding achievement during the actual Olympics or World Championships.

As a practical matter, like most legal disputes, it probably  makes sense for the athlete and the sponsoring company to settle the matter outside of court. An example of a principled negotiation could involve the sponsor paying the difference in the performance bonuses, and the athlete promising to do an anti-doping ad for the sponsor or a few extra appearances related to the new rankings.

Additional Topics.

It future posts, I may write about the appropriate punishment for athletes who use performance enhancing drugs. For example, is jail time appropriate? I may also post on ways to further compensate the clean athletes for their lost earnings, publicity, and recognition.

February 17, 2017 in Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Lawyering, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The President and Responsible Business Conduct

     This post does not concern President Trump’s own business empire. Rather, this post will be the first of a few to look at how the President retains, repeals, or replaces some of the work that President Obama put in place in December 2016 as part of the National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct. Many EU nations established their NAPS year ago, but the U.S. government engaged in two years of stakeholder consultations and coordinated with several federal agencies before releasing its NAP.

     Secretary of State Tillerson will play a large role in enforcing or revising many of the provisions of the NAP because the State Department promotes the Plan on its page addressing corporate social responsibility. Unlike many federal government pages, this page has not changed (yet) with the new administration. As the State Department explained in December, “the NAP reflects the government's commitment to promoting human rights and fighting corruption through partnerships with domestic and international stakeholders. An important part of this commitment includes encouraging companies to embrace high standards for responsible business conduct.” Over a dozen federal agencies worked to develop the NAP.

     We now have a new Treasury Secretary and will soon have a new Secretary of Labor, presumably FIU Law Dean and former US Attorney Alex Acosta, a new SEC Chair, presumably Jay Clayton, and a new Secretary of Commerce, presumably Wilbur Ross. These men, along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Tillerson will lead the key agencies enforcing or perhaps revising the country’s commitment to responsible business conduct.

    The following list of priorities and initiatives comes directly from the Fact Sheet:

Strengthening laws preventing the import of goods produced by forced labor to ensure products made under exploitative conditions do not gain U.S. market access.

Updating social and environmental standards criteria for financing through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to promote high standards through U.S.-supported private investment.

Creating guidance on social safeguards for USAID’s development programs.

Funding efforts to promote awareness and implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Publishing, for the first time, an annual report by the U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines.

Identifying means through trade agreements to encourage companies to engage in RBC.

Enhancing information sharing with sub-national governments on public procurement best practices, to ensure that governments at all levels promote RBC through purchasing.

Collaboration with Stakeholders

In order to achieve shared RBC goals, it is essential for governments to work with the private sector, as well as with civil society, labor, and other stakeholders, to leverage each other’s resources and strengths.  The USG’s measures to collaborate with such stakeholders include:

Establishing a formal mechanism for increased government participation in “multi-stakeholder initiatives” that promote RBC in various sectors and regions.

Convening stakeholders to develop and promote effective metrics for measuring and managing labor rights impacts in supply chains.

Facilitating a dialogue with stakeholders on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Promoting worker voice and empowerment in global supply chains via new tools that allow workers in national supply chains to directly report potential labor abuses and workplace safety violations, as well as leveraging public-private partnerships to more fully incorporate the perspectives of workers.

Facilitating RBC by Companies

The USG encourages companies to follow the best domestic and international practices and is supportive of company efforts to voluntarily report on certain aspects of their operations.  The USG produces a number of reports that can be useful for companies as they seek to uphold high standards, sometimes in challenging environments.  The NAP sets forth an illustrative list of USG initiatives to further that work, including the following commitments:

Creating an online database containing government reports on issues such as human rights, human trafficking including forced labor, child labor, and investment climates so that companies can more effectively make investment decisions and mitigate risk.

Providing new and increased training for USG officers and officials, including those who serve abroad, on RBC issues so that government officials are well-equipped to advise companies on considerations such as the status of labor rights, human rights and transparency, in a particular operating environment.

Training for USG officials on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related issues.

Updating country-level public land governance profiles that explain land laws, land use patterns, gender concerns, land administration, and land markets within a given country.  These profiles are an important tool for businesses making responsible land-based investments in a given country.

Recognizing Positive Performance

U.S. companies make tremendous contributions to communities around the world by generating economic growth, creating jobs, spurring innovation, and providing solutions to pressing challenges such as access to clean energy, healthcare, and technology.  The USG recognizes and highlights when companies achieve high standards with meaningful results for workers and communities. Such items include...

Developing an online mechanism to identify, document, and publicize lessons learned and best practices related to corporate actions that promote and respect human rights. 

Providing Access to Remedy

Even when governments and companies seek to act responsibly, challenges can arise.  Both governments and companies should have mechanisms in place by which affected parties can raise concerns, report problems, and seek remedies, as appropriate.  Through the NAP, the USG is furthering its commitment to this objective by:

Improving the performance of the U.S. National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, including by announcing a fall 2017 peer review, organizing workshops to promote RBC, and publishing an outreach plan.

Hosting a forum for dialogue with stakeholders on opportunities and challenges regarding issues of remedy, as well as how the USG can best support effective remedy processes.

    I will continue to follow up on this issue as well as how corporate compliance and governance may change under the Trump Administration.

February 16, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Business Law on Valentine's Day

I hope this Valentine's Day is a good one for you, dear readers.  Mine started with a random (minor) dog bite on my morning run, followed by some time with some very nice health care professionals and quite a few less pleasant needles. 

A friend alerted me to the law-related Twitter hashtag #AppellateValentines. Some of them are quite funny.  See, e.g.,

There is also a #BusinessValentines hashtag, which is less creative, but has its moments.  Of course, there was no #BusinessLawValentines, but there should be and there is now. I went first. Join in, if you're so inclined.  

And, of course, I could not resist:

February 14, 2017 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Joshua P. Fershee, Partnership, Unincorporated Entities, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)