Saturday, October 13, 2018

Has the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule Really Made a Difference and is Blockchain The Answer?

Last week Dr. Denis Mukwege won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This short video interview describes what I saw when I went to DRC in 2011 to research the newly-enacted Dodd-Frank disclosure rule and to do the legwork for a non-profit that teaches midwives ways to deliver babies safely. For those unfamiliar with the legislation, U.S. issuers must disclose the efforts they have made to track and trace tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold from the DRC and nine surrounding countries. Rebels and warlords control many of the mines by controlling the villages. DRC is one of the poorest nations in the world per capita but has an estimated $25 trillion in mineral reserves (including 65% of the world's cobalt). Armed militia use rape and violence as a weapon of war in part so that they control the mineral wealth. 

The stated purpose of the Dodd-Frank rule was to help end the violence in DRC and to name and shame companies that do not disclose or that cannot certify that their goods are DRC-conflict free (although that labeling portion of the law was struck down on First Amendment grounds). I  wrote a law review article in 2013 and co-filed an amicus brief during the litigation arguing that the law would not help people on the ground. I have also blogged here about legislation to end the rulehere about the EU's version of the rulehere about the differences between the EU and US rule, and half a dozen times since 2013.

I had the honor of meeting Dr. Mukwege in 2011, who at the time did not support the conflict minerals legislation. He has since endorsed such legislation for the EU. During our trip, we met dozens of women who had been raped, often by gangs. On our way to meet midwives and survivors of a massacre, I saw five corpses of villagers lying in the street. They were slain by rebels the night before. I saw children mining gold from a river with armed soldiers only a few feet away.  That trip is the reason that I study, write, and teach about business and human rights. I had only been in academia for three weeks when I went to DRC, and I decided that my understanding of supply chains and corporate governance from my past in-house life could help others develop more practical solutions to intractable problems. I believed then and I believe now that using a corporate governance disclosure to solve a human rights crisis is a flawed and incomplete solution. It depends on the belief that large numbers of consumers will boycott companies that do not do enough for human rights. 

What does the data say about compliance with the rule? The General Accounting Office puts out a mandatory report annually on the legislation and the state of disclosures. According to the 2018 report:

Similar to the prior 2 years, almost all companies required to conduct due diligence, as a result of their country-of-origin inquiries, reported doing so. After conducting due diligence to determine the source and chain of custody of any conflict minerals used, an estimated 37 percent of these companies reported in 2017 that they were able to determine that their conflict minerals came from covered countries or from scrap or recycled sources, compared with 39 and 23 percent in 2016 and 2015, respectively. Four companies in GAO’s sample declared their products “DRC conflict-free,” and of those, three included the required Independent Private Sector Audit report (IPSA), and one did not. In 2017, 16 companies filed an IPSA; 19 did so in 2016. (emphasis added).

But what about the effect on forced labor and rape? The 2017 GAO Report indicated that in 2016, a study in DRC estimated that 32 percent of women and 33 percent of men in these areas had been exposed to some form of sexual and gender-based violence in their lifetime. Notably, just last month, a coalition of Congolese civil society organizations wrote the following to the United Nations seeking a country-wide monitoring system:

... Armed groups and security forces have attacked civilians in many parts of the country...Today, some 4.5 million Congolese are displaced from their homes. More than 100,000 Congolese have fled abroad since January 2018, raising the risk of increased regional instability... Since early this year, violence intensified in various parts of northeastern Congo’s Ituri province, with terrifying incidents of massacres, rapes, and decapitation. Armed groups launched deadly attacks on villages, killing scores of civilians, torching hundreds of homes, and displacing an estimated 350,000 people. Armed groups and security forces in the Kivu provinces also continue to attack civilians. According to the Kivu Security Tracker, assailants, including state security forces, killed more than 580 civilians and abducted at least 940 others in North and South Kivu since January 2018. (emphasis added)

The U.S. government provides $500 million in aid to the DRC and runs an app called Sweat and Toil for people who are interested in avoiding goods produced by exploited labor. As of today, DRC has seven goods produced with exploitative labor: cobalt (used in electric cars and cell phones), copper, diamonds, and, not surprisingly, tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold- the four minerals regulated by Dodd-Frank. The app notes that "for the second year in a row, labor inspectors have failed to conduct any worksite inspections... and [the] government also separated as many as 2,360 children from armed groups...[t]here were numerous reports of ongoing collaboration between members of the [DRC] Armed Forces and non-state armed groups known for recruiting children... The Armed Forces carried out extrajudicial killings of civilians including children, due to their perceived support or affiliation with non-state armed groups. .."

For these reasons, I continue to ask whether the conflict minerals legislation has made a difference in the lives of the people on the ground. The EU, learning from Dodd-Frank's flaws, has passed its own legislation, which goes into effect in 2021.  The EU law applies beyond the Democratic Republic of Congo and defines conflict areas as those in a state of armed conflict, or fragile post-conflict area, areas with weak or nonexistent governance and security such as failed states, and any state with a widespread or systematic violation of international law including human rights abuses. Certain European Union importers will have to identify and address the actual potential risks linked to conflict-affected areas or high-risk areas during the due diligence of their supply chains. 

Notwithstanding the statistics above, many investors, NGOs, and other advocates believe the Dodd-Frank rule makes sense. A coalition of investors with 50 trillion worth of assets under management has pushed to keep the law in place. It's no surprise then that many issuers have said that they would continue the due diligence even if the law were repealed. I doubt that will help people in these countries, but the due diligence does help drive out inefficiencies and optimize supply chains.

