Thursday, September 18, 2014

Alibaba and the forty (not really) risk factors

Teaching the definition of a "security" to business associations students who: 1) want to be litigators; 2) are afraid of math, finance, and accounting; 3) don't know anything about business; 4) only take the class because it's required; and 5) aren't allowed to distract themselves with electronics in class is no small feat.

Thankfully, as we were discussing the definition and exemptions, we also touched on IPOs. Many of the students knew nothing about IPOs but were already Alibaba customers and going through some of the registration statement made them understand the many reasons companies want to avoid going public. Of course, now that we went through some of the risk factors, my students who seemed gung ho about the IPO after watching some videos about the hype were a little less excited about it (good thing because they probably couldn't buy anyway).  

Now if I can only figure out how to jazz up the corporate finance chapter next week.

 

September 18, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is it time to repeal the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule? Maybe, but not so fast

As I predicted in 2011 here and here, in 2012 here, in 2013 in amicus brief, and countless times on this blog, the SEC Dodd-Frank conflicts minerals law has had significant unintended consequences on the Congolese people and has been difficult to comply with. Apparently the Commerce Department, which has a role to play in determining which mines are controlled by rebels so that US issuers can stay away from them, can't actually figure it out either. In the past few days, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and other experts including seventy individuals and NGOS (some Congolese) who signed a memo, have called this misguided law into question.  In my view, without the "name and shame" aspect of the law, it is basically an extremely expensive, onerous due diligence requirement that only a few large companies can or have the incentive to do well or thoroughly. More important, and I as I expected, it has had little impact on the violence on the ground and has hurt the people it purported to help.

I had hoped to be wrong. The foundation that I work with helps medical practitioners, midwives, and traditional birth attendants in eastern Congo and many of their patients and neighbors are members of the artisanal mining community. I won’t go as far as Steve Bainbridge has in calling for the law’s repeal because I think that companies should do better due diligence of their supply chains, especially in conflict zones. This law, however, is not the right one for Congo and the SEC is not the right agency to address this human rights crisis. Frankly, I don’t know that the EU's voluntary certification is the right answer either. I hope that Canada, which is looking at a similar rule, pays close heed and doesn’t perpetuate the same mistake that the US Congress made and that the SEC exacerbated. In the meantime, I will stay tuned to see how and if the courts, Congress, and the SEC revisit the rule.

 

September 11, 2014 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What do shareholders value? ISS asks but the US Chamber questions the questions.

Behemoth proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services has released its 2015 Policy Survey.  I have listed some of the questions below:

Which of the following statements best reflects your organization's view about the relationship between goal­setting and award values?

 Is there a threshold at which you consider that the magnitude of a CEO’scompensation should warrant concern even if the company’s absolute and relative performance have been positive, for example, outperforming the peer group?

With respect to evaluating the say­ on ­pay advisory vote, how does your organization view disclosed positive changes to the pay program that will be implemented in the succeeding year(s) when a company demonstrates pay­ for ­performance misalignment or other concerns based on the year in review?

If you chose either the first or second answer in the question above, should shareholders expect disclosure of specific details of such future positive changes (e.g., metrics, performance goals, award values, effective dates) in order for the changes to be considered as a potential mitigator for pay ­for ­performance or other concerns for the year in review?

Where a board adopts without shareholder approval a material bylaw amendment that diminishes shareholders' rights, what approach should be used when evaluating board accountability?

Should directors be held accountable if shareholder ­unfriendly provisions were adopted prior to the company’s IPO?

In general, how does your organization consider gender diversity when evaluating boards?

As a general matter, what weight (relative out of 100%) would you view as appropriate for each of the categories indicated below (notwithstanding that some factors, such as repricing without shareholder approval, may be 100% unacceptable)?

How significant are the following factors when evaluating the board's role in risk oversight in your voting decision on directors (very significant, somewhat significant, not significant)?

In making informed voting decisions on the ratification of the outside auditor and the reelection of members of audit committees, how important (very important/somewhat important/not important) would the following disclosures be to you?

In your view, when is it appropriate for a company to utilize quantitative E&S (environmental and social) performance goals?

As someone who studies and consults on corporate governance issues, I look forward to seeing the results of this survey. However, the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Market Competitiveness, which has argued that ISS and other proxy advisory firms have conflicts of interest and lack transparency, has issued a response to ISS because:

The CCMC is concerned that the development of the Survey lacks a foundation based on empirical facts and creates a one-size-fits-all system that failure to take into account the different unique needs of companies and their investors. We believe that these flaws with the Survey can adversely affect advisory recommendations negatively impacting the decision making process for the clients of proxy advisory firms. The CCMC is also troubled that certain issues presented in the Survey, such as Pay for Performance, will be the subject of Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) rulemakings in the near future. While we have provided commentary to those portions of the Survey, we believe that their inclusion in the survey is premature pending the completion of those rulemakings….It is both surprising and very troublesome that the Survey does not contain a single reference to the paramount concern of investors and portfolio managers—public company efforts to maintain and enhance shareholder value—and seeks to elicit only abstract philosophies and opinions, completely eschewing any pretense of an interest in obtaining hard facts and empirically-significant data. This confirmation—that ISS’ policies and recommendations are based solely on a miniscule sampling of philosophical preferences, rather than empirical data—is itself a matter that requires, but does not yet receive, appropriate disclosure and disclaimers on ISS research reports.

The CCMC’s letter details concerns with each of ISS’ questions.  Both the complete survey and the CCMC response are worth a read. 

September 4, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Is the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Law Working?

Two news articles about the Dodd-Frank whistleblower law caught my eye this week. The first was an Op-Ed in the New York Times, in which Joe Nocera profiled a Mass Mutual whistleblower, who received a $400,000 reward—the upper level of the 10-30% of financial recoveries to which Dodd-Frank whistleblowers are entitled.

Regular readers of this blog may know that I met with the SEC, regulators and testified before Congress before the law went into effect about what I thought might be unintended effects on compliance programs. I have blogged about my thoughts on the law here and here

The Mass Mutual whistleblower, Bill Lloyd, complained internally and repeatedly to no avail. Like most whistleblowers, he went external because he felt that no one at his company took his reports seriously. He didn’t go to the SEC for the money. As I testified, people like him who try to do the right thing and try resolve issues within the company (if possible) deserve a reward if their claims have merit.

