Friday, August 21, 2015

The Conflict over Conflict Minerals and Other Social Governance Disclosures

Today’s post will discuss the DC Circuit’s recent ruling striking down portions of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule on First Amendment grounds for the second time. Judge Randolph, writing for the majority, clearly enjoyed penning this opinion. He quoted Charles Dickens, Arthur Kostler, and George Orwell while finding that the SEC rule requiring companies to declare whether their products are “DRC Conflict Free” fails strict scrutiny analysis. But I won’t engage in any constitutional analysis here. I leave that to the fine blogs and articles that have delved into that area of the law. See here, here here, here, here, and more.  The NGOs that have vigorously fought for the right of consumers to learn how companies are sourcing their tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold have had understandably strong reactions. One considers the ruling a dangerous precedent on corporate personhood. Global Witness, a well respected NGO, calls it a dangerous and damaging ruling.

Regular readers of this blog know that I filed an amicus brief arguing that the law meant to defund the rebels raping and pillaging in the Democratic Republic of Congo was more likely to harm than help the intended recipients—the Congolese people.  I have written probably a dozen blog posts on Dodd-Frank 1502 and won’t list them all but for more information see some of my most recent posts here, here, and here. The goal of this name and shame law is to ensure that consumers and investors know which companies are sourcing minerals from mines that are controlled by rebels. The theory is that consumers, armed with disclosures, will pressure companies to make sure that they use only “conflict-free” minerals in their cameras, cell phones, toothpaste, diapers, jewelry and component parts. I assume that the SEC will seek a full re-hearing or some other relief even though Chair May Jo White has said, “seeking to improve safety in mines for workers or to end horrible human rights atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are compelling objectives, which, as a citizen, I wholeheartedly share … [b]ut, as the Chair of the SEC, I must question, as a policy matter, using the federal securities laws and the SEC’s powers of mandatory disclosure to accomplish these goals.”

I agree with Chair White even though I applaud the efforts of companies like Apple and Intel to comply with this flawed law. Indeed, the Enough Project, which with others has led the fight for this and other laws, now reports that there are 140 “conflict-free” smelters. But the violence continues as just this week the press reports that the Congolese government announced that it is investigating its own peacekeeprs/soldiers for rape in the neighboring Central African Republic and the UN acknowledged that fighting between armed militias is still a problem and that they are still resisting state authority. News reports indicated two days ago that clinics are closing because of fear of attack by Ugandan rebels.  This hits particularly close to me because my connection with DRC and the conflict mineral fight stems from the work that an NGO that I work with has done training doctors and midwives in the heart of the conflict zone there.

I don’t know how effective Dodd-Frank will be if the issuers don’t have to disclose what the court has called the Scarlet letter of “non DRC-conflict free.” But more important, as I argue in my writings, I don’t think that consumers’ buying habits match what they say when surveyed about ethical sourcing. In my most recent article (which I will post once the editors are done), I point out the following:

A recent survey used to support the new UK Modern Slavery Act indicates that two-thirds of UK consumers would stop buying a product if they found out that slaves were involved in the manufacturing process and that they would be willing to pay up to 10% more for slave-free products…The numbers are similar but slightly lower for those surveyed in the United States. But note, “when asked if they would be willing to pay more for their favourite products if this ensured they were produced without the use of modern slavery: 52% of American consumers said they would pay more to ensure products were produced without modern slavery; 27% were not sure; 21% said they would not pay more.” This means that at least 20% and possibly almost half of informed consumers would not likely change their buying habits. (italics added).

I’m probably more informed than most about the situation in the DRC because I have been there and read almost every report, blog post, article, hearing committee transcript and tweet about conflict minerals. I have seen children digging gold out of the ground while armed rebels stood guard. I have met the village chiefs in the conflict zones. I have been detained by the UN peacekeepers who wanted to know what I was researching and then warned me not to visit the mines because of the five dead bodies (which I saw) lying in the road from a rebel attack the night before. I have stayed in monasteries guarded by men with machine guns and been warned that if I left after dark I was just as likely to be raped by a police officer as a rebel. I have met with many women who were gang raped by rebels and members of the Congolese army. I have had dinner with Nobel nominee Dr. Denis Mukwege, who back in 2011 wanted to know why the US wasn’t stopping the atrocities. I know the situation is terrible. But it won't change and hasn’t changed because of a corporate governance disclosure that most average consumers won’t read (even if the SEC had prevailed) and won’t necessarily act on if they did read it.

