Friday, February 12, 2016
Even though I have never participated in a single Yoga class, I enjoyed my co-editor Joan Heminway’s Yoga Analogy Post from a couple weeks ago. Her post inspired this analogy post about running and the law.
While I am not the most consistent runner among the BLPB editors---that title goes to Josh Fershee---I have been running 3+ times a week consistently for the last 6 months or so, following a few very inconsistent years.
Below the break, I discuss some parallels between running (particular long-distance running) and the practice of law. Due to these parallels, as a hiring partner, I believe I would look favorably on an applicant who was a distance runner.
Also about distance running, is anyone else really excited about watching the Olympic Trials for the Marathon on NBC tomorrow? Not a great spectator sport, to be sure, but I love that so many people with normal jobs are running. Nashville-area elementary school teacher Scott Wietecha qualified for the Trials (though he has chosen not to run, due, at least in part, the some health issues). Scott has details and predictions here; after reading his long post, I can quickly see that he is even much more excited about watching the race than I am.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
This week, Delaware Governor Jack Markell nominated Joseph R. Slights, III for the position held by retiring Vice Chancellor John Noble on the Delaware Court of Chancery.
Judge Slights previously served a 12-year term on the Delaware Superior Court. Immediately prior to his nomination, Judge Slights was a commercial litigation partner at the firm of Morris, James, Hitchens & Williams LLP.
Once Vice Chancellor Noble retires, Vice Chancellor Laster will become the judge with the most experience serving on the Delaware Court of Chancery. Vice Chancellor Laster was sworn into his position in October of 2009. It has been a quick 6+ years; it seems like that was just yesterday.
I outsource the details of Joseph Slights' nomination below:
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
My home state in West Virginia is struggling. The economy is struggling because two of the state's main industries -- coal and natural gas -- are facing falling production (coal) and low prices (gas). Severance taxes for the state account for approximately 13% of the budget, and both are down dramatically. Tax revenues for the state were down $9.8 million in January from the prior year and came up $11.5 million short of estimates. For the year-to-date, the state collected $2.29 billion, which is $169.5 million below estimates. Oddly enough, state sales and income taxes for January both exceeded estimates, but not enough to offset other stagnation in the state.
The state has long been known as a coal state, and that industry has dominated the legal and political landscape. West Virginia has been criticized for having a legal system that is "anti-business," with the United States Chamber of Commerce finding stating that West Virginia is the 50th ranked state in terms of the fairness of its litigation. (See PDF here.) CNBC (with input from the National Association of Manufacturers) also ranked West Virginia last in terms of business competitiveness, so the starting point is not good.
Now, the West Virginia legislature is considering the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many (including me) see as about legalizing specific forms of discrimination, and not promoting or supporting religion. And some religious groups agree. As the Catholic Committee of Appalachia’s West Virginia Chapter explains:
We appreciate the background of 1993 federal act with the same name, and the history leading up to it, with its pertinence to protecting Native American sacred lands and religious practices from governmental infringement. With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that RFRA would only be applicable to federal actions, we can recognize, also, the value of an argument for versions of a law to be passed at the local level. However, the primary motivation behind West Virginia’s bill #4012, and others like it, seems not to be the protection of legitimate religious exercises, but securing the ability of religious groups to discriminate against marginalized populations on the basis of religious convictions.
Just as important for purposes of this post, many West Virginia businesses oppose the bill. Local Embassy Suites and Marriott hotels representatives spoke out against the bill, and the Charleston (WV) Regional Chamber of Commerce and Generation West Virginia, along with several city mayors, have opposed the bill, as well. They have good reason. When the state of Indiana passed a similar bill, Indianapolis promptly lost as many as twelve conventions and estimates around $60 million. Ouch. As one mayor said, West Virginia legislators need to "Get out of the way."
Morgantown, home to my institution, was the state’s second city to pass an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance in February 2014. West Virginia University’s faculty senate also unanimously yesterday approved a resolution condemning the bill. And there was a chance to make clear the intent of the bill was not intended to be used as a way to discriminate against someone based sexual orientation through a proposed amendment making that clear. Unfortunately, the amendment was deemed “not germane.”
Beyond coal, natural gas, chemicals, and timber, tourism is one of our state's main industries. It's also a great one. From whitewater rafting to skiing to hiking, the state is a great place for outdoor activities. Craft breweries and a few great local restaurants are helping make the state a destination. Unfortunately, the debate about this bill, especially in the wake of the backlash in Indiana, is hurting the state's ability to make build up it's tourism industry by making many people feel unwelcome.
It's really too bad as a local restaurant, Atomic Grill, made international news for how they responded to comments about their waitresses and has been lauded for their response to other intolerance in their restaurant.
I don't like this bill because, to me, it's either a tautology or an attempt to discriminate through legislation. But beyond that, it's stupid, terrible way to promote business in the state. We spend enough time trying to get people to come visit -- and when people do, they almost always like it. It really is a great place in so many ways. At a time when the entire state is looking at 4% budget cuts across the board -- when we need to be building bridges to broader audiences -- the state's legislature is screwing around with bills that have zero economic upside and reinforce stereotypes about the people of our state.
Being pro-business means being pro-consumer, which really means being pro-people. This bill is none of those. We need to do better, and it's disappointing our time and our money are being wasted like this.
Friday, February 5, 2016
I have been on the road a good bit over the past few months. Like Stephen Bainbridge, I greatly prefer driving to flying. On these road trips, I have noticed an increasing number of billboard advertisements for universities (my university included).