The second story had a different ending. The Wall Street Journal reported on the Second Circuit opinion supporting Siemens’ claim that Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation protection did not extend to its foreign whistleblowing employees. In that case, everything-- the alleged wrongful conduct, the internal reporting, and the termination--happened abroad. The employee did disclose to the SEC, but only after he was terminated, and therefore his retaliation claim relates to his internal reports. The court's reasoning  about the lack of extraterritorial jurisdiction was sound, but this ruling may be a victory for multinationals that may unintentionally undermine the efforts to bring certain claims to internal compliance officers. 

I proudly serve as a “management representative” on the Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee with union members, outside counsel, corporate representatives, and academics. Although Dodd-Frank is not in our purview, two dozen other laws, including Sarbanes-Oxley are, and we regularly hear from other agencies including the SEC. I will be thinking of these two news articles at our next meeting in September.

I will also explore these issues and others as the moderator of the ABA 8th Annual Section of Labor and Employment Law Conference, which will be held in Los Angeles, November 5-8, 2014. Panelists include Sean McKessey, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, Mike Delikat of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and Jordan A. Thomas of Labaton Sucharow LLP.

The program is as follows: 

 Program Title: Whistleblower Rewards:  Trends and Emerging Issues in Qui Tam Actions and IRS, SEC & CFTC Whistleblower Rewards Claims

Description:     This session will explore the types of claims that qualify for rewards under the False Claims Act and the rewards programs administered by the Securities & Exchange Commission, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and Internal Revenue Service, the quantity and quality of evidence needed by the DOJ, IRS, SEC, and CFTC to investigate a case successfully, and current trends in the investigation and prosecution of whistleblower disclosures. The panel also will address, from the viewpoint of in-house counsel, the interplay between these reward claims and corporate compliance and reporting obligations.

If you can think of questions or issues I should raise at either the DOL meeting in DC next month or with our panelists in November, please email me at mnarine@stu.edu or leave your comments below.

August 21, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

SEC Investigates Alternative Mutual Funds

Alternative mutual funds, with assets under management reported from $300-500 billion, mimic riskier investment strategies employed by hedge funds such as investing in commodities, private debt, shorting assets and complex derivatives.  The trading strategies, as you can guess, are funded through higher fees charged to investors.  The funds are touted as a new way for mainstream investors to diversify their assets.  Forbes ran a great, short piece back in February describing the investment advantages and disadvantages of alternative mutual funds.

These alternative mutual funds are now in the cross hairs of the SEC and FINRA, the self-regulatory branch of the securities industries.  FINRA issued an Investor Alert on "alt" funds in June, available here.  The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the SEC will conduct a limited scope (15-20 funds) national sweep to identify fund oversight, ready assets, and disclosure of investment strategies.  Included in the funds sweep are large investment firms such as BlackRock and AQR Capital Management, as well smaller firms that are new market entrants.

For additional information on Alternative Funds, see the 2013 report issues by SEI, available here, compiling available data on these funds.

-Anne Tucker

August 13, 2014 in Anne Tucker, Financial Markets, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Kinder Morgan: MLPs, C-Corps & Dividends, Oh My!

Kinder Morgan, a leading U.S. energy company, has proposed consolidating its Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) under its parent company. If it happens, it would be the second largest energy merger in history (the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1998, estimated to be $110.1 billion in 2014 dollars, is still the top dog). 

Motley Fool details the deal this way:

Terms of the deal
The $71 billion deal is composed of $40 billion in Kinder Morgan Inc shares, $4 billion in cash, $27 billion in assumed debt. 

Existing shareholders of Kinder Morgan's MLPs will receive the following premiums for their units (based on friday's closing price):

  • Kinder Morgan Energy Partners: 12%
  • Kinder Morgan Management: 16.5%
  • El Paso Pipeline Partners: 15.4%
Existing unit holders of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and El Paso Pipeline Partners are allowed to choose to receive payment in both cash and Kinder Morgan Inc shares or all cash. 
As I understand it, the exiting holders of the partnerships would have to pay taxes on the merger (this is partnership to a C-corp), but please, consult your tax professional.  
 
The goal here is said to be to increase dividend potential and use the C-corp structure to maximize opportunities that the MLP structure is now apparently less effective in generating.
 
I, for one, like that this company is seeking to generate income from real products, invest in new infrastructure, and pay dividends.  I'm no financial planner or investment consultant, but I like the idea of companies that offer dividend value rather than value to shareholders solely through increase share price. It seems to me it leads to better long term planning.  I am also intrgigued by the part of Richard Kinder story where he ended up not leading Enron.  As Forbes explained in 2012,
The most important man in the American Energy Boom wears brown slacks and a checkered shirt and sits in a modest corner office with unexceptional views of downtown Houston and some forgettable art on the wall. You would expect to at least see a big map showing pipelines stretching from coast to coast. Nope. “We don’t have sports tickets, we don’t have corporate jets,” growls Richard Kinder, 68, CEO of Kinder Morgan, America’s third-largest energy firm. “We don’t have stadiums named after us.”
I will be watching to see if this deal goes through, and I think the chance to have a big study in consolidating partnerships with a C-Corp could be a great teaching moment. Stay tuned! 
 
 

August 12, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Merger & Acquisitions, Partnership, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Does the US Chamber of Commerce Have the Cure for Investor “Information Overload?”

On June 5, 2014, SEC Commissioner Dan Gallagher commemorated the agency’s 80th anniversary by, among other things, repeating the criticisms of the various nonfinancial disclosures that companies are compelled to make by law or asked to make through shareholder proposals. In his view, “companies’ disclosure documents are being cluttered with non-material information that can drown out or obscure the information that is at the core of a reasonable investor’s investment decision.  The Commission is not spending nearly enough time making sure that our rules elicit focused, meaningful disclosures of material information.” I assume that he is referring to the various environmental, social and governance proposals (“ESG”) brought by socially responsible investors and others. I’m writing this blog post while taking a break from reviewing dozens of these proposals for an article that I am writing on how consumers and investors evaluate ESG disclosures and those required in other countries in the human rights context.