Next week I will post about my personal conflict with disclosures. Should I, who refuses to shop at a certain big box retailer, still shop at Amazon now that an expose has revealed a very harsh workplace? What about Costco and others? Stay tuned.

 

August 21, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Nonprofits, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Corporations

Apparently the corporate tax inversion crackdown by the Obama administration is not working. The Financial Times reported this week that three companies have announced plans to redomicile in Europe in just one week. I’m not sure that I will have time to discuss inversions in any detail in my Business Associations class, but I have talked about it in civil procedure, when we discuss personal jurisdiction.

From my recent survey monkey results of my incoming students, I know that some of my students received their business news from the Daily Show. In the past I have used Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and Stephen Colbert to illustrate certain concepts to my millennial students. Here are some humorous takes on the inversion issue that I may use this year in class. Warning- there is some profanity and obviously they are pretty one-sided. But I have found that humor is a great way to start a debate on some of these issues that would otherwise seem dry to students. 

1)   Steve Colbert on corporate inversions-1- note the discussion on fiduciary duties

2)    Steve Colbert on corporate inversions interviews Allan Sloan

3)   Jon Stewart- inversion of the money snatchers and on corporate personhood toward the end.

For those of you who are political junkies like me, I thought I would share a video that I showed when I taught a seminar on corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility. This video focuses on political campaigns, and for a number of reasons, this campaign season seems to be in full gear already. Indeed, Professor Larry Lessig from Harvard is mulling a run for president in part to highlight the need for reform in campaign financing. Below is Stephen Colbert’s take on SuperPACs and political financing.

1) Colbert's shell corporation- note the discussion of the incorporation in Delaware and the meeting of the board of directors

Enjoy, and best of luck for those starting classes next week.

August 13, 2015 in Business Associations, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, International Business, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What Do International Business Lawyers Need to Know About US Corporate Law?

This weekend I will be in Panama filling in at the last minute for the corporate law session for an executive LLM progam. My students are practicing lawyers from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Paraguay and have a variety of legal backgrounds. My challenge is to fit key corporate topics (other than corporate governance, compliance, M & A, finance, and accounting) into twelve hours over two days for people with different knowledge levels and experiences. The other faculty members hail from law schools here and abroad as well as BigLaw partners from the United States and other countries.

Prior to joining academia I spent several weeks a year training/teaching my internal clients about legal and compliance matters for my corporation. This required an understanding of US and host country concepts. I have also taught in executive MBA programs and I really enjoyed the rich discussion that comes from students with real-world practical experience. I know that I will have that experience again this weekend even though I will probably come back too brain dead to be coherent for my civil procedure and business associations classes on Tuesday.

I have put together a draft list of topics with the help of my co-bloggers and based in part on conversations with some of our LLM and international students who have practiced law elsewhere but who now seek a US degree: 

Agency- What are the different kinds of authority and how does that affect liability? 

Business forms:             

Key issues for entity selection

- ease of formation

-  ownership and control

- tax issues

-  asset protection/liability to third parties for obligations of the business /piercing the veil of limited liability

-  attractiveness to investors

-  continuity and transferability

Main types of business forms in the United States

-Sole Proprietorship

-Partnership/General and Limited

- Corporation

                     - C Corporation

                     - S Corporation

- Limited Liability Company

 Fiduciary Duties/The Business Judgment Rule

 Basic Securities Regulation/Key issues for Initial Public Offering/Basic Disclosures (students will examine the filings for an annual report and an IPO)

Insider Trading

The Legal System in the United States

                    -how do companies defend themselves in lawsuits brought in the United States?

                     -key Clauses to Consider when drafting dispute resolution clauses in cross border contracts

Corporate Social Responsibility- Business and Human Rights 

Enterprise Risk Management/What are executives of multinationals worried about? 

Yes, this is an ambitious (crazy) list but the goal of the program is to help these experienced lawyers become better business advisors. Throughout the sessions we will have interactive exercises to apply what they have learned (and to keep them awake). So what am I missing? I would love your thoughts on what you think international lawyers need to know about corporate law in the US. Feel free to comment below or to email me at mnarine@stu.edu. Adios!