When I was in high school, I cannot remember any respectable 4-year universities or graduate schools using billboards to advertise. Maybe they did, and I just did not notice; but I do remember for-profit and community colleges using them. Today, however, I have seen billboard advertisements for schools ranked as high as the top-25 universities in the country, not to mention many solid public (including state flagship) and private universities. The Ivy League schools and their chief competitors seem to still be avoiding billboards, though even some them resort to billboards for their executive programs. (The for-profit schools still use billboards, but have also moved on to things like buying stadium naming rights).
I do wonder what accounts for the shift towards university billboard advertising, if there has been a shift. I also wonder about the costs and benefits of billboard advertising for universities. And I wonder about the comparative costs and benefits of alternative marketing.
Super Bowl ads – costing a record high $5 million for a 30-second spot – are likely a much more significant investment than your average billboard ad, but I imagine most companies that are advertising during the Super Bowl have decided that the costs outweigh the benefits. A few years ago, however, Pepsi decided to withdraw from the Super Bowl advertising frenzy for the first time in 23 years. Instead, Pepsi made more than $20 million in local grants, in the amount of $5,000 to $250,000 each. The local grants included things like buying uniforms for a high school's band. I imagine the local grants were powerful, relatively narrow in impact, and perhaps difficult to tie directly to sales. This year, it looks like Pepsi is back advertising during the Super Bowl where the advertising is much broader, if shallower. (Hat tip to the Coursera and University of Illinois digital marketing course for the link to the Pepsi story).
So maybe the decision for universities to use billboards is similar to the decision of multinational corporations to advertise during the Super Bowl: the ad might not be as personally powerful as something more individualized like local grants, but the ad will reach many more people. While I think the broader reach makes some sense, I do wonder if that will continue to hold true with social media; I imagine some of Pepsi’s local grants, for example, could “go viral” when shared on social media and could possibly rival the reach of a Super Bowl ad.
Thursday, February 4, 2016
For the past four weeks I have been experimenting with a new class called Transnational Business and Human Rights. My students include law students, graduate students, journalists, and accountants. Only half have taken a business class and the other half have never taken a human rights class. This is a challenge, albeit, a fun one. During our first week, we discussed CSR, starting off with Milton Friedman. We then used a business school case study from Copenhagen and the students acted as the public relations executive for a Danish company that learned that its medical product was being used in the death penalty cocktail in the United States. This required students to consider the company’s corporate responsibility profile and commitments and provide advice to the CEO based on a number of factors that many hadn’t considered- the role of investors, consumer reactions, the pressure from NGOs, and the potential effect on the stock price for the Danish company based on its decisions. During the first three weeks the students have focused on the corporate perspective learning the language of the supply chain and enterprise risk management world.
This week they are playing the role of the state and critiquing and developing the National Action Plans that require states to develop incentives and penalties for corporations to minimize human rights impacts. Examining the NAPs, dictated by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, requires students to think through the consultation process that countries, including the United States, undertake with a number of stakeholders such as unions, academics, NGOs and businesses. To many of those in the human rights LLM program and even some of the traditional law students, this is all a foreign language and they are struggling with these different stakeholder perspectives.
Over the rest of the semester they will read and role play on up to the minute issues such as: 1) the recent Tech Terror Summit and the potential adverse effects of the right to privacy; 2) access to justice and forum non conveniens, arguing an appeal from a Canadian court’s decision related to Guatemalan protestors shot by security forces hired by a company incorporated in Canada with US headquarters; 3) the difficulties that even best in class companies such as Nestle have complying with their own commitments and certain disclosure laws when their supply chain uses both child labor and slaves; 4) the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals debate in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the EU, where students will play the role of the State Department, major companies such as Apple and Intel, the NGO community, and socially-responsible investors debating some key corporate governance and human rights issues; 5) corporate codes of conduct and the ethical, governance, and compliance aspects of entering the Cuban market, given the concerns about human rights and confiscated property; 6) corporate culpability for the human rights impacts of mega sporting events such as the Super Bowl, World Cup, and the Olympics; 7) human trafficking (I’m proud to have a speaker from my former company Ryder, a sponsor of Truckers Against Traffickers); 8) development finance, SEC disclosures, bilateral investment treaties, investor rights and the grievance mechanisms for people harmed by financed projects (the World Bank, IMF, and Ex-Im bank will be case studies); 9) the race to the bottom for companies trying to reduce labor expenses in supply chains using the garment industry as an example; and 10) a debate in which each student will represent the actual countries currently arguing for or against a binding treaty on business and human rights.
Of course, on a daily basis, business and human rights stories pop up in the news if you know where to look and that makes teaching this so much fun. We are focusing a critical lens on the United States as well as the rest of the world, and it's great to hear perspectives from those who have lived in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. It's a whole new world for many of the LLM and international students, but as I tell them if they want to go after the corporations and effect change, they need to understand the pressure points. Using business school case studies has provided them with insights that most of my students have never considered. Most important, regardless of whether the students embark on a human rights career, they will now have more experience seeing and arguing controversial issues from another vantage point. That’s an invaluable skill set for any advocate.
February 4, 2016 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Investment Banking, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, January 22, 2016
Two weeks ago I posted about whether small businesses, start ups, and entrepreneurs should consider corporate social responsibility as part of their business (outside of the benefit corporation context). Definitions of CSR vary but for the purpose of this post, I will adopt the US government’s description as:
entail[ing] conduct consistent with applicable laws and internationally recognised standards. Based on the idea that you can do well while doing no harm … 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.