Stay tuned for my upcoming article in UT's business law journal, Transactions, where I will discuss how companies and state actors are using blockchain technology for due diligence related to human rights. Blockchain will minimize expenses and time for these disclosure requirements, but it probably won't stop the forced labor, exploitation, rapes, and massacres that continue in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (See here for a Fortune magazine article with a great video discussing how and why companies are exploring blockchain's uses in DRC). The blockchain technology won't be the problem-- it's already being used for tracing conflict diamonds. The problem is using the technology in a state with such lawlessness. This means that blockchain will probably help companies, but not the people the laws are meant to protect. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 13, 2018 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 30, 2018

日本からのご挨拶 - My Japanese Adventure

Hello to all from Tokyo, Japan (Honshu).  I have been in Japan for almost a week to present at and attend the 20th General Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law (IACL), which was held last week in Fukuoka, Japan (Kyushu).  By the time you read this, I will be on my way home.

Fukuoka(Me+Sign)

As it turns out, I was at the Congress with old business law friends Hannah Buxbaum (Indiana Maurer Law), Felix Chang (Cincinnati Law), and Frank Gevurtz (McGeorge Law), as well as erstwhile SEALS buddy Eugene Mazo (Rutgers Law).  I also met super new academic friends from all over the world, including several from the United States.  I attended all of the business law programs after my arrival (I missed the first day due to my travel schedule) and a number of sessions on general comparative and cross-border legal matters.  All of that is too much to write about here, but I will give you a slice.

I spoke on the legal regulation of crowdfunding as the National Rapporteur for the United States.  My written contribution to the project, which I am told will be part of a published volume, is on SSRN here.  The entire project consists of eighteen papers from around the world, each of which responded to the same series of prompts conveyed to us by the General Rapporteur for the project (in our case, Caroline Kleiner from the University of Strasbourg).  The General Rapporteur is charged with consolidating the information and observations from the national reports and synthesizing key take-aways.  I do not envy her job!  The importance of the U.S. law and market to the global phenomenon is well illustrated by this slide from Caroline's summary.

Fukuoka(GlobalCrowdfundingSlide)

The Congress was different from other international crowdfunding events at which I have presented my work.  The diversity of the audience--in terms of the number of countries and legal specialties represented--was significantly greater than in any other international academic forum at which I have presented.  Our panel of National Rapporteurs also was a bit more diverse and different than what I have experienced elsewhere, including panelists hailing from from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Poland, and Singapore (in addition to me).  At international conferences focusing on the microfinance aspects of crowdfunding, participants from India and Africa are more prominent.  I expect to say more about the individual national reports on crowdfunding in later posts, as the need or desire arises.

A few outtakes on other sessions follow.

Continue reading

July 30, 2018 in Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Crowdfunding, Current Affairs, International Business, International Law, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 4, 2018

Does CSR Really Exist in Latin America? Should Corporations be Treated as Persecutors Under Asylum Law? Is Labor an Extractive Industry? Buy This Book and Find Out

In 2015, I and several academics and other experts traveled to Guatemala as part of the Lat-Crit study space. The main goal of the program was to examine the effect of the extractive industries on indigenous peoples and the environment. During our visit, we met with indigenous peoples, government ministers, the chamber of commerce, labor leaders, activists (some who had received multiple death threats), and village elders.

Our labor of love, From Extraction to Emancipation Development Reimagined, edited by Raquel Aldana and Steve Bender, was released this week. My chapter "Corporate Social Responsibility in Latin America: Fact or Fiction" introduces the book. I first blogged about CSR in the region in 2015 in the context of a number of companies that had touted their records but in fact, had been implicated in environmental degradation and even murder. Over the past few years, one of the companies I blogged about, Tahoe Resources, has been sued in Canada for human rights violations, the Norwegian pension fund has divested, and shareholders have filed a class action based on allegations re: the rights of indigenous people.

Although the whole book should be of interest to business law professors and practitioners, chapters of particular interest include a discussion of the environment and financial institutionsthe Central American experience with investor protections under CAFTA, whether corporations should be treated as persecutors under asylum law, climate adaptation and climate justice, the impact of mining on self-determination, environmental impact assessments, and labor as an extractive industry.

Other chapters that don't tie directly to business also deserve mention including my mentor Lauren Gilbert's closing chapter on gender violence, state actions, and power and control in the Northern Triangle, and other chapters on the right to water and sanitation in Central America, community-based biomonitoring, and managing deforestation.

We encourage you to buy the book and to invite the chapter authors to your institutions to present (shameless plug for panels, but we would love to share what we have learned). 

 

May 4, 2018 in Conferences, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Larry Catá Backer: Theorizing Regulatory Governance Within Its Ecology

International law is usually not my thing (only in a few instances), but it's definitely Larry Catá Backer's thing.  He has a new article out that may be of interest. If it's your thing, I recommend checking it out. He knows his stuff. 

"Theorizing regulatory governance within its ecology: the structure of management in an age of globalization,"  
Larry Catá Backer
Contemporary Politics 24(3):-- (2018)

Abstract: This article examines regulatory governance (‘RG’) within its own ecology. It considers RG as an ideology of governance, as its own set of techniques to that end, and as a methodology andpsychology of the relations of regulatory organisms to one another and to their context. The object is first to chart the structures and modalities of this ecology, and second to understand the properties that makes RG both coherent (singularly as the method of regulating a field, as the framework for the use of RG techniques, and as an ideology of governance), and structural (as a means of structuring regulation as an exercise of ordering power. After a brief introduction, the article introduces the regulatory context through a close reading of the operation of global garment supply chains in  Bangladesh, examining RG in action within the ecology of global production. It then theorizes the meta structures of RG within this ecology as a mechanics for governance within institutions, and as an ideology for ordering systems of governance among institutions.
For more on his piece, check out the introduction here.  

March 27, 2018 in International Law, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Teaching Corporate Law Globally - Recommended Text

I am committed to introducing my business law students to business law doctrine and policy both domestically and internationally.  The Business Associations text that I coauthored has comparative legal observations in most chapters.  I have taught Cross-Border Mergers & Acquisitions with a group of colleagues and will soon be publishing a book we have coauthored.  And I taught comparative business law courses for four years in study abroad programs in Brazil and the UK.  