August 12, 2015 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Lawyering, Litigation, LLCs, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Faculty Openings at Texas A & M

TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW seeks to expand its academic program and its strong commitment to scholarship by hiring multiple exceptional faculty candidates for tenure-track or tenured positions, with rank dependent on qualifications and experience.  Candidates must have a J.D. degree or its equivalent.  Preference will be given to those with demonstrated outstanding scholarly achievement and strong classroom teaching skills.  Successful candidates will be expected to teach and engage in research and service.  While the law school welcomes applications in all subject areas, it particularly invites applications from:

1)    Candidates who are interested in building synergies with Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, with an emphasis on scholars engaged in international business law who focus on cross-border transactions, trade, and economic law (finance, investments, dispute resolution, etc.);

2)    Candidates who are interested in building synergies with the broad mission of Texas A&M University’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, which include but are not limited to scholars engaged in agricultural law (including regulatory issues surrounding agriculture), rural law, community development law, food law, ecosystem sciences, and forensic evidence; and

3)    Visionary leaders in experiential education interested in guiding our existing Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic (with concentrations in both trademarks and patents), Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, Family Law and Benefits Clinic, Employment Mediation Clinic, Wills & Estates Clinic, Innocence Clinic, Externship Program, Equal Justice/Pro Bono Program, and Advocacy Program, with a particular emphasis on candidates who may have an interest in participating in our Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic or developing an Immigration Law Clinic.

Texas A&M University is a tier one research institution and American Association of Universities member.  The university consists of 16 colleges and schools that collectively rank among the top 20 higher education institutions nationwide in terms of research and development expenditures.  As part of its commitment to continue building on its tradition of excellence in scholarship, teaching, and public service, Texas A&M acquired the law school from Texas Wesleyan University in August of 2013.  Since that time, the law school has embarked on a program of investment that increased its entering class credentials and financial aid budgets, while shrinking the class size; hired eleven new faculty members, including nine prominent lateral hires; improved its physical facility; and substantially increased its career services, admissions, and student services staff. 

Texas A&M School of Law is located in the heart of downtown Fort Worth, one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the country.  The Fort Worth/Dallas area, with a total population in excess of six million people, offers a low cost of living, a strong economy, and access to world-class museums, restaurants, entertainment, and outdoor activities.

As an Equal Opportunity Employer, Texas A&M welcomes applications from a broad spectrum of qualified individuals who will enhance the rich diversity of the university’s academic community. Applicants should email a résumé and cover letter indicating research and teaching interests to Professor Timothy Mulvaney, Chair of the Faculty Appointments Committee, at appointments@law.tamu.edu.  Alternatively, résumés can be mailed to Professor Mulvaney at Texas A&M University School of Law, 1515 Commerce Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102-6509.

July 23, 2015 in Jobs, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Has President Obama helped or hurt American business? Ten questions

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that President Obama has had an impact on this country. Tomorrow, I will be a panelist on the local public affairs show for the PBS affiliate to talk about the President’s accomplishments and/or failings. The producer asked the panelists to consider this article as a jumping off point. One of the panelists worked for the Obama campaign and another worked for Jeb Bush. Both are practicing lawyers. The other panelist is an educator and sustainability expert. And then there’s me.

I’ve been struggling all week with how to articulate my views because there’s a lot to discuss about this “lame duck” president. Full disclosure—I went to law school with Barack Obama. I was class of ’92 and he was class of ’91 but we weren’t close friends. I was too busy doing sit-ins outside of the dean’s house as a radical protester railing against the lack of women and minority faculty members. Barack Obama did his part for the movement to support departing Professor Derrick Bell by speaking (at minute 6:31) at one of the protests. I remember thinking then and during other times when Barack spoke publicly that he would run for higher office. At the time a black man being elected to the president of the Harvard Law Review actually made national news. I, like many students of all races, really respected that accomplishment particularly in light of the significant racial tensions on campus during our tenure.

During my stint in corporate America, I was responsible for our company’s political action committee. I still get more literature from Republican candidates than from any other due to my attendance at so many fundraisers. I met with members of Congress and the SEC on more than one occasion to discuss how a given piece of legislation could affect my company and our thousands of business customers. My background gives me what I hope will be a more balanced set of talking points than some of the other panelists. In addition to my thoughts about civil rights, gay marriage, gun control, immigration reform, Guantanamo, etc., I will be thinking of the following business-related points for tomorrow’s show: 

1) Was the trade deal good or bad for American workers, businesses and/or those in the affected countries? A number of people have had concerns about human rights and IP issues that weren’t widely discussed in the popular press.