During my presentation at USASBE, I admitted my cynical thoughts about some aspects of CSR, discussed the halo effect, and pointed out some statistics from various sources about consumer attitudes. For example:
- Over 66% of people say they will pay more for products from a company with “good values”
- 66% of survey respondents indicated that their perception of company’s CEO affected their perception of the company
- 90% of US consumers would switch brands to one associated with a cause, assuming comparable price and quality
- 26% want more eco-friendly products
- 10% purchased eco-friendly products
- 45% are influenced by commitment to the environment
- 43% are influenced by commitment to social values and community
- Those with incomes of 20k or less are 5% more willing to pay more than those with incomes of $50k or more
- Consumers in developed markets are less willing to pay more for sustainable products than those in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The study’s author opined that those underdeveloped markets see the effects of poor labor and environmental practices first hand
- 75% of millennial respondents, 72% of generation Z (age 20 and younger) and 51% of Baby Boomers are willing to pay more for sustainable products
- More than one out of every six dollars under professional management in the United States—$6.57 trillion or more—is invested according to socially-responsible investment strategies.
- 64% of large companies increased corporate giving from between 2010 and 2013.
- Among large companies giving at least 10% more since 2010, median revenues increased by 11% while revenues fell 3% for all other companies
From marketing and recruiting perspectives, these are compelling statistics. But from a bottom line perspective, does a company with lean margins have the luxury to implement sustainable business practices? Next week I will post about CSR in larger companies and the role that small suppliers play in global value chains. This leaves some small businesses without a choice but to consider changing their practices. In addition, in some ways, using some CSR concepts factors into enterprise risk management, which companies of all size need to consider.
January 22, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Management, Marcia Narine, Nonprofits, Research/Scholarhip, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Section 2 of the Sherman Act provides:
Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.
The Washington Examiner, among other outlets, reports that President Obama and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney are fighting a section 2 lawsuit together. The lawsuit, filed by a group of third-party political groups including the 2012 nominees for the Libertarian Party and the liberal Green Party, claims the Commission on Presidential Debates committed antitrust violations:
This action challenges a per se continuing illegal conspiracy or agreement between the RNC, the DNC, and the Commission, with the direction, assistance, and collusion, over the course of many years, of several co-conspirators and affiliated persons, including Fahrenkopf, McCurry, Obama, Romney, and other presidential candidates of the Republican and Democratic Parties. The conspiracy commenced prior to the formation of the Commission, and no Defendant has withdrawn or abandoned it. The overall objective was and continues to be the entrenchment market power in the presidential debates market, the presidential campaign market, and the electoral politics market of the two major political parties by exercising duopoly control over presidential and vice presidential debates in general election campaigns for the presidency. That objective was achieved in 2012 when the individual Plaintiffs were arbitrarily excluded substantially because of hostility towards their political viewpoints from presidential and vice presidential debates between the nominees of the two major parties organized and conducted by Defendants on October 3, 2012, October 11, 2012, October 16, 2012, and October 22, 2012, respectively.
Romney's brief responds:
Presidential debates are a quintessential political, non-commercial activity... .
The antitrust laws were not intended to regulate non-commercial markets like the 'marketplace of ideas' (even assuming such 'markets' exist as anything more that metaphors). Plaintiffs' claims therefore fail. . . . .
Soliciting votes is fundamentally different from selling widgets. The former implicates core constitutional values that are absent from the commercial arena. The First Amendment forbids Congress from telling political candidates where to go, what to do, what to say, or— crucially here—who they have to debate. Just as President Obama has an absolute right to refuse to debate every person who attacks his Administration, Governor Romney had an absolute right during the 2012 presidential campaign to refuse to debate Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or any other candidate waging a long-shot bid for the presidency. The only possible sanction for that refusal is a political one.
I'm not an antitrust expert, but this case seems like a loser even if the concept of the claim is viable. The Examiner piece quotes an expert, Geoffrey Manne, executive director of the nonpartisan think tank International Center for Law and Economics, who said the case was out of the ordinary, but not inconceivable:
"The short answer is that it is not crazy... The commission is a private entity, not a government one, so it doesn't get immunity," he said, adding, "The question is whether the activity amounts to a restraint of trade." It was hard to tell how a court might come down on that, he said.
Manne knows his stuff, and I trust his point that the claim could have legs. I also agree a court might buy it. Still, I think it ultimately fails in most courts. It seems to me that it is reasonable to have some limits on who participates in debates (do we all get stage time?), and because of that, plaintiffs would likely have to show that the current structure is an unreasonable restraint on trade. Then you start getting into where to draw those lines, and I think you have a problem with the marketplace. That is, not all speech is being shut out, and two people don't have to agree to share a platform with others.
Furthermore, if people cared, CNN or FoxNews or TruTV or HBO, could have debates with the other candidates and invite all of them. I'd argue they should. But the fact that people don't vote with their eyeballs suggests the restraint isn't really as simple as the debate commission. It's a lack of interest. I'd like to see a broader discussion of ideas -- maybe a real platform of people who think government should be inclined to stay out of bedrooms and boardrooms, for example. But I don't think the Commission on Presidential Debates is really responsible for the nation's inability to demand more information, more interaction, and more accountability.