Citing Chair White’s quote about “information overload,” last week the US Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness released a list of relatively non-controversial recommendations on how the SEC can modernize the current disclosure regime so that it can better serve the investing public. For a great discussion of what led to this latest round of disclosure reform see here. Some of the recommendations concern items that technology can handle. Others concern repetition and relate to factors that the SEC does not require but are there to avoid litigation. The report, entitled “Corporate Disclosure Effectiveness: Ensuring a Balanced System that Informs and Protects Investors and Facilitates Capital Formation,” focuses on near-term improvements to Regulation S-K that the Chamber believes would likely garner widespread support. The report also discusses longer-term proposals, but does not discuss in any detail the kinds of issues that Chair Gallagher and others raise. You can also watch an entire webcast of the panel discussion releasing the report featuring, among others, two former SEC Commissioners, current SEC Director of the Division of Corporate Finance Keith Higgins, and issuers counsel, including my former colleague from Ryder, Flora Perez, here (start at minute 19:45).  

Full disclosure-- I was part of the working group that reviewed some of the recommendations and gave comments before the report’s release, and while I also oppose the conflict minerals disclosure because I don’t think it should be within the SEC’s purview and didn’t take into account some of the realities of the modern supply chain, I don’t have a complete aversion to corporate disclosure of ESG or other risk factors to investors and the public. The who, what, why, how, where and when are the key questions.

Below is a list of all of the recommendations for reform taken directly from the Chamber’s one-pager:  

Near Term Improvements:

 The requirement to disclose in a company’s Form 10-K the “general development” of a business, including the nature and results of any bankruptcy, acquisition, or other significant development in the lifecycle of a business (Item 101(a)(1) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose financial information for different geographic areas in which a company operates (Item 101(d) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose whether investors can obtain a hard copy of a company’s filings free of charge or view them in the SEC’s Public Reference Room (Items 101(e)(2) and (e)(4) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to describe principal plants, mines, and other materially important physical properties (Item 102 of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement that companies discuss material legal proceedings (Item 103 of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose which public market a company’s shares are traded on and the high and low share prices for the preceding two years (Items 201(a)(1)(i), (ii), (iii), and (iv) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose the frequency and amount of dividends for a company’s stock during the preceding two years (Item 201(c) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to display a graph showing the company’s stock performance over a period of time (Item 201(e) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose any changes in and disagreements with accountants (Item 304 of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose certain transactions with related parties (Item 404(a) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose the ratio between earnings and fixed charges (Item 503(d) of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to file certain exhibits (Item 601 of Regulation S-K)

 The requirement to disclose recent sales of unregistered securities and a description of the use of proceeds from registered sales (Item 701 of Regulation S-K)

Longer Term Improvements:

 Compensation Discussion & Analysis (CD&A)

 Management’s Discussion and Analysis (MD&A)

 Repetition

 Risk Disclosure

 A Revised Delivery System

Take a look at the list, read the report which describes the Chamber's rationale, and if you have time watch the webcast, which provides some real-world context. What’s missing from the list? What shouldn’t be on the list? Have you seen anything in your practice or teaching that could inform the debate? I look forward to seeing your feedback on this site or via email at mnarine@stu.edu

.

 

August 7, 2014 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Inversion Avoided: Walgreens/Boots Merger Announced Today, Staying in US

Last week on this blog, I wrote about the revived trend of corporate inversions where, through a merger transaction a US company re-domiciles outside of the US for business reasons, including the desire to avoid paying US corporate taxes.  Walgreens was rumored to be negotiating with Alliance Boots, a UK company in which the US drugstore chain already held 45%.  The merger announcement today, in a deal valued at $5.27 billion for the other 55% of Alliance Boots will keep the merged company's headquarters in Chicago.   Citing, in part to public reaction and the drug store's brand here in the US, "The company concluded it was not in the best long-term interest of our shareholders to attempt to re-domicile outside the U.S."

The full article in the DealBook is available here.

-Anne Tucker

August 6, 2014 in Anne Tucker, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Merger & Acquisitions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Crowdfunding: Are Crowds Wise or Idiots?

The new crowdfunding exemption in section 4(a)(6) of the Securities Act will, once the SEC adopts the rules required to implement it, allow ordinary investors to invest in unregistered securities offerings. Will those unsophisticated investors go down in flames or will they be able to make rational investment choices?

Some proponents of crowdfunding argue that crowdfunding benefits from the so-called “wisdom of the crowd": that the collective, consensus choice that results from crowdfunding is better than what any individual could do alone, and often as good as expert choices. A recent study seems to support that view.

Two business professors—Ethan R. Mollick at the Wharton School and Ramana Nanda at Harvard—looked at crowdfunding campaigns for theater projects. They submitted those projects to people with expertise in evaluating theater funding applications and compared the expert evaluations to the actual crowdfunding results.

Mollick and Nanda found a strong positive correlation between the projects funded by the crowd and those rated highly by the experts. In other words, crowds were more likely to fund the campaigns the experts preferred. In addition, projects funded by the crowd that were not rated highly by the experts did just as well as the projects chosen by the experts.

Of course, theater projects aren’t the same as securities, but this study should certainly be of interest to those following the securities crowdfunding debate. The full study (44 pages) is available here. If you don’t have time to read the full study, a summary is available here.

July 28, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Corporate Finance, Entrepreneurship, Financial Markets, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dodd-Frank Grows Up- Or Does It?

As many have celebrated or decried, Dodd-Frank turned four-years old this week. This is the law that Professor Stephen Bainbridge labeled "quack federal corporate governance round II" (round I was Sarbanes-Oxley, as labeled by Professor Roberta Romano). Some, like Professor Bainbridge, think the law has gone too far and has not only failed to meet its objectives but has actually caused more harm than good (see here, for example).  Some think that the law has not gone far enough, or that the law as drafted will not prevent the next financial crisis (see here, for example). The Council on Foreign Relations discusses the law in an accessible manner with some good links here.