2) Dodd-Frank turns five next week. What did it accomplish? Did it go too far in some ways and not far enough in others? Lawmakers announced today that they are working on some fixes. Meanwhile, much of the bill hasn’t even been implemented yet. Will we face another financial crisis before the ink is dried on the final piece of implementing legislation? Should more people have gone to jail as a result of the last two financial crises?

3) Did the President waste his political capital by starting off with health care reform instead of focusing on jobs and infrastructure?

4) Did the President’s early rhetoric against the business community make it more difficult for him to get things done?

5) How will the changes in minimum wage for federal contractors and the proposed changes to the white collar exemptions under the FLSA affect job growth? Will relief in income inequality mean more consumers for the housing, auto and consumer goods markets? Or has too little been done?

6) Has the President done enough or too much as it relates to climate change? The business groups and environmentalists have very differing views on scope and constitutionality.

7) What will the lifting of sanctions on Cuba and Iran mean for business? Both countries were sworn mortal enemies and may now become trading partners unless Congress stands in the way.

8) Do we have the right people looking after the financial system? Is there too much  regulatory capture? Has the President tried to change it or has he perpetuated the status quo?

9) What kind of Supreme Court nominee will he pick if he has the chance? The Roberts court has been helpful to him thus far. If he gets a pick it could affect business cases for a generation.

10) Although many complain that he has overused his executive order authority, is there more that he should do? 

I don’t know if I will have answers to these questions by tomorrow but I certainly have a lot to think about before I go on air. If you have any thoughts before 8:30 am, please post below or feel free to email me privately at mnarine@stu.edu.

July 16, 2015 in Constitutional Law, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Television, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Business Associations in Real Life

I’ve always been eager to do pro bono work. I went to law school with the intent of helping the indigent upon graduation, but then with a six-figure debt load, I went to BigLaw in New York and Miami, and then corporate America so that I could pay that debt off. But even as an associate and as in house counsel, I dutifully accepted pro bono cases. As a relatively new academic, I paid my way out of pro bono for the first couple of years as Florida allows and assuaged my guilt with the knowledge that my payments were going to fund the local legal aid office.

This year, as a condition of attending a family law CLE for free, I volunteered to take a case. I’ve devoted over 70 hours to it thus far, and we still aren’t finished even after today’s marathon 6.5 hour hearing dealing with a motion for contempt and enforcement, modification of alimony and child support, a QDRO (qualified domestic relations order), and a house in foreclosure. The case was complicated even according to my seasoned family law practitioner friends.

As a former litigator and current BA professor, I found that my skills helped to make up for my lack of family law expertise. The techniques for cross examining witnesses, preparing for hearing, and introducing exhibits came flooding back. From a BA perspective, knowing to ask questions about the structure of the petitioner’s LLC, inquiring about charging orders, and dissecting the financial statements and corporate tax returns put me in a much better position to protect my client’s interests. I always tell my students on the first day of BA that they never know where they will end up as practitioners, and that in today’s market many of them will be in small firms taking on a number of kind of clients. I try to make them understand how BA can help them in practice areas that don’t seem directly related to business. Now, thanks to this pro bono case I can back that up with proof from my own experience. 

July 10, 2015 in Business Associations, Family Business, Law School, Litigation, LLCs, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tips for Those Who Know Almost Nothing About Business (aka some of my incoming students)

It's barely July and I have received a surprising number of emails from my incoming business association students about how they can learn more about business before class starts. To provide some context, I have about 70 students registered and most will go on to work for small firms and/or government. BA is required at my school. Very few of my graduates will work for BigLaw, although I have some interning at the SEC. I always do a survey monkey before the semester starts, which gives me an idea of how many students are "terrified" of the idea of business or numbers and how many have any actual experience in the field so my tips are geared to my specific student base. I also focus my class on the kinds of issues that I believe they may face after graduation dealing with small businesses and entrepreneurs and not solely on the bar tested subjects. After I admonished the students to ignore my email and to relax at the beach during the summer, I sent the following tips:

If you know absolutely NOTHING about business or you want to learn a little more, try some of the following tips to get more comfortable with the language of business:

1) Watch CNBC, Bloomberg Business, or Fox Business. Some shows are better than others. Once we get into publicly traded companies, we will start watching clips from CNBC at the beginning of every class in the "BA in the News" section. You will start to see how the vocabulary we are learning is used in real life.

2) Read/skim the Wall Street Journal, NY Times Business Section or Daily Business Review. You can also read the business section of the Miami Herald but the others are better. If you plan to stay local, the DBR is key, especially the law and real estate sections.