Maybe in 1976 or even 1986, but not in 2016. There's just too many options for the other candidates to get their word out if the people care. People should care, but I don't think antitrust law was designed to make that happen, nor do I think it can.
Friday, January 8, 2016
I will miss many of you at AALS this weekend because on Sunday morning I am speaking on a panel on corporate social responsibility in small businesses and startups at a conference for the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) in San Diego. My co-panelists include: Julian Lange, Governor Craig R. Benson Professor of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy, Associate Professor, Babson College; Megan M. Carpenter, Professor of Law, Co-Director, Center for Law and Intellectual Property, Faculty Director, IP and Technology Law Clinic, Faculty Director, Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, Texas A&M University School of Law; Sandra Malach, Senior Instructor, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada, former counsel at the Venture Development Legal Clinic, and previous positions at Stantec Engineering, Bennett Jones Barristers & Solicitors, Enron, and SAIT; and John Tyler, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The abstract that we presented to conference organizers stated:
Entrepreneurial and small businesses are increasingly incorporating “people, planet, and profits” into their business models and operations to a degree that goes beyond simply fulfilling the requirements of government regulations. Moreover, it can be argued that expanding a company’s mission to include issues such as sustainability can create competitive advantage in nurturing customer loyalty and employee commitment to company success. Through the use of presentations, interactive exercises, and group discussion, this workshop will provide participants with an opportunity to examine the implications for entrepreneurs and small business owners of including corporate social responsibility in their business models.
I’ll be discussing consumer attitudes toward CSR in the US, the EU, Canada, Asia and other parts of the world, and I will blog about the panel as a whole next week. Regular readers of this blog know that I am generally pretty skeptical about consumers and CSR. They often say a lot about their concern for ethical practices in surveys, but they often purchase based on quality, price, and convenience. CSR does, however, help companies with regulators. A recent study indicated that regulators may impose lighter penalties on corrupt companies with good CSR records.
If you have any thoughts, or more important, any research that you would like me to share with the audience, particularly as it relates to CSR and benefit or social purpose corporations, please leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com (before Sunday morning if you want me to share it with USASBE).
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Kent Greenfield recently published a provocative article with Democracy on ending Delaware's dominance over corporate law. As is Greenfield's way, he makes a familiar story sound fresh and raises an interesting question. Is it democratic for a state with less than 1% of the country's population to have its laws control more than half of the Fortune 500 companies? Greenfield says no.
Power without accountability has no democratic legitimacy. If companies could choose which state’s environmental, employment, or anti-discrimination law applied to them, we’d be outraged. We should be similarly outraged about Delaware’s dominance in corporate law.
Greenfield suggests two alternative paths for ending Delaware's dominance. First: states could amend their business organization statutes so that the law of the state of incorporation (Delaware) doesn't govern the corporation, rather the law of the principal place of business would. Second, and perhaps more radically, nationalize corporate law.
The undemocratic critique is an astute observation. It takes the debate outside of the "race to the bottom" standard trope and into territory with perhaps more broad public appeal. Leaving aside the state competition for headquarters, tax base and jobs with solution one and potential political friction with solution two, both solutions address the undemocratic critique.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
On Saturday, January 9, 2016, I will be spending the day at the AALS Section on Socio-Economics Annual Meeting at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel. Among other things, I will be part of a panel discussion from 9:50 - 10:50 AM, Death of the Firm: Vulnerabilities and the Changing Structure of Employment. My co-panelists will be June Carbone and Katherine Stone (I am very tempted to give up my 15 minutes and just sit back and listen to these two great scholars, but please don't use the comments section to encourage me to do that). As I understand it, the gist of the discussion will be that while firms once supported a significant part of the safety net that provided employee health and retirement benefits, they have recently abdicated more and more of these responsibilities. At the same time, however, what may be described as subsidies granted by the state to firms -- particularly corporations -- as part of a social contract whereby these firms provided the aforementioned benefits, have not been correspondingly reduced. In fact, the rights of corporations have been expanded by, for example, cases like Citizens United and Hobby Lobby -- suggesting a possible windfall for the minority of individuals best positioned to reap the benefits of corporate growth and insulation. Obviously, competing interpretations of the relevant history abound. Regardless, please stop by if you have the opportunity. Continuing to beat a favorite drum of mine (see here, here, and here), I will be applying the lens of corporate personality theory to the foregoing issue and arguing that corporate personality theory has a role to play both in understanding how we got here and how best to move forward. Additional details, including the entire day’s program, can be found here.
On Monday, January 11, 2016, I will also be participating in the Society of Socio-Economists Annual Meeting, also at the Sheraton. Program details are available here. Again, please stop by if you have the opportunity.
January 5, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Shareholders, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, January 1, 2016
Happy New Year!
Last year I wrote a bit about New Year's resolutions.
As some of you know, I wasn't able to go the full year without checking my e-mail on Saturdays. In fact, that resolution was toast a few weeks into 2015.
One of the problems, I think, was that I had 20 resolutions in 2015. We all have limited self-control, and we can experience overload in January.
I have been doing New Year's resolutions for as long as I can remember, with varied amounts of success, but I am going to try something a bit different this year.
The Cass Sunstein article I included last year gave me the idea. In the article, he states "But how can we ensure that our resolutions actually stick? Behavioral economists have three answers: Make them easy and automatic, make them a matter of habit, and make them fun. A resolution is more likely to work if it is concrete and can be translated into a simple routine."