In the study abroad programs, I struggled in finding suitable texts, cobbling together several relatively small paperbacks and adding some web-available materials.  The result was suboptimal.  I yearned for a single suitable text.  In my view, texts for study abroad courses should be paperback and cover all of the basics in the field in a succinct fashion, allowing for easy portability and both healthy discussion to fill gaps and customization, as needed, to suit the instructor's teaching and learning objectives.

And so it was with some excitement--but also some healthy natural skepticism--that I requested a review copy of Corporations: A Comparative Perspective (International Edition), coauthored by my long-time friend Marco Ventoruzzo (Bocconi and Penn State) and five others (all scholars from outside the United States), and published by West Academic Publishing.  I am pleased to say that if/when I teach international and comparative corporate governance and finance (especially in Europe) in the future, I will/would assign this book.  It is a paperback text that, despite its 530 pages, is both reasonably comprehensive and manageable.

The book is divided into ten chapters, starting with basic "building blocks" of comparative corporate law and ending (before some brief final thoughts) with unsolicited business combinations.  U.S. law is, for the most part, the centerpiece of the chapters, which consist principally of original text, cases, statutes, law journal article excerpts, and (in certain circumstances) helpful diagrams.  The methodological introduction, which I found quite helpful and user-friendly, notes that the coauthors "often (not always) start our analysis with the U.S. perspective."  (xxvi)  Yet, despite the anchoring use of U.S. law throughout the book, it somehow has a very European feel.  The coauthors note the emphasis on "U.S., U.K., major European continental civil law systems (France, Germany, Italy) and European Union law, and Japan," (id.) but my observation is that the words and phrasing also have a European flair.  Of course, this is unsurprising, given that all but one of the coauthors hail from European universities.  I note this without praise or criticism, but I mention it so others can assess its impact in their own teaching environments.

I recommend that those teaching in study abroad (or other courses focusing on comparative corporate law) review a copy of this book.  I will look forward to teaching from it the next time I need an international or comparative law teaching text for use in or outside the United States.

March 26, 2018 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, International Business, International Law, Joan Heminway, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Trump, Trade, and Human Rights

Earlier this week, President Trump gave his annual speech on national security. As in the past, he failed to stress human rights (unlike his predecessors) but did allude to cooperation, even with China and Russia, when warranted by geopolitical interests. Over the last several months, he has touted bilateral trade agreements. Coincidentally, my latest law review article on a potential bilateral investment treaty with Cuba came out the same day. As you may recall, Trump recently reversed some Obama-era policies on Cuba over human rights. My article may help his administration reconcile some of the apparent contradictions in his policies. The abstract is below. 

You Say Embargo, I Say Bloqueo—A Policy Recommendation for Promoting Foreign Direct Investment and Safeguarding Human Rights In Cuba

The United States is the only major industrialized nation that restricts
trade with Cuba. Although President Obama issued several executive orders
that have facilitated limited trade (and President Trump has scaled some
back), an embargo remains in place, and by law, Congress cannot lift it until,
among other things, the Cuban government commits to democratization and
human rights reform. Unfortunately, the Cuban and U.S. governments
fundamentally disagree on the definition of “human rights,” and neither side
has shown a willingness to compromise. Meanwhile, although some U.S.
investors clamor to join their European and Canadian counterparts in
expanding operations in Cuba, many have an understandable concern
regarding the rule of law and expropriation in a communist country. Bilateral
investment treaties aim to address those concerns.

After discussing the legal and political barriers to lifting the embargo, I
propose a partial solution to the stalemate on human rights, which will: (1)
facilitate foreign direct investment in Cuba; (2) protect investor interests
through a bilateral investment treaty; and (3) require an examination of
human rights impacts on the lives of Cuban citizens before investors can 
receive the protection of the treaty. 

Specifically, I recommend the inclusion of human rights clauses in bilateral 
investment treaties (BITs) and investor-state dispute mechanisms as a condition precedent 
to lifting the embargo. My solution also requires “clean hands” so that investors seeking relief must
provide proof that their business interests have not exacerbated or been
complicit in human rights abuses, rebut claims from stakeholders that their
business interests have not exacerbated or been complicit in human rights
abuses, or both. Finally, I propose revisions to the 2016 U.S. National Action
Plan on Responsible Business Conduct to incorporate human rights
requirements in future BITs and other investment vehicles going forward.

Anyone with connections to Rex Tillerson is free to pass it on. Happy Holidays to all.

 

December 21, 2017 in Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Martin: Hiding in the Light: The Misuse of Disclosure to Advance a Business and Human Rights Agenda

My friend and colleague at West Virginia University, Jena Martin, has posted her new paper, Hiding in the Light: The Misuse of Disclosure to Advance a Business and Human Rights Agenda. The paper is forthcoming in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law and can be accessed at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3028826 

It's worth a read. Here's the abstract:

In June 2017, Waitrose, a top UK supermarket, pulled its cans of corned beef off the shelves after an investigation revealed that the meat might have been produced with slave labor. At the time of the recall, Waitrose was in compliance with the UK Modern Slavery Act (MSA), a 2015 law enacted to prevent human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Under the MSA, corporations are required to file annual reports disclosing what action they had taken to eradicate slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains. The Modern Slavery Act, in turn, was a much-lauded law that is part of the growing trend of States to move the international business and human rights agenda forward. A key component of that agenda involves disseminating the UN’s Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework and implementing the UN Guiding Principles, which have been praised by States around the world as a framing mechanism for issues of corporate accountability for negative human rights impacts in a corporation’s operations and relationships with its suppliers.

The aim of this article is to analyze whether the business and human rights agenda (as embodied by the Three Pillar Framework and UN Guiding Principles) is well served with national laws that focus on disclosure. The article will focus primarily on rules being implemented in the United States at both the subnational and national level, however, it will also discuss approaches being used in European jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and France and the overall trend towards a transparency model for human rights protection from business activities. The increased use of disclosure-based regulation (and the resulting compliance efforts by corporations) seems to come, at least in part, as a result of the efforts by States to address the duties laid out for them in the UN Guiding Principles. As such, it seems appropriate to undertake an analysis regarding whether these laws are in fact effective at implementing the Guiding Principles.