3) Subscribe to the Investopedia word of the day- it's free. You can also download the free app.

4) Watch Shark Tank or The Profit (both are a little unrealistic but helpful for when we talk about profit & loss, cash flow statement etc). The show American Greed won't teach you a lot about what we will deal with in BA but if you're going to work for the SEC, DOJ or be a defense lawyer dealing with securities fraud you will see these kinds of cases.

5) Listen to the first or second season of The Start Up podcast available on ITunes.

6) Watch Silicon Valley on HBO- it provides a view of the world of  re venture capitalists and funding rounds for start ups.

7) Read anything by Michael Lewis related to business.

8) Watch anything on 60 Minutes or PBS' Frontline related to the financial crisis. We will not have a lot of time to cover the crisis but you need to know what led up to Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank.

9 Watch the Oscar-winning documentary "Inside Job," which  is available on Netflix.

10) Listen to Planet Money on NPR on the weekends.

11) Listen to Marketplace on NPR (it's on weekday evenings around 6 pm).

12) Read Inc, Entrepreneur, or Fast Company magazines. 

13) Follow certain companies that you care about (or hate) or government agencies on Twitter. Key agencies include the IRS, SEC, DOJ, FCC, FTC etc. If you have certain passions such as social enterprise try #socent; for corporate social responsibility try #csr, for human rights and business try #bizhumanrights. For entrepreneurs try #startups. 

14) Join LinkedIn and find groups related to companies or business areas that interest you and monitor the discussions so you can keep current. Do the same with blogs. 

As I have blogged before, I also send them selected YouTube videos and suggest CALI lessons throughout the year. Any other tips that I should suggest? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section or at mnarine@stu.edu.

July 2, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Film, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Technology | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Cuba Corporate Governance Conundrum

It’s always nice to blog and research about a hot topic. Last week I wrote about compliance challenges for those who would like to rush down to do business in Cuba- the topic of this summer’s research. Yesterday, Corporate Counsel Magazine wrote about the FCPA issues; one of my concerns. Earlier this week, I attended a meeting with the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the United States International Trade Commission. Apparently, on December 17th, the very same day that President Obama made his surprise announcement that he wanted to re-open relations with Cuba, Senator Ron Wyden coincidentally sent a request to the USITC asking for an investigation and report on trade with Cuba and an analysis of restrictions. Accordingly, the nonpartisan USITC has been traveling around the country speaking to lawyers and business professionals conducting fact-finding meetings, in order to prepare a report that will be issued to the public in September 2015. Tomorrow the Miami Finance Forum is holding an event titled the New Cuba Revolution.

This will be my third and final post on business and Cuba and in this post I will discuss the focus of my second potential law review article topic. My working thesis is as follows: As relations between the United States and Cuba thaw, American businesses have begun exploring opportunities on the island. Cuba, however, remains a communist nation with a human rights record criticized by exiles, NGOs, and even members of the United States Congress. The EU has taken a "common position" on Cuba stating that the objective of the European Union in its relations with Cuba is to encourage a process of transition to a pluralist democracy, require a respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as sustainable recovery and improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people." Individual EU member states are free to conduct business with Cuba and many European companies have joined Canadian firms in investing through joint ventures and other state-sanctioned vehicles. This Article will examine whether the US should follow the EU's model in trying to spur reform or whether allowing American firms to do business in Cuba without human rights concessions will in fact perpetuate the status quo.

As I discussed in last week’s blog post, one reason that the U.S. is unlikely to lift the embargo is the nearly 7 billion in claims for confiscated US property. Another reason is Cuba’s human rights record. For example, the island is notorious for violations of rights to freedom of press, association, assembly, and imprisonment of political protesters. The Cuban government continues to control all media limiting the access to information on the Internet due to content-based restrictions and technical limitations. Independent journalists are systematically subjected to harassment, intimidation, and detention for reporting information that was not sanctioned by the state apparatus. My colleague Jason Poblete writes often and critically about the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba. (I highly recommend him for legal advice about Cuba by the way).

Depending on whom you talk to the embargo will be lifted next year, in five year or in ten years. Personally, I don't know that the EU Common Position has been particularly effective in pressuring the Castro brothers to make human rights reforms. I don’t think the U.S. government will be any more successful either. The embargo is Exhibit A.