SEC Chair Mary Jo White has divided Dodd-Frank’s ninety-five mandates into eight categories. She released a statement last week touting the Volcker Rule, the new regulatory framework for municipal advisors, additional controls on broker-dealers that hold customer assets, reduced reliance on credit ratings, new rules for unregulated derivatives, additional executive compensation disclosures, and mechanisms to bar bad actors from securities offerings. 

Notwithstanding all of these accomplishments, only a little over half of the law is actually in place. In fact, according to the monthly David Polk Dodd-Frank Progress Report:

As of July 18, 2014, a total of 280 Dodd-Frank rulemaking requirement deadlines have passed. Of these 280 passed deadlines, 127 (45.4%) have been missed and 153 (54.6%) have been met with finalized rules. In addition, 208 (52.3%) of the 398 total required rulemakings have been finalized, while 96 (24.1%) rulemaking requirements have not yet been proposed.

Many who were involved with the law’s passage or addressing the financial crisis bemoan the slow progress. The House Financial Services Committee wrote a 97-page report to call it a failure. So I have a few questions.

1) When Dodd-Frank turns five next year, how far behind will we still be, and will we have suffered another financial blip/setback/recession/crisis that supporters say could have been prevented by Dodd-Frank?

2) How will the results of the mid-term elections affect the funding of the agencies charged with implementing the law?

3) What will the SEC do to address the Dodd-Frank rules that have already been invalidated or rendered otherwise less effective after litigation from business groups such as §1502, Conflict Minerals Rule (see here for SEC response) or §1504, the Resource Extraction Rule (see here for court decision)?

4) Given the SEC's failure to appeal after the proxy access litigation and the success of the lawsuits mentioned above, will other Dodd-Frank mandates be vulnerable to legal challenge?

5) Will the whistleblower provision that provides 10-30% of any recovery over $1 million to qualified persons prevent the next Bernie Madoff scandal? I met with the SEC, members of Congress and testified about some of my concerns about that provision before entering academia, and I hope to be proved wrong. 

Let's wait and see. I look forward to seeing how much Dodd-Frank has grown up this time next year.

July 24, 2014 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Business Future: WVU Energy Law Fellowship/LLM Opportunity

The WVU College of Law's Center for Energy and Sustainable Development is seeking a fellow for 2014-16, and the details are below.  As I  have written before, the Future of Business is the Future of Energy. Just today, the New York Times Dealbook has an article, Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund Ramps Up Investment Plans, which notes: 

Norway’s giant sovereign wealth fund said on Tuesday that it would manage its $884 billion portfolio more aggressively over the next three years, taking larger stakes in companies and increasing its real estate portfolio.

. . . .

The fund’s investments have grown increasingly sophisticated under Yngve Slyngstad, the chief executive of Norges Bank Investment Management, who came to the fund in 1998 to build an equity portfolio and became C.E.O. in 2008. Since the end of 2007, equities have increased as a percentage of the portfolio to about 61 percent from 42 percent.

Mr. Slyngstad has also diversified the holdings into smaller companies and into emerging markets, but the stock investments remain concentrated in Europe and North America. The fund’s largest equity holdings are all companies based in Europe, including Nestlé, NovartisHSBC Holdings, the Vodafone Groupand Royal Dutch Shell.

The fund has been under pressure from environmental groups and some political parties in Norway to shed investments in oil and natural gas and coal companies and to increase its green investments. The government has so far largely resisted. It created a panel of experts this year to study the issue.

Understanding the interplay between energy, finance, and the environment is becoming more and more critical to businesses (and their lawyers).  Please share this opportunity with anyone you know who might have an interest in exploring this area. 

FELLOWSHIP IN 
ENERGY AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT LAW
FOR 2014-16

Accepting Applications Until June 30, 2014

West Virginia University College of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development is now accepting applications for a Fellowship in Energy and Sustainable Development. The fellowship combines the opportunity to work with attorneys, faculty and students at the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development with the opportunity to obtain the WVU Law LL.M. degree in Energy and Sustainable Development Law. The LL.M. program provides a uniquely deep and balanced curriculum in perhaps the nation’s richest natural resource region. The fellowship position involves policy and legal research and writing, and assisting with organizing projects such as conferences and workshops.

The Center for Energy and Sustainable Development

The Center is an energy and environmental public policy and research organization at the WVU College of Law. The Center conducts objective, unbiased research and policy analyses, and focuses on promoting practices that will balance the continuing demand for energy resources—and the associated economic benefits—alongside the need to reduce the environmental impacts of developing the earth’s natural resources. One mission of the Center is to train the next generation of energy and environmental attorneys. The Center benefits from being located on the campus of a major research institution, with expanded opportunities for inter-disciplinary research and an integral role for the Center in providing the policy, legal and regulatory analyses to support the technical research being conducted across the WVU campus.

LL.M. in Energy and Sustainable Development Law

The WVU College of Law LL.M. in Energy and Sustainable Development Law is the only LL.M. program in the United States that provides a balanced curriculum in both energy law and the law of sustainable development. Working with WVUCollege of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, LL.M. students will develop the expertise to advise clients and provide leadership on matters covering the full range of energy, environmental and sustainable development law. The LL.M. in Energy and Sustainable Development Law provides a broad and deep offering of courses, experiential learning opportunities, and practical training for every part of the energy sector. Our broad spectrum of courses allows our students to prepare to be lawyers serving energy companies, investors, environmental organizations, landowners, utilities, manufacturing companies, lawmakers, policymakers, regulators and land use professionals.

Energy and Sustainable Development Law Fellow

This fellowship is a part-time (at least twenty hours per week), two-year position from August 2014 through July 2016. The Fellow will receive an annual stipend of $20,000 and tuition remission for the LL.M. program. The Fellow would take 6-7 credits per semester allowing time for part-time work at the Center. The Fellow will further the work of the Center by pursuing research on issues relating to energy and sustainable development law and policy, under the direction of the Center’s Director and the WVU Law faculty associated with the Center. The Fellow will be expected to generate policy-oriented written work to be published through the Center and other venues such as law journals. The Fellow will also assist with projects relating to the Center’s programs, including organizing conferences and other events, and public education and outreach efforts. Efforts will be made to match project assignments with the Fellow’s interest.