For decades now, disclosure has been held out as the ultimate curative for every corporate woe. The expansion of disclosure initiatives from mere investment-related issues to increasingly social policy issues would indicate that this trend will continue. Yet as this article demonstrates, disclosure to right now is at best a temporary stop gap measure that can lead to limited corporate change on the issue of business and human rights. At worst, disclosure is being used by corporations as a way to obtain a reputational advantage without actually making substantive changes – by simply hiding in the light.

November 8, 2017 in Corporations, Ethics, International Business, International Law, Joshua P. Fershee | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Faculty Development Opportunity -- Business Innovation in Chile: A Case Study of the Wine Export Sector

If you're a fan of wine (I am) and international business if of interest (it is), this Faculty Development might be for you.  It overlaps with the AALS Annual Meeting, so it won't work for me this year, but it looks like a good program.  Have a look: 

Temple University’s Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) presents

Faculty Development in International Business: Santiago, Chile (January 5-11, 2018)

Business Innovation in Chile: A Case Study of the Wine Export Sector

Leave winter behind this January and join us for a summer experience in Chilean wine country. As an innovation-driven economy, the United States prides itself on developing and delivering innovative goods and services domestically and globally through high-tech exports, creative branding, and in-demand services. Among those exports is our growing wine sector, led by Napa Valley but recently expanding into other parts of California, Oregon, Virginia, and other lesser-known wine producing regions of the United States. Despite this expansion, the United States remains behind old world wine producers in Europe. Chile and Australia also outpace the United States in terms of wine exports and have been leading the way in innovative production and marketing techniques.

On this faculty/professional-oriented immersion experience, participants will visit a number of innovative businesses in the wine export sector and related industries in Chile to better understand how innovation in a highly-regulated sector can disrupt the traditional approaches taken by Old World producers in Europe and provide a comparative advantage for modern producers.

Some of the key learning outcomes on this immersion include:

  • An understanding of how innovation is utilized to drive growth in emerging markets;
  • A comparative perspective of an innovative sector active in the home and target market;
  • A better sense of the supply chain for a commodity such as wine and how innovation can accelerate movement along that supply chain and;
  • Tools that can be used to leverage enhancements in innovation for U.S. exporters.

The immersion experience is being led by Fox School of Business Assistant Professor, Dr. Kevin Fandl, a Latin America specialist with deep knowledge of the region. Dr. Fandl’s research emphasizes the relationship between law, policy, and business in global markets. He takes his extensive experience at senior levels of federal government policymaking to the marketplace by examining how laws and regulations drive or inhibit innovation and business opportunity. His knowledge of Chile, as well as the wine industry, add significant academic value to this immersion experience.

Program Fee: $2,700 per person (fee includes: hotel accommodations, corporate visits, cultural activities, some meals, visits to Chilean Vineyards, and in-country transportation)

Deposit:  A $500 non-refundable deposit is due at initial time of registration. Final payment will be due on October 27, 2017. To register: https://noncredit.temple.edu/templeciberfdib

Space is limited. A guest package is also available.

For questions or additional information, please contact Lauren Letko at lauren.letko@temple.edu

October 19, 2017 in Conferences, Food and Drink, International Business, International Law, Joshua P. Fershee, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

University of Nebraska College of Law - Tenured/Chaired Position in International Trade and Finance

From an e-mail I received this week:

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The UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA COLLEGE OF LAW invites applications for lateral candidates for a tenured faculty position to hold the Clayton K. Yeutter Chair at the College of Law. This chaired faculty position will be one of four faculty members to form the core of the newly-formed, interdisciplinary Clayton K. Yeutter Institute for International Trade and Finance. The Institute also will include the Duane Acklie Chair at the College of Business, the Michael Yanney Chair at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Haggart/Works Professorship for International Trade at the College of Law. The Yeutter Chair, along with the other three professors, will be expected to support the work and objectives and ensure the success of the Yeutter Institute. The Yeutter Chair will teach courses at the College of Law, including International Finance. Other courses may include Corporate Finance and/or other classes related to business and finance. More on the Yeutter Institute can be found at https://news.unl.edu/free-tags/clayton-k-yeutter-institute-of-international-trade-and-finance/.

Minimum Required Qualifications: J.D Degree or Equivalent; Superior Academic Record; Outstanding Record of Scholarship in International Finance and/or other areas related to international business; and Receipt of Tenure at an Accredited Law School. General information about the Law College is available at https://law.unl.edu/. Please fill out the University application, which can be found at https://employment.unl.edu/postings/51633, and upload a CV, a cover letter, and a list of references. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is committed to a pluralistic campus community through affirmative action, equal opportunity, work-life balance, and dual careers. See https://www.unl.edu/equity/notice-nondiscrimination. Review of applications will begin on September 15, 2017 and continue until the position is filled. If you have questions, please contact Associate Dean Eric Berger or Professor Matt Schaefer at lawappointments@unl.edu.

August 10, 2017 in Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, International Business, International Law, Jobs, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 7, 2017

University of Akron School of Law International Law Faculty Position

The following comes from the University of Akron School of Law:

The University of Akron School of Law anticipates hiring a tenure-track or tenured faculty member with a focus in the area of international and comparative law to begin teaching in Fall 2018.  We seek a candidate demonstrating general international law expertise with a preference for private international law, including but not limited to international business transactions, international trade, and/or international commercial arbitration.  Both entry-level and lateral candidates are encouraged to apply.  The appointment may include opportunities for administrative leadership overseeing study abroad programs, programs for foreign lawyers, and other international programs.  The committee is interested in candidates with scholarly distinction or great promise as demonstrated by strong early scholarship and a thoughtful agenda for future work, as well as a commitment to excellence in teaching.