This year, instead of a long list of resolutions, I plan to focus on forming one habit each month. I hope the habits will continue after that month, but after one month of intense focus, hopefully the habit will have moved into the less laborious System 1.
Interested to see how this works. It may be a more sustainable solution. If you form the right habits, then it is less likely that you will have to continue setting the same goals (like "lose weight" and "save more") each year. For example, my saving-related resolutions are always the simplest to keep because I just change my direct deposit rules and let it run its course. Direct deposit acts a bit like an already formed habit - easy and automatic. Of course, many habits are quite difficult to form, but I think focusing on one a month sounds doable. Whether I can keep all 12 going in December 2016 (and beyond) remains to be seen.
Good luck to all those making resolutions!
Thursday, December 31, 2015
The Five Corporate Scandals That Defined 2015 and Why I Resolve to Sneak More Ethics and Compliance into My Teaching
This is the time of year when many people make New Year’s resolutions, and I suppose that law professors do so as well. I’m taking a break from teaching business associations next semester. Instead, I will teach Business and Human Rights as well as Civil Procedure II. I love Civ Pro II because my twenty years of litigation experience comes in handy when we go through discovery. I focus a lot on ethical issues in civil procedure even though my 1Ls haven’t taken professional responsibility because I know that they get a lot of their context from TV shows like Suits, in which a young “lawyer” (who never went to law school) has a photographic memory and is mentored by a very aggressive senior partner whose ethics generally kick in just in the nick of time. It will also be easy to talk about ethical issues in business and human rights. What are the ethical, moral, financial, and societal implications of operating in countries with no regard for human rights and how should that impact a board’s decision to maximize shareholder value? Can socially-responsible investors really make a difference and when and how should they use their influence? Those discussions will be necessary, difficult, thought-provoking, and fun.
I confess that I don’t discuss ethics as much as I would like in my traditional business associations class even though some of my 2Ls and 3Ls have already taken professional responsibility. This is particularly egregious for me since I spent several years before joining academia as a compliance and ethics officer. I also use a skills book by Professor Michelle Harner, which actually has an ethics component in each exercise, but I often gloss over that section because many of my students haven't taken professional responsibility and I feel that I should focus on the pure "business" material. Business school students learn about business ethics, but law students generally don’t, even though they often counsel business clients when they graduate.
Yesterday, I tweeted an article naming five corporate scandals that defined 2015: (1) the Volkswagen emissions coverup (2) the "revelation" regarding Exxon’s research warning of man-made climate change as early as 1981 and its decision to spend money on climate change denial; (3) climate lobbying and the “gap between words and action,” in particular the companies that “tout their sustainability credentials” but are “members of influential trade associations lobbying against EU climate policy”; (4) the Brazil mining tragedy, which caused the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history, and in which several companies are denying responsibility; and (5) the “broken culture” (according to the Tokyo Stock Exchange) of Toshiba, which inflated its net profits by hundreds of millions of dollars over several years.
All of these multinational companies have in-house and outside counsel advising them, as did Enron, WorldCom, and any number of companies that have been embroiled in corporate scandal in the past. Stephen Bainbridge has written persuasively about the role of lawyers as gatekeepers. But what are we doing to train tomorrow's lawyers to prepare for this role? Practicing lawyers must take a certain number of ethics credits every few years as part of their continuing legal education obligation but we should do a better job as law professors of training law students to spot some of the tough ethical issues early on in every course we teach. This is especially true because many students who graduate today will work for small and medium-sized firms and will be advising small and medium-sized businesses. They won’t have the seemingly unlimited resources I had when I graduated in 1992 and went to work for BigLaw in New York. Many of the cases I worked on were staffed with layers of experienced lawyers, often in offices from around the world. If I naively missed an issue, someone else would likely see it.
So my resolution for 2016? The next time I teach business associations, I may spend a little less time on some of the background on Meinhard v. Salmon and more time on some of the ethical issues of that and the other cases and drafting exercises that my students work on. If you have ideas on how you weave ethics into your teaching, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wish all of our readers a happy and healthy new year.
December 31, 2015 in Business Associations, Business School, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
The Pep Boys – Manny, Moe & Jack (NYSE: PBY) merger triangle with Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC and Icahn Enterprises LP is proving to be an exciting bidding war. The price and the pace of competing bids has been escalating since the proposed Pep Boys/Bridgestone agreement was announced on October 16, 2015. Pep Boys stock had been trading around $12/share. Pursuant to the agreement, Bridgestone commenced a tender offer in November for all outstanding shares at $15.
Icahn Enterprises controls Auto Plus, a competitor of Pep Boys, the nation's leading automotive aftermarket service and retail chain. Icahn disclosed an approximately 12% stake in Pep Boys earlier in December and entered into a bidding war with Bridgestone over Pep Boys. The price climbed to $15.50 on December 11th, then $17.00 on December 24th. Icahn Enterprises holds the current winning bid at $18.50/share, which the Pep Boys Board of Directors determined is a superior offer. In the SEC filings, Icahn Enterprises indicated a willingness to increase the bid, but not if Pep Boys agreed to Bridgestone's increased termination fee (from $35M to 39.5M) triggered by actions such as perior proposals by third parties. Icahn challenged such a fee as a serious threat to the auction process.