Fellowship Qualifications

Candidates should possess a J.D.; a strong academic record; excellent analytical and writing skills; a demonstrated interest and background in energy, sustainability or environmental law and policy; and admission to the LL.M. program at West Virginia University College of Law (application for LL.M. admission can occur concurrently with the fellowship application).

Applicants should apply to Samatha.Stefanov@mail.wvu.edu. Please submit a letter discussing qualifications and interests, a resume, a law school transcript, a recent writing sample and contact information for three references.

We are now accepting applications. The application deadline is June 30, 2014(concurrent with the deadline for admission to the LL.M. program) or until the post is filled.

Visit our website at http://energy.law.wvu.edu/ for more information about our programs.

West Virginia University College of Law is an equal opportunity employer and has a special interest in enriching its intellectual environment through further diversifying the range of perspectives represented by its faculty and teaching staff.

June 24, 2014 in Financial Markets, Jobs, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Is a new SEC disclosure on the way?

Regular readers of this blog have seen several posts discussing the materiality of various SEC disclosures. See here and here for recent examples. I have been vocal about my objection to the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule, which requires US issuers to disclose their use of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold deriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding nations, and describe the measures taken to conduct audits and due diligence of their supply chains. See this post and this law review article.

Last year SEC Chair Mary Jo White indicated that she has concerns about the amount and types of disclosures that companies put forth and whether or not they truly assist investors in making informed decisions.  In fact, the agency is undergoing a review of corporate disclosures and has recently announced that rather than focusing on disclosure “overload” the agency wants to look at “effectiveness,” duplication, and “holes in the regulatory regime where additional disclosure may be good for investors.”

I’m glad that the SEC is looking at these issues and I urge lawmakers to consider this SEC focus when drafting additional disclosure regulation. One possible test case is the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2014 (H.R. 4842) by Representative Carolyn Maloney, which would require companies with over $100 million in gross revenues to publicly disclose the measures they take to prevent human trafficking, slavery and child labor in their supply chains as part of their annual reports.

The sentiment behind Representative Maloney’s bill is similar to what drove the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule (without the extensive audit requirements) and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (CTSA). In her announcement she stated,  

“Every day, Americans purchase products tainted by forced labor and this bill is a first step to end these inhumane practices. By requiring companies with more than $100 million in worldwide receipts to be transparent about their supply chain policies, American consumers can learn what is being done to stop horrific and illegal labor practices. This bill doesn’t tell companies what to do, it simply asks them to tell us what steps they are already taking. This transparency will empower consumers with more information that could impact their purchasing decisions.”

While the Conflict Minerals and CTSA are “name and shame” laws, which aim to change corporate behavior through disclosure, the proposed federal bill has a twist. It requires the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of State and other appropriate Federal and international agencies, independent labor evaluators, and human rights groups, to develop an annual list of the top 100 companies complying with supply chain labor standards.

I don’t have an issue with the basic premise of the proposed federal law because human trafficking is such a serious problem that the American Bar Association, the Department of Labor, and others have developed resources for corporations to tackle the problem within their supply chains. A number of states have also enacted laws, and in fact Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott, hardly the poster child for liberals, announced his own legislation this week (although it focuses on relief for victims).

Further, to the extent that companies are using the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to develop due diligence processes for their supply chains, this disclosure should not be difficult. In fact, the proposed bill specifically mentions the Guiding Principles. I don’t know how expensive the law will be to comply with, and I’m sure that there will be lobbying and tweaks if the bill gets out of the House. But If Congress wants to add this to the list of required corporate disclosures, legislators should monitor the SEC disclosure review carefully so that if the human trafficking bill passes, the agency’s implementing regulations appropriately convey legislative intent. 

I know that corporations  are interested in this issue because I spoke to a reporter yesterday who was prompted by recent articles and news reports to write about what boards should know about human trafficking in supply chains. As I told the reporter, although I applaud the initiatives I remain skeptical about whether these kinds of environmental, social and governance disclosures really affect consumer behavior and whether these are the best ways to protect the intended constituencies. That’s what I will be writing about this summer. 

 

June 19, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Voters Want (To Talk About) More Wall Street Regulations

A new poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, suggests that the desire for new Wall Street regulations has not been maximized by candidates for political office.  Here are some of the poll's key findings.  The release about the poll states:

A strong, bipartisan majority of likely 2014 voters support stricter federal regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business. Voters want accountability and do not want Wall Street pretending to police themselves: they want real cops back on the Wall Street beat enforcing the law.

As evidence, the release notes that David Brat's upset win over Eric Cantor in the Virginia 7th District Republican primary, may have been related to Brat's attack on Wall Street, sharing Brat's words from a radio interview: "The crooks up on Wall Street and some of the big banks — I'm pro-business, I'm just talking about the crooks — they didn't go to jail, they are on Eric's Rolodex."

The poll found that voters consider Wall Street and the large banks as "bad actors," with 64% saying,  “the stock market is rigged for insiders and people who know how to manipulate the system.”  Another 60% want “stricter regulation on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business.” Finally, 

Voters believe another crash is likely and that regulation can help prevent another disaster. An 83 percent majority of voters believe another crash is likely within the next 10 years, and 43 percent very likely. Another 55 percent, however, agree “Stronger rules on Wall Street and big financial institutions by the federal government will help prevent another financial collapse.”

I don't doubt that voters believe this, but I also don't think this poll data will lead to much (if any) significant change.  I concede the poll shows that the issue resonates with voters, but I think Brat's quote shows where the wiggle room is (and perhaps how other astute Republicans, particularly, may use the issue in their races).   That is, I think the majority of Americans are "pro-business" and anti-crooks. That's not news. When it comes time to vote on new regulation, though, I expected Mr. Brat (should he win the election) would find that the proposals before him would only "hurt business" and "not punish crooks."  