The University of Akron School of Law is a public, mid-size law school of approximately 500 students located in the Akron/Cleveland metropolitan area.  With a new building, a new dean, and strong enrollments, Akron Law provides an energized community and faculty environment.  The School of Law has a strong tradition of teaching and offers students low tuition, a commitment to student success, strong job placement, award-winning clinical programs, a national trial team program, and unique mentorship with the local and regional bars.  It has research centers in Intellectual Property, Constitutional Law, and Professional Responsibility.  Akron Law has recently enhanced its international initiatives including new collaborative relationships with universities in Asia, an accelerated juris doctor program for international students, visiting international scholars, and a four-week, three-city, two-country study abroad program in Japan and South Korea.  In addition, the larger University has been expanding international initiatives and programming.  The University of Akron is a public research university of 25,000 students, with a national reputation in polymer science, engineering, and business in addition to law.  It is centered in Akron, Ohio, a city with a population of 200,000, known for its low cost of living and high quality of life, its surrounding natural beauty including the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, its history of industrial innovation, and its multitude of cultural, artistic, athletic, and recreational opportunities.

Continue reading

August 7, 2017 in International Business, International Law, Jobs, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

April 26, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The President and Responsible Business Conduct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collaboration with Stakeholders

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

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

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

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

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

Facilitating RBC by Companies

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

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

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

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

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

Recognizing Positive Performance

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

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

Providing Access to Remedy

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Eleven Corporate Governance and Compliance Questions for President-Elect Trump

I have been on hiatus for a few weeks, and had planned to post today about the compliance and corporate governance issues related to Wells Fargo. However, I have decided to delay posting on that topic in light of the unexpected election results and how it affects my research and work.

I am serving as a panelist and a moderator at the ABA's annual Labor and Employment meeting tomorrow. Our topic is Advising Clients in Whistleblower Investigations. In our discussions and emails prior to the conference, we never raised the election in part because, based on the polls, no one expected Donald Trump to win. Now, of course, we have to address this unexpected development in light of the President-elect's public statements that he plans to dismantle much of President Obama's legacy, including a number of his executive orders.

President-elect Trump's plan for his first 100 days includes, among other things: a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce though attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health); a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated; renegotiation or withdrawal from NAFTA; withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership; canceling "every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama; and a number of rules related to lobbyists and special interests.

Plaintiffs' lawyers I have spoken to at this conference so far are pessimistic that standards will become even more pro-business and thus more difficult to bring cases. That's probably true. However,  I have the following broader business-law related questions:

  1. What will happen to Dodd-Frank? There are already a number of house bills pending to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank, but will President Trump actually try to repeal all of it, particularly the Dodd-Frank whistleblower rule? How would that look optically? Former SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins, a prominent critic of Dodd-Frank and the whistleblower program in particular, is part of Trump's transition team on economic issues, so perhaps a revision, at a minumum, may not be out of the question.
    2. What will happen with the two SEC commissioner vacancies? How will this president and Congress fund the agency?
    3. Will SEC Chair Mary Jo White stay or go and how might that affect the work of the agency to look at disclosure reform?
    4. How will the vow to freeze the federal workforce affect OSHA, which enforces Sarbanes-Oxley?
    5. In addition to the issues that Trump has with TPP and NAFTA, how will his administration and the Congress deal with the Export-Import (Ex-IM) bank, which cannot function properly as it is due to resistance from some in Congress. Ex-Im provides financing, export credit insurance, loans, and other products to companies (including many small businesses) that wish to do business in politically-risky countries.
    6. How will a more conservative Supreme Court deal with the business cases that will appear before it?
    7. Who will be the Attorney General and how might that affect criminal prosecution of companies and individuals? Should we expect a new memo or revision of policies for Assistant US Attorneys that might undo some of the work of the Yates Memo, which focuses on corporate cooperation and culpable individuals?
    8. What will happen with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which the DC Circuit recently ruled was unconstitutional in terms of its structure and power?
    9. What will happen with the Obama administration's executive orders on Cuba, which have chipped away at much of the embargo? The business community has lobbied hard on ending the embargo and eliminating restrictions, but Trump has pledged to require more from the Cuban government. Would he also cancel the executive orders as well?
    10. What happens to the Public Company Accounting Board, which has had an interim director for several months?
    11. Jeb Henserling, who has adamantly opposed Ex-Im, the CFPB, and Dodd-Frank is under consideration for Treasury Secretary. What does this say about President-elect Trump's economic vision?

Of course, there are many more questions and I have no answers but I will be interested to see how future announcements affect the world financial markets, which as of the time of this writing appear to have calmed down.

November 10, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

University of Nebraska College of Law - Chair in International Trade and Finance

Job posting from an e-mail I recently received:

--------------------

The UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA COLLEGE OF LAW invites applications for

lateral candidates for a tenured faculty position to hold the Clayton K. Yeutter Chair at

the College of Law. This chaired faculty position will be one of four faculty members to

form the core of the newly-formed, interdisciplinary Clayton K. Yeutter Institute for

International Trade and Finance. The Institute also will include the Duane Acklie Chair at

the College of Business Associations, the Michael Yanney Chair at the College of

Agricultural Sciences, and the Haggart/Works Professorship for International Trade at the

College of Law. The Yeutter Chair, along with the other three professors, will be

expected to support the work and objectives and ensure the success of the Yeutter

Institute. The Yeutter Chair will teach courses at the College of Law, including

International Finance. Other courses may include Corporate Finance and/or other related

classes pertaining to issues arising in international business and finance. More on the

Yeutter Institute can be found at https://news.unl.edu/newsrooms/today/article/giftsestablish-

endowed-chairs-for-yeutter-institute/ .

 

Minimum Required Qualifications: J.D Degree or Equivalent; Superior Academic

Record; Outstanding Record of Scholarship in International Finance and/or other areas

related to international business; and Receipt of Tenure at an Accredited Law School.