Regardless of which company ends up claiming control over Pep Boys, this is a excellent example of sale principles in action and also shows the effect of merger announcements (and the promised control premiums) have on stock prices. This will be a great illustration to accompany corporations/business organizations class discussions of mergers and the role of the board of directors. For those teaching unincorporated entities as a separate course or component of the larger bus.org survey course, Icahn Enterprises is a publicly-traded limited partnership formed as a master limited partnership in Delaware-- BONUS! Bridgestone Retail Operations LLC, as in limited liability company, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bridgestone Corporation ADR, a publicly traded corporation.
See you all in the New Year! Anne Tucker
EDITED January 4, 2016. Based on the thoughtful observations of fellow BLPB editor Haskell Murray, I removed the inarticulate references to this bidding war as a "Revlon" transaction. As Haskell pointed out, Pep Boys is a Pennsylvania corporation and subject to a constituency statute. The constituency statute modifies directors' "Revlon" duties by authorizing (but not requiring) directors to consider:
The effects of any action upon any or all groups affected by such action, including shareholders, members, employees, suppliers, customers and creditors of the corporation, and upon communities in which offices or other establishments of the corporation are located.
(2) The short-term and long-term interests of the corporation, including benefits that may accrue to the corporation from its long-term plans and the possibility that these interests may be best served by the continued independence of the corporation.....15 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 515 (West)
A quick break from grading for my year-end report on the use of "limited liability corporation" instead if the correct "limited liability company" when referring to LLCs. Hold on to your hats.
Since December 31, 2014, Westlaw reports the following using the term "limited liability corporation":
- Cases View all 381
- Trial Court Orders View all 93
- Administrative Decisions & Guidance View all 169
- Secondary Sources View all 1,071
For example, Massachusetts has the following proposed legislation from, Sen. Tarr, Bruce (R), with the following summary: " An Act relative to limited liability corporation filing fees." 2015 Massachusetts Senate Bill No. 238, Massachusetts One Hundred Eighty-Ninth General Court. Of course, the proposed change is to the state's Limited Liability Company Act, Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 156C, § 12 (West 2015).
And one proposed change to "limited liability corporations" is not sufficient for that state this year. Rep. Arciero, James (D), similarly proposed "An Act relative to limited liability corporations dealing with children." 2015 Massachusetts House Bill No. 304, Massachusetts One Hundred Eighty-Ninth General Court. The sponsors of these bills show that the "limited liability corporation" mistake is, at least, bipartisan.
Section 104(k)(1) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (42 U.S.C. 9604(k)(1)) is amended-
. . . .(3) by adding at the end the following:'(I) an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and exempt from taxation under section 501(a) of that Code;'(J) a limited liability corporation in which all managing members are organizations described in subparagraph (I) or limited liability corporations whose sole members are organizations described in subparagraph (I);'(K) a limited partnership in which all general partners are organizations described in subparagraph (I) or limited liability corporations whose sole members are organizations described in subparagraph (I); or'(L) a qualified community development entity (as defined in section 45D(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986).'.
Friday, December 25, 2015
Thursday, December 17, 2015
A year ago today, President Obama shocked the world and enraged many in Congress by announcing normalization of relations with Cuba. A lot of the rest of the United States didn’t see this as much of a big deal, but here in Miami, ground zero for the Cuban exile community, this was a cataclysmic event. Now Miami is one of the biggest sources of microfinance for the island.
Regular readers of this blog know that I have been writing about the ethical and governance issues of doing business with the island since my 10-day visit last summer. I return to Cuba today on a second research trip to validate some of my findings for my second article on governance and compliance risks and to begin work on my third article related to rule of law issues, the realities of foreign direct investment and arbitration, what a potential bilateral or multilateral investment agreement might look like, and the role that human rights requirements in these agreements could play.
This is an interesting time to be visiting Cuba. The Venezuelan government, a large source of income for Cuba has suffered a humiliating defeat. Will this lead to another “special period” for the nation similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union? Major league baseball players who defected from Cuba just a few years ago announced a homecoming trip today. Yesterday, the US government authorized commercial flights to return to Cuba. The property claims for the multinationals and families who had homes and business confiscated by Castro are being worked out, or so some say.
Over the next few days in between touring Old Havana and fishing villages, I will learn from lawyers and professors discussing arbitration law in Cuba, foreign investment law 118/2014, tax and labor implications for the foreign investor, the 2015 amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, requirements for gaining government approval and forming state partnerships, and the Cuban banking system.
Strangely, I am excited. While I should be decompressing from the shock of reading student exams discussing “creepy tender offers” and “limited liability corporations,” I can’t wait to delve into the next phase of my research and practice my business Spanish at the bar of the Parque Central in La Habana. My internet access will be spotty and expensive but if you can think of any pressing questions I should ask leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com.
December 17, 2015 in Comparative Law, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Food and Drink, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine, Religion, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Divestment campaigns have been a popular form of corporate activism. With divestment pensions, institutions, endowments and funds withdraw investments from companies to encourage and promote certain social/political behaviors and policies.
Erik Hendey in his article Does Divestment Work (in the Harvard Political Review) recounted recent divestment campaigns including:
"sweatshop labor, use of landmines, and tobacco advertising. But undoubtedly the best known example of divestment occurred in the 1970s and ’80s in response to the apartheid regime of South Africa. Retirement funds, mutual funds, and investment institutions across the country sold off the stocks of companies that did business in South Africa."