I could be wrong, of course, but I doubt it.  Like "energy independence" and "good schools," I think this poll shows us another one of those issues where voters care more about hearing that the system needs to be fixed rather than an issue where voters will be keeping score to see if progress is made.  

June 17, 2014 in Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Joshua P. Fershee, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2014

What Does Publicness Mean To You? What Should It Mean?

I have been working on a draft article for the University of Cincinnati Law Review based on a presentation that I gave this spring at the annual Corporate Law Symposium.  This year's topic was "Crowdfunding Regulations and Their Implications."  My draft article addresses the public-private divide in the context of the Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and Unethical Non-Disclosure Act--more commonly known as the CROWDFUND Act.  I am using two pieces coauthored by Don Langevoort and Bob Thompson (here and here), as well as three works written by Hillary Sale (here, here, and here) to engage my analysis.

I also will be participating in a discussion group at the Southeastern Association of Law Schools annual conference in August on the publicness theme.  That session is entitled "Does The Public/Private Divide In Federal Securities Regulation Make Sense?" and is scheduled for 3:00 pm on Augut 6th, for those attending the conference.  Michael Guttentag was good enough to recruit the group for this discussion.

All this work on publicness has my head spinning!  There are a number of unique conceptions of pubicness, some overlapping or otherwise interconnected, with different conceptions being useful in different circumstances.  I am attracted to a number of observations in both the Langevoort/Thompson and Sale bodies of work, but there's clearly a lot more to think about from the standpoint of both scholarship and teaching.

So, today I ask:  What does publicness mean to you?  Does there continue to be salient meaning in the distinction between piublic and private (offerings, companies, etc.)?  If so, what should publicness mean in these contexts?  I am curious to see what others think.

June 16, 2014 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Financial Markets, Joan Heminway, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Corporate Impact Venturing: Using Investments to Enable Sustainable Value Creation

The following comes to us from Maximilian Martin, Ph.D., the founder and global managing director of Impact Economy, an impact investment and strategy firm based in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the author of the report “Driving Innovation through Corporate Impact Venturing.”

In 2010, despite the then-recent economic downturn, an overwhelming majority of corporate CEOs in the UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability—93 percent—responded that sustainability will be critical to the future success of their companies. What’s more, they believed that a tipping point could be reached that fully meshes sustainability with core business within a decade, fundamentally transforming core business capabilities, processes, and systems throughout global supply chains and subsidiaries. Three years later, a new 2013 edition of the study argued that many corporate CEOs have found themselves stuck on the ascent towards sustainability.

Radical change in market structures and systems is needed, and a bolder path for industry transformation needs to be charted, at a time when the logic of value creation is changing. The days of traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR)—the bolt-on approach that is compliance driven, costs money, and produces limited reputational benefits—are fast coming to an end, because sustainability is now increasingly driving value creation itself. Assessing joint opportunities for financial and social returns is the way forward.

[CONTINUE AFTER THE BREAK]

Continue reading

June 9, 2014 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Financial Markets, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Law & Society Corporate Law Panels 2014

Tomorrow kicks off the 2014 Law & Society Annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN.  Law & Society is a big tent conference that includes legal scholars of all areas, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, and the list goes on and on.  A group of female corporate law scholars, of which I am a part, organizes several corporate-law panels. The result is that we have a mini- business law conference of our own each year.  Below is a preview of the schedule...please join us for any and all panels listed below.

 

Thursday 5/29

Friday 5/30

Saturday 5/31

8:15-10:00

 

0575 Corp Governance & Locus of Power

U. St. Thomas MSL 458

Participants: Tamara Belinfanti, Jayne Barnard, Megan Shaner, Elizabeth Noweiki, and Christina Sautter

 

10:15-12:00

 

1412 Empirical Examinations of Corporate Law

U. St. Thomas MSL 458

Participants: Elisabeth De Fontenay, Connie Wagner, Lynne Dallas, Diane Dick & Cathy Hwang

 

12:45-2:30

 

1468 Theorizing Corp. Law

U. St. Thomas MSL 458

Participants: Elizabeth Pollman, Sarah Haan, Marcia Narine, Charlotte Garden, and Christyne Vachon

1:00 Business Meeting Board Rm 3

2:45-4:30

Roundtable on SEC Authority

View Abstract 2967

Participants: Christyne Vachon, Elizabeth Pollman, Joan Heminway, Donna Nagy, Hilary Allen

1473 Emerging International Questions in Corp. Law

U. St. Thomas MSL 458

Participants:  Sarah Dadush, Melissa Durkee, Marleen O'Conner, Hilary Allen, and Kish Vinayagamoorthy

1479 Examining Market Actors

U. St. Thomas MSL 321

Participants:  Summer Kim, Anita Krug, Christina Sautter, Dana Brackman, and Anne Tucker

4:45-6:30

 

 

1474 Market Info. & Mandatory Disclosures

U. St. Thomas MSL 321

Participants: Donna Nagy, Joan Heminway, Wendy Couture, and Anne Tucker

 

     

May 28, 2014 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Governance, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Merger & Acquisitions, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Other People's Houses--

I am generating my summer reading list--both business and pleasure. At the top of my list is Other People's Houses, by Jennifer Taub (Vermont Law School), which will be available from Yale Press on May 27th.   The official website for the book describes the project as:

Drawing on wide-ranging experience as a corporate lawyer, investment firm counsel, and scholar of business law and financial market regulation, Taub chronicles how government officials helped bankers inflate the toxic-mortgage-backed housing bubble, then after the bubble burst ignored the plight of millions of homeowners suddenly facing foreclosure.

Focusing new light on the similarities between the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s and the financial crisis in 2008, Taub reveals that in both cases the same reckless banks, operating under different names, received government bailouts, while the same lax regulators overlooked fraud and abuse. Furthermore, in 2013 the situation is essentially unchanged. The author asserts that the 2008 crisis was not just similar to the S&L scandal, it was a severe relapse of the same underlying disease. And despite modest regulatory reforms, the disease remains uncured: top banks remain too big to manage, too big to regulate, and too big to fail.