General information about the Law College is available at https://law.unl.edu/. Please fill

out the University application, which can be found at

https://employment.unl.edu/postings/51633, and upload a CV, a cover letter, and a list of

references. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is committed to a pluralistic campus

community through affirmative action, equal opportunity, work-life balance, and dual

careers. See https://www.unl.edu/equity/notice-nondiscrimination. Review of applications

will begin on November 5, 2016 and continue until the position is filled. If you have

questions, please contact Associate Dean Eric Berger, Chair, Faculty Appointments

Committee, University of Nebraska College of Law, Lincoln, NE 68583-0902, or send an

email to lawappointments@unl.edu.

 

October 12, 2016 in Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, International Business, International Law, Jobs, Law School | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Do Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and 220 Law Professors Have in Common?

Lately, I’ve been researching the twelve nation Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty (“TPP”) because I am looking at investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) in my work in progress proposing a model bilateral investment treaty between the U.S. and Cuba.

The TPP, which both Trump and Clinton oppose, has the support of U.S. business. Although President Obama has pushed the treaty as part of his legacy, just this morning, Vice-President Biden added his pessimistic views about its passage. More interestingly, over 220 law and economics academics, led by Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, have come out publicly to oppose TPP, stating:

ISDS grants foreign corporations and investors a special legal privilege: the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a government for actions that allegedly violate loosely defined investor rights to seek damages from taxpayers for the corporation’s lost profits. Essentially, corporations and investors use ISDS to challenge government policies, actions, or decisions that they allege reduce the value of their investments... Through ISDS, the federal government gives foreign investors – and foreign investors alone – the ability to bypass th[e] robust, nuanced, and democratically responsive legal framework. Foreign investors are able to frame questions of domestic constitutional and administrative law as treaty claims, and take those claims to a panel of private international arbitrators, circumventing local, state or federal domestic administrative bodies and courts. Freed from fundamental rules of domestic procedural and substantive law that would have otherwise governed their lawsuits against the government, foreign corporations can succeed in lawsuits before ISDS tribunals even when domestic law would have clearly led to the rejection of those companies’ claims. Corporations are even able to re-litigate cases they have already lost in domestic courts. It is ISDS arbitrators, not domestic courts, who are ultimately able to determine the bounds of proper administrative, legislative, and judicial conduct… This system undermines the important roles of our domestic and democratic institutions, threatens domestic sovereignty, and weakens the rule of law.

Senator Warren, who also opposes TPP has argued, "“ISDS allows a small group of ultra-rich investors to extract billions of dollars from taxpayers while they undermine financial, environmental and public health rules across the world.”  I look forward to the upcoming debates to see whether either Trump, who has labeled the proposal the “rape of our country,”  or Clinton, who previously supported the deal, will cite the academics' letter as additional reason to oppose TPP. 

September 22, 2016 in Constitutional Law, Corporations, Current Affairs, International Business, International Law, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Corporate Bystanders at the Rio Olympics

Greetings from SEALS in lovely Amelia Island. On Wednesday I presented on a proposed bilateral investment treaty between the US and Cuba, and tomorrow I am part of a discussion group on Sustainable Business. I will focus on the roles and responsibilities of corporate sponsors of the Rio Olympics. According to the official Olympics website, “[m]ore than just providing products and services for the event, [the sponsors] ensure that sport always comes first and that the whole world is inspired alongside us.”

Sponsors can spend up to $200 million for the privilege to inspire us. For many sponsors, the chance to have over a billion people watch their commercials and logos appear repeatedly over a period of a few weeks on television is worth the tens of millions of dollars. They often invest in slick YouTube campaigns that show their real or imagined connections to young athletes finally achieving their lifelong dream of bringing home the gold for their country. Apparently, 54% of consumers surveyed felt more positive about Nike after the company sponsored the Olympics based on how it chose to advertise. Many companies use these kinds of sponsorships as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives. Dow is the official “carbon” partner of the games.

As anyone who watches the news knows, the $12 billion Rio Olympics has been fraught with controversy. According to reports, the crime rate is soaring and the bay is so filthy that the athletes have been warned to keep their mouths closed during water events. Brazil was one of the ten largest economies in the world when it was awarded the games years ago and now is in free fall. As part of the deal to get the games, Brazil promised the IOC and its citizens gleaming new transportation systems, hospitals, and infrastructure but one in seven of Rio’s citizens still live in one of the 1,000 favelas and those have not improved at all. A number of people have actually lost their homes to make way for Olympic venues. Rio’s street children have asked the head of the IOC for assurances that their human rights will be respected.

Human Rights Watch prepared a report last year that outlines some key concerns about the human rights abuses that typically occur at mega sporting events. Although the Olympic Charter states at p. 14 that “the practice of sport is a human right,” the HRW report identified violations that typically occur at these kinds of events. Many have already been documented in Rio including: forced evictions without due process or compensation due to massive new infrastructure construction; environmental activism; threats, intimidation, and arrests of journalists; silencing of civil society and rights activists, and discrimination.What does any of this have to do with business? I have some questions about the role of business that I will explore tomorrow and in my research.

West Virginia Professor Jena Martin has written about the concept of the “corporate bystander.” She notes that, “TNCs often get involved in relationships with state actors who violate international human rights. TNCs then argue that they cannot be held accountable for the violations because they merely observed the underlying atrocities and did not participate in the acts that caused them.” The large corporate sponsors who tout their corporate social responsibility initiatives and who vehemently oppose human rights shareholder proposals because they already have a program in place will likely distance themselves from what is going on in Brazil. They are just sponsors after all. But is that an appropriate response? Should the IOC do more to require human rights safeguards? Should corporate sponsors conduct impact assessments or is their involvement too attenuated? Do the consumers who felt better about Nike after watching the Olympics commercials care about the street children in Brazil or the women who are displaced from their homes? Would they think twice about buying sneakers if they read some of the links in this blog? Does any of this move the share price in either direction?  What is the actual business case for balancing the corporate sponsorship with the human rights impact?