Most of my academic research thus far has been on what drives corporations to act in the absence of legal obligations vis a vis human rights. With that in mind, I plan to examine a few options related to Cuba. First, I am researching the effect of bilateral investment treaties. A bilateral investment treaty is an "agreement between two countries for the reciprocal encouragement, promotion and protection of investments in each other's territories by companies based in either country.” These typically grant significant rights to foreign investors, provide safeguards to investments against foreign governments, and allow foreign investors to have investment disputes adjudicated outside of the country, which will be critical for those investing in Cuba. The problem is that these BITS rarely have human rights conditions. Accordingly, some scholars have recommended that they require adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, the and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. I would also recommend reference to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidance.

Another option is to condition any renewal of a development bank such as the US’s Ex-Im Bank on requiring human rights impact assessments. The Ex-Im bank is the official export credit agency of the US. It’s used when private sector lenders are unable or unwilling to provide financing to companies entering politically or commercially risky countries. Its charter is set to expire on June 30th although its supporters claim that it financed billions in exports, which supported 200 thousand jobs last year. Opponents claim that it financed exports in countries with abysmal human rights records and/or that it supports corporate welfare. I propose that Ex-Im and other lenders follow the lead of many European financers that require human rights disclosures. I (naively?) believe labor may be the only human right remotely and partially in the control of US companies operating in Cuba in the future.

I have some other ideas but those will have to wait for the upcoming article. In the meantime, if you have some thoughts or critiques of these early ideas, please comment below or send me an email at mnarine@stu.edu. I’m off to Guatemala on Saturday for a week with a group of academics studying business and human rights (another research topic for this summer). We will be exploring climate change, the extractive industries, maquiladoras, corporate social responsibility, and the effects on the rights of indigenous peoples. You can be sure I will be writing about that in a future post.

 

June 25, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Law Reviews, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Research/Scholarhip, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Cuba Conundrum Part II- Compliance Challenges for US Companies

Last week I posted the first of three posts regarding doing business in Cuba. In my initial post I discussed some concerns that observers have regarding Cuba’s readiness for investors, the lack of infrastructure, and the rule of law issues, particularly as it relates to Cuba’s respect for contracts and debts. Indeed today, Congress heard testimony on the future of property rights in Cuba and the claims for US parties who have had billions in property confiscated by the Castro government- a sticking point for lifting the embargo. (In 1959, Americans and US businesses owned or controlled an estimated 75-80% of Cuban land and resources). Clearly there is quite a bit to be done before US businesses can rush back in, even if the embargo were lifted tomorrow. This evening, PBS speculated about what life would be like post-embargo for both countries. Today I will briefly discuss the Cuban legal system and then focus the potential compliance and ethical challenges for companies considering doing business on the island.

Cuba, like many countries, does not have a jury system. Cuba’s court system has a number of levels but they have both professional judges with legal training, and non-professional judges who are lay people nominated by trade unions and others. Cubans have compulsory service to the country, including military service for males. Many law graduates serve part of their compulsory service as judges (or prosecutors) and then step down when they are able. The lay judges serve for five years and receive a full month off from their employer to serve at full pay. Although there is a commercial court, only businesses may litigate there and are then they are at the mercy of the lay judges, who have equal power to the professional jurists. This lay judge system exists even at the appellate level. Most lawyers and law firms are controlled by the Cuban government, unless they work for a non agcricultural cooperative. More important, although I have received differing opinions from counsel, it is possible that hiring and paying a local lawyer there could violate US law related to doing business in Cuba. Notwithstanding these obstacles, many companies are trying to get an OFAC license to do business in Cuba right away or are planning for the eventual life of the embargo. In my view, getting there is the easy part. The hard part will be complying with US law, not because Cuba is in a nascent state of legal and economic development, but because of the sheer complexity of doing business with a foreign government.

The first challenge that immediately comes to mind is compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for a person or company to make “corrupt payments” or provide “anything of value” to a foreign official in order to obtain or retain business. Since almost everything is a state-owned enterprise or a joint venture with a state owned enterprise, US firms take a real risk entering into contracts or trying to get permits. There is no de minimis exception and facilitation payments- otherwise known as grease payments to speed things along- while customary in many countries- are illegal too. Legal fees and fines for FCPA violations are prohibitively expensive, and those companies doing business in Cuba will surely be targets.