A current divestment campaign is focused on guns. In the wake of the San Bernardino, California mass shooting, this issue is poised to gain momentum. The widespread investment in gun manufacturers will also make this campaign relevant to many investors. Andrew Ross Sorkin at the NYT DealBook writes in Guns in Your 401(k)? The Push to Divest Grows:
"If you own any of the broad index funds or even a target-date retirement fund, you’ve got a stake in the gun industry. Investments in gun makers, at least over the past five years, have performed well. Shares of Smith & Wesson are up nearly 400 percent since 2010. On Monday, shares of Smith & Wesson reached their highest price since 2007 after President Obama called for more gun control laws, leading investors to anticipate a rush of gun sales ahead of any restrictions."
If you are curious/concerned, Unload Your 401(k) is a website where you can check and see if you are personally invested, through your retirement savings plan, in one of the three major gun manufacturers.
Individuals may allocate their personal 401(k) money to socially responsible investment funds or in traditional funds that do not include gun manufacturers. A traditional fund is a hard bet because even if the fund doesn't currently invest in a gun manufacturer at the time of the individual's investment, it could become a part of the portfolio. Only funds with investment parameters that specifically exclude gun manufacturers can provide such a guarantee.
But what about endowments and pension funds-- large institutional investors who are often the target of divestment campaigns because when they choose to divest (or simply not to invest in the first place) this is where the real pressure can be applied to companies. Many stewards of such funds manage them according to certain social principles, especially if those principles are advocated by the beneficiaries of the funds (as is the case with student activists behind the fossil fuel divestment campaigns). Applying social pressure through such funds and on behalf of beneficiaries raises question of whether such actions are in appropriate fidelity to the trust position over the money (not the morals) the trustees are appointed to preserve. Bradford Cornell, at California Institute of Technology published a 2015 paper estimating the cost of fossil fuel divestment of major educational endowments, which for Harvard he figured to be over $100 million.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
If you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or just the internet, you are probably aware of the concept of clickbait. What is "clickbait?" Well, Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as follows:
something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest <It is difficult to remember a time when you could scroll through the social media outlet of your choice and not be bombarded with: You'll never believe what happened when … This is the cutest thing ever … This is the biggest mistake you can make … Take this quiz to see which character you are on … They are all classic clickbait models. And they are irritating as hell. There's no singular way to craft clickbait, but the essence is clear: Lure—no trick—readers to your site. — Emily Shire, Daily Beast, 14 July 2014> < … “clickbait,” those seductive Huffington Post-esque headlines that suck up your attention but don't deliver what they promise? — Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian (London), 10 Aug. 2013> < … there's an incentive to combine clickbait, to get people in, with strong content to keep them on the site. — Steve Hind, interviewed on National Public Radio, 10 Nov. 2013>
Lists and polls are common ways to get people to click on a headline. "All 50 States in the U.S., Ranked By Their Beer." "500 Greatest Songs of All Time." "The 100 Most Important Cat Pictures of All Time." That last one is from Buzzfeed, which claims it doesn't do clickbait because it "hasn't worked since 2009." If you say so.
Anyway, it appears that Business Law Prof Blog is deemed a "media outlet" by some enterprising public relations folks, so I get regular emails pitching books and polls and experts to write about. I rarely, if ever, use the material, but as a former public relations professional, I am willing to take a quick look to see if it's something of potential interest to our readers. This week, I got an email that caught my eye. It came with the subject line: 2015’s Best & Worst College Cities & Towns in America – WalletHub Study.
The overall top 10 college towns from this poll:
- Ann Arbor, MI
- College Station, TX
- Iowa City, IA
- Provo, UT
- Gainesville, FL
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Atlanta, GA
- Austin, TX
- Cambridge, MA
- Columbia, MO
Any list like this is subject to criticism (no way Gainesville, FL, is better than Athens, GA), but depending on the criteria, it can be valid. It's hard for me to argue about Ann Arbor. I met my wife in Ann Arbor, and it is a great city. Not sure it's number one, but okay.
This kind of list is great clickbait for me. I love college towns. I grew up in one: East Lansing, Michigan. And I have taught in three: State College, PA; Grand Forks, ND; and Morgantown, WV. There's something special to me about college towns, so I was curious to see how they made these rankings. First, of course, I started by looking at the list for some of my favorites. No East Lansing. No State College. No Grand Forks. No Morgantown. Two Big Ten schools and a Big Twelve school. Huh?
So I inquired about the methodology and I was told the data used was from the 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Thus, cities that were not included in the Census 2014 ACS 1-year estimates data tables could not be included in the survey. So, I started looking for other cities with significant colleges that were not on the list. Here's a list of cities that were not included in the survey that I have identified so far, in alphabetical order. There are some pretty serious college towns on this list:
- Athens, OH
- Ames, IA
- Asheville, NC
- Auburn, AL
- Chapel Hill, NC
- Charlottesville, VA
- Clemson, SC
- College Park, MD
- Corvallis, OR
- East Lansing, MI
- Hanover, NH
- Huntington, WV
- Ithaca, NY
- Laramie, WY
- Manhattan, KS
- Morgantown, WV
- Moscow, ID
- Pleasant, MI
- New Brunswick–Piscataway, NJ
- Oxford, MS
- Oxford, OH
- Princeton, NJ
- Pullman, WA
- Stanford, CA
- Starkville, MS
- State College, PA (or University Park, PA)
- Stillwater, OK
- Storrs, CT
- West Lafayette, IN
- Williamsburg, VA
Every list will have it's flaws, and we can always debate how a study is run. The point is not to bash the study itself. I simply thought it worth pointing out that the input data is going to have a major impact on the output. So, for a study of top college towns in the 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, this is a good list. If one were trying to find a list of cities to do a mailing or other outreach to connect with college students, it might not be so hot. Or if one were thinking about retiring to a college town, a good number of top options would not be on this list.