The head of the IOC has signed on to work with the UN on the Sustainable Development Goals--seventeen economic, environmental, social, and governance initiatives that the private sector, government, and civil society aim to achieve by 2030. How does that square with conducting the Olympics in locales with human rights and environmental violations? Should the IOC only hold the Olympics in host countries with "perfect" human rights records and what would that even look like?

I will be discussing these issues tomorrow and will explore it more firsthand when I head to Rio on Saturday. In the meantime, corporate sponsors may hope that the press coverage on Friday evening focuses on panoramic shots of Sugarloaf and Copacabana Beach and not the planned protests before the opening ceremonies.

August 4, 2016 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Games, Human Rights, International Law, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Did the EU Learn from Dodd-Frank When Enacting its Conflict Minerals Rules?

On Wednesday, the EU finally outlined its position on conflict minerals. The proposed rule will affect approximately 900,000 businesses. As I have discussed here, these “name and shame” disclosure rules are premised on the theories that: 1) companies have duty to respect human rights by conducting due diligence in their supply chains; 2) companies that source minerals from conflict zones contribute financially to rebels or others that perpetuate human rights abuses; and 3) if consumers and other stakeholders know that companies source certain minerals from conflict zones they will change their buying habits or pressure companies to source elsewhere.

As stated in earlier blog posts, the US Dodd- Frank rule has been entangled in court battles for years and the legal wranglings are not over yet. Dodd-Frank Form SD filings were due on May 31st and it is too soon to tell whether there has been improvement over last year’s disclosures in which many companies indicated that the due diligence process posed significant difficulties.

I am skeptical about most human rights disclosure rules in general because they are a misguided effort to solve the root problem of business’ complicity with human rights abuses and assume that consumers care more about ethical sourcing than they report in surveys. Further, there are conflicting views on the efficacy of Dodd-Frank in particular. Some, like me, argue that it has little effect on the Congolese people it was designed to help. Others such as the law’s main proponent Enough, assert that the law has had a measurable impact.

The EU's position on conflict minerals is a compromise and many NGOs such as Amnesty International, an organization I greatly respect, are not satisfied. Like its US counterpart, the EU rule requires reporting on tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, which are used in everything from laptops, cameras, jewelry, light bulbs and component parts. Unlike Dodd-Frank, the rule only applies to large importers, smelters, and refiners but it does apply to a wider zone than the Democratic Republic of Congo and the adjoining countries. The EU rule applies to all “conflict zones” around the world.

Regular readers of my blog posts know that I teach and research on business and human rights, and I have focused on corporate accountability measures. I have spent time in both Democratic Republic of Congo and Guatemala looking at the effect of extractive industries on local communities through the lens of an academic and as a former supply chain executive for a Fortune 500 company. I continue to oppose these disclosure rules because they take governments off the hook for drafting tough, substantive legislation. Nonetheless, I  look forward to seeing what lessons if any that the EU has learned from the US when the member states finally implement and enforce the new rule. In coming weeks I will blog on recent Form SD disclosures and the progress of the drafting of the final EU rule.

June 17, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Can Consumer or Investor Pressure Make a Difference on Corporate Actions? The Carnival Conundrum

Today in my Business and Human Rights class I thought about Ann's recent post where she noted that socially responsible investor Calpers was rethinking its decision to divest from tobacco stocks. My class has recently been discussing the human rights impacts of mega sporting events and whether companies such as Rio Tinto (the medal makers), Omega (the time keepers), Coca Cola (sponsor), McDonalds (sponsor), FIFA (a nonprofit that runs worldwide soccer) and the International Olympic Committee (another corporation) are in any way complicit with state actions including the displacement of indigenous peoples in Brazil, the use of slavery in Qatar, human trafficking, and environmental degradation. I asked my students the tough question of whether they would stop eating McDonalds food or wearing Nike shoes because they were sponsors of these events. I required them to consider a number of factors to decide whether corporate sponsors should continue their relationships with FIFA and the IOC. I also asked whether the US should refuse to send athletes to compete in countries with significant human rights violations. 

Because we are in Miami, we also discussed the topic du jour, Carnival Cruise line's controversial decision to follow Cuban law, which prohibits certain Cuban-born citizens from traveling back to Cuba on sea vessels, while permitting them to return to the island by air. Here in Miami, this is big news with the Mayor calling it a human rights violation by Carnival, a County contractor. A class action lawsuit has been filed  seeking injunctive relief. This afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in saying Carnival should not discriminate and calling upon Cuba to change its rules. 

So back to Ann's post. In an informal poll in which I told all students to assume they would cruise, only one of my Business and Human Rights students said they would definitely boycott Carnival because of its compliance with Cuban law. Many, who are foreign born, saw it as an issue of sovereignty of a foreign government. About 25% of my Civil Procedure students would boycott (note that more of them are of Cuban descent, but many of the non-Cuban students would also boycott). These numbers didn't surprise me because as I have written before, I think that consumers focus on convenience, price, and quality- or in this case, whether they really like the cruise itinerary rather than the ethics of the product or service. 

Tomorrow morning (Friday), I will be speaking on a panel with Jennifer Diaz of Diaz Trade Law, two members of the US government, and Cortney Morgan of Husch Blackwell discussing Cuba at the ABA International Law Section Spring Meeting in New York. If you're at the meeting and you read this before 9 am, pass by our session because I will be polling our audience members too. And stay tuned to the Cuba issue. I'm not sure that the Carnival case will disprove my thesis about the ineffectiveness of consumer pressure because if the Secretary of State has weighed in and the Communist Party of Cuba is already meeting next week, it's possible that change could happen that gets Carnival off the hook and the consumer clamor may have just been background noise. In the meantime, Carnival declared a 17% dividend hike earlier today and its stock was only down 11 cents in the midst of this public relations imbroglio. Notably, after hours, the stock was trading up.