The following are a few excepts of the book review just posted on Kirkus:

Taub's narrative recounts a couple who "innocently" purchased a Dallas-area condo and were deemed “too small to save.” "Meanwhile, all the decision-makers who, in a dizzying series of transactions, fueled the Nobelman mortgage received government support, and very few suffered negative consequences."  With "5 million homes lost to foreclosure and another 10 million still left underwater," Taub "blisters the 'legal enablers' who, by their acts or omissions, failed to corral predatory practices and wild speculation."  The review concludes that Other People's Houses is "[m]eticulously argued and guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of the average American taxpayer."

That last line is the hook--guaranteed to raise my blood pressure?  Sign me up.  

Leave a comment if you have a book, business or pleasure, that is topping your list.  I would love to start a BLPB summer reading list... 

-Anne Tucker

May 7, 2014 in Anne Tucker, Books, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

ICYMI: Tweets From the Past Week (May 5, 2014)

May 4, 2014 in Business School, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lawrence Mitchell on Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund and the Other Law Professors

[The following post comes to us from Lawrence E. Mitchell, Joseph C. Hostetler - Baker & Hostetler Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.  All formatting errors should be attributed to me, Stefan Padfield.]

The March 5, 2014 oral argument in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc.1 made clear that one of the issues being considered by the Supreme Court is whether to supplant the "market efficiency" analysis currently required at the class certification stage in securities fraud class action cases with a "price impact" analysis instead. Our purpose is not to debate the relative merits of that potential change. Rather, it is to identify a critical point that seemed to get lost in the argument: neither the Justices nor the advocates addressed what a price impact analysis would look like in the context of the most common securities fraud scenario—the making of false statements designed to mask bad news. While some of the briefing before the Court touches on the issue, the authors of a working paper cited by proponents of both sides have supplemented their views with a recent blog post that, while brief, discusses potential approaches to measuring the "price impact" of such fraudulent statements more comprehensively than anything the parties or their amici filed with the Court. The author-bloggers are law professors, but they are not the same law professors whose amicus brief dominated the questioning at the oral argument itself.

"The Law Professors' Brief"

Given the large number of amicus briefs filed in Halliburton—ten for petitioners, twelve for respondent, and one ostensibly in support of neither party—a disproportionally large portion of the oral argument was focused on the brief Professors Adam C. Pritchard of the University of Michigan Law School and M. Todd Henderson of the University of Chicago Law School filed in support of petitioner Halliburton. Their operating premise is that the "efficient capital markets hypothesis is not necessary to the use of the fraud on the market theory—whenever the market incorporates fraudulent information into the price, a 'fraud on the market' has occurred, whether the market is efficient or not."2 They argue in favor of eliminating one of the current requirements that securities fraud class action plaintiffs must establish to invoke the fraud-on-the-market presumption at the class certification stage, namely the requirement that "the market" in which the security at issue trades be shown to be "efficient." Instead, in determining reliance, they support using event studies to examine whether an alleged misrepresentation caused a movement in the price of the stock.

Justice Kennedy posed specific questions about the "position" or "theory" of "the law professors" to counsel for both sides, Justice Scalia asked about the effect of the professors' "Basic writ small" approach on the provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, and Justice Kagan sought from the Solicitor General's Office the government's view "if the law professors' position were adopted."3 More broadly, four of the Justices (Roberts, Kennedy, Breyer, and Alito) asked questions specifically containing the terms "event study" or "event studies."4

The Halliburton Oral Argument Did Not Contemplate The Typical Securities Fraud Case

The vast majority of securities fraud cases do not involve alleged false statements of positive news that might be expected to increase the value of the stock price. Rather, in a typical securities fraud class action, the false statement is one that conceals a development adversely affecting the issuing corporation. Under those circumstances, there is little or no "impact" on the stock at the time the false statement is made; the false statement minimizes or prevents the decline that would otherwise have occurred had investors been given the opportunity to fully consider the negative development and reassess the value of their investments. A measurable "impact" on the stock price in such circumstances would not be seen until a "corrective disclosure" occurs, which could be substantially after the fraudulent statement is made.

However, to the extent the Justices dabbled in hypotheticals from the bench, they contemplated false statements that were accompanied by stock price increases. Justice Alito appeared to suggest that a stock price increase at the time of the misrepresentation is a necessary prerequisite for fraud, although the question could equally be taken as addressing an "inefficient" market where there is a time lag until new information was absorbed. He asked: 

to say that false representation affects the market price is quite different from saying that it affects the market price almost immediately, and it's hard to see how the Basic theory can be sustained unless it does affect the market price almost immediately in what Basic described as an efficient market. Isn't that true? Why should someone who purchased the stock on the day, shortly you know, an hour or two after the disclosure, be entitled to recovery if in that particular market there is some lag time in incorporating the new information?5 

The Other Law Professors

The amicus brief of Professors Pritchard and Henderson makes passing reference in a footnote to the fact that the impact of a misrepresentation may occur when corrective information is disseminated to the market.6 Two other law professors, Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell of Harvard Law School, also touch on the issue in a 2013 working paper, and although their paper was cited by petitioner and in one of respondent's amicus briefs, the citations were in support of other propositions.7 In a post-argument blog entry, Professors Bebchuk and Ferrell expand on their working paper, noting that "[w]hile event studies at the time of misrepresentation are an important tool, it is crucial to emphasize that the tools available for implementing a fraudulent distortion approach are not limited to event studies at the time of misrepresentation. A fraudulent distortion approach should not be generally implemented by conducting an event study at the time of misrepresentation."8 As further explained in their blog post:

there are reasons to expect that event studies at the time of misrepresentation would fail to identify a fraudulent distortion in some cases in which it exists. This would be the case when the misstatement was a so-called confirmatory lie—that is, a misstatement made so as to meet market expectations. In such a case, failure to document a price reaction to it would not be expected even assuming the misstatement had a fraudulent impact. In such a fact situation, the confirmatory lie might prevent a stock price drop that would have occurred had the truth been told.9 

Professors Bebchuk and Ferrell go on to discuss "event studies at the time of corrective disclosure" and "[a]nother potential analytical tool, with a long tradition in the finance and accounting literature [called] forward-casting."10 They conclude that "the determination of fraudulent distortion would not always be best done by conducting an event study at the time of the misrepresentation."11

*    *    *    *

Should the Supreme Court opt to change the rules of the road by adopting a "price impact" approach, the only rule that would make sense is one that recognizes that the impact can occur not only when a false statement is made, but alternatively (and indeed more often) when the truth is revealed. A rule in which the false statement must cause a measurable "impact" on the price of a company's stock at the time the statement is made would not legitimately incorporate the "price impact" approach as a workable test. 