The takeaway, in law, in business, and in life, your output is only as good as the data you put in. If the output doesn't seem quite right, go back and check in the inputs. Sometimes, you'll find the data just showed something unexpected. Other times, that data that was input might not have been complete or accurate enough to give good answers.
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Earlier this month, the DC Circuit denied a petition for rehearing on the conflict minerals disclosure, meaning the SEC needs to appeal to the Supreme Court or the case goes back to the District Court for further proceedings. At issue is whether the Dodd-Frank requirement that issuers who source minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo label their products as “DRC-conflict free” (or not) violates the First Amendment. I have argued in various blog posts and an amicus brief that this corporate governance disclosure is problematic for other reasons, including the fact that it won’t work and that the requirement would hurt the miners that it’s meant to protect. Congress, thankfully, recently held hearings on the law.
I’ve written more extensively on conflict minerals and the failure of disclosures in general in two recent publications. The first is my chapter entitled, Living in a material world – from naming and shaming to knowing and showing: will new disclosure regimes finally drive corporate accountability for human rights? in a new book that we launched two weeks ago at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva. You’ll have to buy the book The Business and Human Rights Landscape: Moving Forward and Looking Back to read it.
My article, Disclosing Disclosure’s Defects: Addressing Corporate Irresponsibility for Human Rights Impacts, will be published shortly by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review and is available for on SSRN. The abstract is below:
Although many people believe that the role of business is to maximize shareholder value, corporate executives and board members can no longer ignore their companies’ human rights impacts on other stakeholders. Over the past four years, the role and responsibility of non-state actors such as multinationals has come under increased scrutiny. In 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the “UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” which outline the State duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and both the State and corporations’ duties to provide remedies to parties. The Guiding Principles do not bind corporations, but dozens of countries, including the United States, are now working on National Action Plans to comply with their own duties, which include drafting regulations and incentives for companies. In 2014, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution to begin the process of developing a binding treaty on business and human rights. Separately, in an effort to address information asymmetries, lawmakers in the United States, Canada, Europe, and California have passed human rights disclosure legislation. Finally, dozens of stock exchanges have imposed either mandatory or voluntary non-financial disclosure requirements, in sync with the UN Principles.
Despite various forms of disclosure mandates, these efforts do not work. The conflict lies within the flawed premise that, armed with specific information addressing human rights, consumers and investors will either reward “ethical” corporate behavior, or punish firms with poor human rights records. However, evidence shows that disclosures generally fail to change behavior because: (1) there are too many of them; (2) stakeholders suffer from disclosure overload; and (3) not enough consumers or investors penalize companies by boycotting products or divesting. In this Article, I examine corporate social contract theory, normative business ethics, and the failure of stakeholders to utilize disclosures to punish those firms that breach the social contract. I propose that both stakeholders and companies view corporate actions through an ethical lens, and offer an eight-factor test to provide guidance using current disclosures or stakeholder-specific inquiries. I conclude that disclosure for the sake of transparency, without more, will not lead to meaningful change regarding human rights impacts.
December 3, 2015 in Comparative Law, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Facebook (not surprisingly) and other social media blew up when Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, released an open letter to their new baby daughter, Max. (Congratulations to all, by the way.) The Chan Zuckerberg family announced that they would be giving a ton of money to support important causes, which caused people to get excited, get skeptical, and get mad.
One big complaint has been that the family chose a limited liability company (LLC), which is not a corporation (more on that later), rather than a not-for-profit entity to do the work. Some say this makes it a scam. I say hooey. Even if it were a scam, it’s not because they chose an LLC.
- First, without knowing the LLCs members or structure, there’s no reason to say the LLC cannot be a 501(c)(3). But, more important, the Letter to Max never says they will give money to charity. Never.
The letter says:
As you begin the next generation of the Chan Zuckerberg family, we also begin the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation. Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.
We will give 99% of our Facebook shares -- currently about $45 billion -- during our lives to advance this mission.
How the Chan Zuckerberg’s choose to advance that mission can easily be through an LLC, whether it is tax-exempt or not. They may have chosen the for-profit (or benefit) LLC as the entity so that they could seek profit in certain ways, with the thought that the profit seeking supports the mission. Or maybe they want to be able to give to for-profit entities to build and grow business in areas that further their mission, but lacks status that would satisfy IRS nonprofit requirements.
Regardless, the choice of LLC may be a good one. I am thinking these folks have good counsel and financial advisors, so the entity choice probably serves their purposes, or at least their best estimate of those future purposes. And I am all for them putting that kind of money behind what seems to me like an excellent mission. So, like them or hate, but back off their choice of entity. (Leave the LLC alone!)
And, since this would not be a post of mine without noting the utter media failure in referring to the LLC, again, it’s a limited liability company, not corporation, as several news outlets have reported. PBS tends to be my favorite news source, which makes it all the more painful that they may be the source of this limited liability corporation nonsense.
The apparent source of the limited liability “corporation” nonsense is the PBS Newshour, link here. I know the U.S. Supreme Court has gotten this wrong, too, but I had hope for better from PBS. Oh well. I'll still be listening to PBS for quality news, and I'll still be happy to hear when someone commits to putting billions of dollars behind good causes. If either one doesn't follow through, I'll be disappointed, but I am not ready to give up hope on either one, just yet.