Another concern for publicly-traded US companies is compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank whistleblower rules. Unless the law changes, most US companies will have to follow the model of Canadian and EU companies and enter into joint ventures or some contractual relationship with the Cuban government or a Cuban company (which may be controlled by the government). Most US employees are afraid to report on their own private employers in the US. How comfortable will a Cuban employee be using a hotline or some other mechanism to report wrongdoing when his employer is in some measure controlled by or affiliated with the Cuban government? As I will discuss next week, the biggest criticism of Cuba is its human rights record related to those who dissent. I have personally dealt with the challenge establishing and working with hotlines in China and in other countries where speaking out and reporting wrongdoing is not the cultural norm. I can imagine that in Cuba this could be a herculean task.

The last concern I will raise in this post relates to compliance with a company’s own code of conduct. If a company has a supplier code of conduct that mirrors its own, and those codes discuss freedom of association and workers’ rights that may be out of step with the Cuban law or culture, should the US firm conform to local rules? Even if that is legal, is it ethical? Google's code is famous for its “don’t be evil”credo and it has received criticism in the past from NGOs who question how it can do business in China. But Google was in Cuba last week testing the waters. Perhaps if Google is able to broaden access to the internet and the outside world, this will be a huge step for Cubans. (Of note, Cubans do not see the same TV as the tourists in their hotels and there are no TV commercials or billboards for advertisements).

There are a number of other compliance and ethics challenges but I will save that for my law review article. Next week’s post will deal with the role of foreign direct investment in spurring human rights reform or perpetuating the status quo in Cuba.

June 18, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Pope and the Politics of Climate Change

Apparently, there is a split of opinion on what some people believe God wants the world to do about the climate. On one side, Senator Jim Inhofe does not believe the man is responsible for climate change. He has publicly stated that, “[T]he Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” When I mentioned this quote to a European audience at a conference on climate change and business in 2013, there was an audible gasp. He also wrote a 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. His position did not change after the 2013 Intergovernmental Commission on Climate Change Report definitively declared that climate change was largely man made. This would all be irrelevant if Senator Inhofe wasn’t the Chair of the Senate committee that oversees the environment. Inhofe was the keynote speaker last week at the Heartland Institute’s annual conference on climate change (watch the video clip in the article in which the Catholic Church and the Pope get special mention).

On the other side of the debate, Pope Francis will enter the fray with a new Encyclical on climate change next week, and it's expected to have some influence on upcoming UN talks on the subject. Many US politicians argue that the Pope should "mind his own business" and stick to issues that affect the poor and the faithful around the world. Climate change is actually directly related to the ability of poor people to gain access to water, grow crops, and avoid natural disasters, and thus I would argue that this is the Pope’s “business.” It’s also Senator Inhofe’s business as he's allegedly received over $1.7 million from the oil and gas industry over his career.

Although oil and gas companies have contributed to Senator Inhofe, a number of them have already tried to be proactive in their CSR reports and other marketing efforts. The tide may be turning against climate change deniers. Norway’s $900 billion sovereign wealth fund just divested from 122 fossil fuel companies ($945 million), and that fund was largely financed by Norway’s oil wealth. In any event, I look forward to reading the Pope’s comments and seeing how foreign governments and US businesses respond to it.

 

June 13, 2015 in Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Marcia Narine, Religion, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Cuba Conundrum- How Will US Companies Fare Doing Business in a Communist Country?- Part I

Cuba has been in the news a lot lately. I’ve just returned from ten days in Havana so I could see it first hand both as a person who writes on business and human rights and as an attorney who consults occasionally on corporate issues. The first part of the trip was with the International Law Section of the Florida Bar. The second was with a group of art lovers. I plan to write two or three blog posts about the prospects of doing business in Cuba if and when the embargo is lifted. Because I do some consulting work, I want to make clear that these views are my own as an academic and should not be attributed to anyone else.

In this post I will just briefly list some basic facts about Cuba and foreign investment. Next week I will talk a bit more about investment, introduce the Cuban legal system, and talk about some of the business and compliance challenges. That's the subject of my research this summer. The following week I will address human rights in Cuba and how various governments and businesses are addressing those issues, the subject of another article I am working on. 