[1] No. 13-317 (S. Ct.).

[2] Brief of Law Professors as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioners at 2 Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., (No. 13-317), 2014 WL 60721 at  *2.  

[3] See Oral Argument at 17:10-18; 29:15-17; 34:11-13; 41:11-13, 48:2-11 Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc. (No. 13-317), available at http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts.aspx.

[4] See id. at 17:10-18, 18:7-12; 20:3-9, 21:3-6; 22:8-9, 24:8-14; 29:15-17; 34:11-13; 45:1-4; 52:22 -53:4.

[5] Id. at 32:1-11 (emphasis added).  See also, id. at 21:19-25 (hypothetical by Justice Breyer in which “everybody . . . bought on the New York Stock Exchange and our theory of this case is that the stock exchange did absorb the information and the price went up and then went down.”) (emphasis added).

[6] See Brief of Law Professors as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioners at 26 n.9 Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., (No. 13-317), 2014 WL 60721 at  *26.

[7] Lucian A. Bebchuk & Allen Ferrell, Rethinking Basic, Discussion Paper No. 764, Harvard Olin Ctr. for Law, Bus. & Econ. (Dec. 2013), revised April, 2014, available at, http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/olin_center/papers/764_Bebchuk.php (cited in Brief of Petitioners at 39, Brief of Securities Law Scholars as Amici Curiae in Support of Respondent at 11, 13.

[8] Lucian Bebchuk and Allen Ferrell, Remarks on the Halliburton Oral Argument (2): Implementing a Fraudulent Distortion Approach, The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation (March 12, 2014, 9:10 AM),  (Emphasis added).  https://blogs.law.harvard.edu/corpgov/2014/03/12/remarks-on-the-halliburton-oral-argument-2-implementing-a-fraudulent-distortion-approach/.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

April 27, 2014 in Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Securities Regulation, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Should the SEC have a conflict about the conflict minerals rule after the DC Circuit decision?

Last week the DC Circuit Court of Appeals generally upheld the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule but found that the law violated the First Amendment to the extent that it requires companies to report to the SEC and state on their websites that their products are not “DRC Conflict Free.” The case was remanded back to the district court on this issue.

As regular readers of the blog know I signed on to an amicus brief opposing the law as written  because of the potential for a boycott on the ground and the impact on the people of Congo, and not necessarily because it’s expensive for business (although I appreciate that argument as a former supply chain professional). I also don’t think it is having a measurable impact on the violence. In fact, because I work with an NGO that works with rape survivors and trains midwives and medical personnel in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, I get travel advisories from the State Department. Coinicidentally, I received one today as I was typing this post warning that “armed groups, bandits, and elements of the Congolese military [emphasis mine] remain security concerns in the eastern DRC….[they] are known to pillage, steal vehicles, kidnap, rape, kill and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians are indiscriminately targeted… Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by poorly disciplined security forces [I was detained by the UN] at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks and border crossings…Requests for bribes [which I experienced] is extremely common and security forces have occasionally injured or killed people who refused to pay.”

None of this surprises me. I commend the efforts of companies to clean up their supply chains and to cut off income sources to rebel groups who control some of the mines or brutally  insert themselves into the mineral trade. But what the State Department advisory makes clear (and what many people already know) is that the problem that the Dodd-Frank law is trying to solve is not something that can be cured through a “name and shame” corporate governance disclosure, especially one that may no longer have the “shame” factor of having companies brand themselves “not DRC Conflict Free.”

Earlier this week, Senator Ed Markey and eleven other members of Congress sent a letter urging SEC Chair Mary Jo White to avoid any delay in implementing the rule. The letter states in part “…the law we passed was simple. Congress said that any company registered in the United States which uses any of a small list of key minerals from the DRC or its neighbors has to disclose in its SEC filing the use of those minerals and what is being done, if anything, to mitigate sourcing from those perpetuating DRC's violence. Such transparency allows consumers and investors to know which companies source materials more responsibly in DRC and serves as a catalyst for industry to finally create clean supply chains out of Congo.”

The "law" may have been “simple,” but the implementation is not for a large number of companies. That’s probably why the EU has proposed a voluntary self-certification scheme focused on importers rather than manufacturers and sellers like Dodd-Frank.  That’s probably why a large number of companies are not ready to comply, according to a recent PwC survey of 700 companies

Chair White, who has made no secret of what she thinks of the SEC’s role in solving human rights crises, still has to reissue Dodd-Frank 1504, the resource extraction rule that was struck down after a court challenge. According to a Davis Polk report, as of April 1, 2014, a total of 280 Dodd-Frank rulemaking requirement deadlines have passed. Of these 280 passed deadlines, 45.7% have been missed and 54.3% have been met with finalized rules. The SEC has a lot of financial rule making to complete and should consider how to prioritize and retool the conflicts minerals rule using the agency's discretion and going beyond the fixes that may be required by future rulings on the First Amendment issue.

I will continue to monitor the future of this law. I am now on my way to a conference for businesspeople, lawyers, academics and students at UConn entitled New Challenges in Risk Management and Compliance. I will discuss regulatory issues related to global human rights and enterprise risk management on a panel with the human rights initiative leader for General Electric and the General Counsel for the Shift Project, who worked with John Ruggie on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. I am excited to meet and learn from them both. The Guiding Principles and earlier iterations of Ruggie’s work greatly influenced both the US and EU conflict mwinerals laws.

Next week I will report back on some of the outcomes from the conference.

April 24, 2014 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)