April 14, 2016 in Ann Lipton, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Law, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Spring Break Reading: Bruner on The Corporation's Intrinsic Attributes

Christopher Bruner recently posted a book chapter entitled The Corporation's Intrinsic Attributes. I try to read everything Christopher writes, including his excellent Cambridge University Press book, Corporate Governance in the Common Law World, and I am looking forward to reading this new book chapter over spring break next week. The book chapter's abstract is reproduced below for interested readers:

---------------------

Numerous treatises, casebooks, and other resources commonly present concise lists of attributes said to be intrinsic to the modern corporation and/or essential to its economic utility. Such descriptions of the corporate form often constitute introductory matter, conditioning how students, professionals, and public officials alike approach corporate law by presenting a straightforward framework to distinguish the corporate form from other types of business entities. There are two significant problems with such frameworks, however, from a pedagogic perspective. First, these frameworks describe the corporation by reference to purportedly fixed intrinsic attributes, conflicting sharply with the flux and dynamism that have in fact characterized the history of corporate law. Second, these frameworks differ markedly from each other in how they characterize the corporation's attributes, each embodying a contestable perspective on the nature of the corporate form.

The diversity of perspectives that such inquiry reveals calls into question the degree to which we can validly deduce a single correct or optimal division of power between boards and shareholders, degree of regard for shareholder interests, and/or degree of liability exposure for boards and shareholders, based exclusively on premises purportedly intrinsic to corporate law itself - that is, without express appeal to external policy considerations and related regulatory fields. These matters map onto three core issues of corporate law and governance - power, purpose, and risk-taking, respectively - and the inability to resolve them by reference to the corporation's purportedly intrinsic features suggests that re-conceptualizing the corporate form might facilitate more effective assessment of its capabilities.

This chapter undertakes that project. Section I begins with an historical discussion of the corporation's emergence and early deployment for business in the United Kingdom and the United States. Section II turns to various contemporary descriptions of the corporation's intrinsic attributes presented in modern reference materials, exploring their commonalities, differences, and theoretical implications. Section III explores the impossibility of resolving core issues of power, purpose, and risk-taking by reference to such conceptions of the corporate form, providing three US examples that map onto these respective issues - the scope of shareholders' bylaw authority, the degree of board discretion to consider non-shareholder interests in hostile takeovers, and the regulation of financial risk-taking following the recent crisis. Each illustrates the necessity of resort to political discourse - a reality underscored through comparison with the United Kingdom, which reveals substantial divergence on such issues notwithstanding broad similarities between the US and UK corporate governance regimes.

The chapter concludes, in Section IV, by proposing that we refrain from describing the corporate form by reference to purportedly fixed intrinsic attributes. I argue that it would pay to re-conceptualize the modern corporation by reference to the tools it offers, and how those tools can be deployed - a series of governance "levers," I suggest, that can be adjusted and calibrated in various ways to pursue a broad range of governance-related goals.    

March 4, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray, International Law, Management, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

What do Donald Trump and Al Sharpton Have in Common? The Failed Boycott Movement

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he never plans to eat Oreo cookies again because the Nabisco plant is closing and moving to Mexico. Trump, who has starred in an Oreo commercial in the past, is actually wrong about the nature of Nabisco’s move, and it’s unlikely that he will affect Nabisco’s sales notwithstanding his tremendous popularity among some in the electorate right now. Mr. Trump has also urged a boycott of Apple over how that company has handled the FBI’s request over the San Bernardino terrorist’s cell phone.

Strangely, I haven’t heard a call for a boycott of Apple products following shareholders’ rejection of a proposal to diversify the board last week. I would think that Reverend and former candidate Al Sharpton, who called for the boycott of the Oscars due to lack of diversity would call for a boycott of all things Apple. But alas, for now Trump seems to be the lone voice calling for such a move (and not because of diversity). In fact, I’ve never walked past an Apple Store without thinking that there must be a 50% off sale on the merchandise. There are times when the lines are literally out the door. Similarly, despite the #Oscarssowhite controversy and claims from many that the boycott worked because the Oscars had historically low ratings, viewership among black film enthusiasts was only down 2% this year.

So why do people constantly call for boycotts? According to a Freakonomics podcast from January, they don’t actually work. Historians and economists made it clear in interviews that they only succeed as part of an established social movement. In some cases they can backfire leading to a "buycott," as it did for Chik Fil A. The podcast also put into context much of what we believe are the boycott “success stories,” including the Montgomery Bus Boycott with Rosa Parks and the sit in movement related to apartheid in the 1980s.

I have spent much of my time looking at disclosure legislation that is based in part on the theory that informed consumers and socially-responsible investors will boycott or divest holdings (see here, here, and here). In particular, I have focused on the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals corporate governance disclosure and why I don’t think that using name and shame laws work—namely because consumers talk a good game in surveys but actually don’t purchase based on social criteria nearly as much as NGOs and legislators believe.

The SEC was supposed to decide whether to file a cert petition to the Supreme Court on the part of the conflict minerals legislation that was struck down on First Amendment grounds by March 9th but they now have an extension until April. Since I wrote an amicus brief in the case at the lower level, I have a particular interest in this filing. I had planned my business and human rights class on disclosures and boycotts around that cert. filing to make it even more relevant to my students, who will do a role play simulation drafted by Professor Erika George representing civil society (NGOs, investors, and other stakeholders), the electronics industry, the US government (state department, Congress, and SEC), Congolese militia, the Congolese government, and the Congolese people. The only group they won’t represent is US consumers, even though that’s the target group of the Dodd-Frank disclosure. I did tweak Professor George’s materials but purposely chose not to add in the US consumer group. After my students step out of their roles, we will have the honest discussions about their own views and buying habits. I’ll try not to burst any boycott bubbles.

March 4, 2016 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Law School, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)