Some Cuba basics:

  • The island has 11 million people
  • The average monthly wage is $25-45 per month
  • The government is just starting to develop a comprehensive tax code
  • The government is now allowing the sale of private property but the concept of mortgages is undeveloped
  • 86% of people work for the government in some form but the government is now allowing “self employment” and cooperatives (small private businesses such as agricultural farms, salons, and restaurants)
  • 5% of population has access to internet or a cell phone
  • The government is seeking foreign investment- except in health, education, or military sectors
  • Cuba is not an OECD member state. It does sit on the UN Human Rights Council
  • The GDP is 62.7 billion
  • The literacy rate is 99.8% and the country scores high on the human development index
  • The country is in the middle of the pack in terms of the Corruption Perception Index, which measures bribery
  • There are now over 60 bilateral investment treaties in place but they are not all in force
  • Most lawyers and law firms work for the Cuban government

There are now three possible methods of international investment:

1)  International Economic Association Contract (AEI). 49% of the companies in the 2015 registry are AEIs. This is a contract that does not create a new company and there is no sharing of profits. Certain changes of parties require government approval;

2) Full Foreign Capital Company. This is almost never approved but the foreign company has total control of the enterprise; and

3)  Joint venture with the Cuban government. These are 45% of the companies in the 2015 registry. Often the hotels and other EU businesses are JVs with the government.

In the preamble to Cuba’s 2014 Laws on Foreign Investment (LFI), the Cuban National Assembly makes clear that the underlying basis for the law is: “Cuba's need to provide greater incentives to attract foreign capital, new technologies, and know-how to increase domestic production and better position Cuba to export to international markets.”  The new law halves the profits tax from 30 to 15% and exempts investors from paying it for eight years. But the new law also appears to withhold many of the tax benefits from companies that are 100% foreign-owned.

Although Cuba changed its law last year, many people believe that Cuba is not ready for investment. Clearly rule of law concerns and the lack of infrastructure are real barriers. I’ll give more of my opinion on compliance and investment challenges and opportunities next week.

 

 

June 11, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Travel | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Greetings from Havana.

Greetings from Havana. I spent 3 days last week with the Florida bar learning about the Cuban legal system and foreign investment from local and Canadian lawyers and a Cuban-based American reporter. I have spent the past several days looking at art from over 40 countries at the Biennal. My internet is spotty and I'm typing this on my phone so please excuse any spacing issues. Only 5 percent of people have internet access so a hotel lobby is prized real estate. Over the next few months I will be researching about Cuba, foreign investment, and the human rights implications. I have a particular interest in this because for many years pre-academy I had to ensure that my former company and its subsidiaries did not violate the law by doing business with Cuba. Although the embargo is still in place, more and more US companies are applying every day for OFAC licenses to enter the Cuban market. If you have any insight/opinions on the pros/cons of bilateral investment treaties (there are already dozens with Cuba), whether Cuba will follow the VietNam model for modernizing its economy, or whether foreign investment can spur human rights reforms or just perpetuate the status quo let me know in the comments or via email at mnarine@stu.edu. For those who follow the Cuba issue, the US Congress has been busy this week proposing and passing legislation on doing business with the island. Next week when I have a more stable internet connection I'll give you my impressions on doing business in Cuba. In the meantime, adios.

June 4, 2015 in Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 22, 2015

The outsourcing of human rights enforcement to corporations- EU-style

I haven’t met Hollywood producer Edward Zwick, who brought the movie and the concept of Blood Diamonds to the world’s attention, but I have had the honor of meeting with medical rock star, and Nobel Prize nominee Dr. Denis Mukwege. Both Zwick and Mukwege had joined numerous NGOs in advocating for a mandatory conflict minerals law in the EU. I met the doctor when I visited Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011 on a fact finding trip for a nonprofit that focuses on maternal and infant health and mortality. Since Mukwege works with mass rape victims, my colleague and I were delighted to have dinner with him to discuss the nonprofit. I also wanted to get his reaction to the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals regulation, which was not yet in effect. I don’t remember him having as strong an opinion on the law as he does now, but I do remember that he adamantly wanted the US to do something to stop the bloodshed that he saw first hand every day.

The success of the Dodd-Frank law is debatable in terms of stemming the mass rape, use of child slaves, and violence against innocent civilians. Indeed, earlier this month, over 100 villagers were raped by armed militia. A 2014 Human Rights Watch report confirms that both rebels and the Congolese military continue to use rape as a weapon of war to deal with ethnic tensions. I know this issue well having co-authored a study on the use of sexual and gender-based violence in DRC with a medical anthropologist. With all due respect to Dr. Mukwege (who clearly know the situation better than I), that research on the causes of rape, but more important, my decade of experience in the supply chain industry have lead me to believe that the US Dodd-Frank law was misguided. The law aims to stem the violence by having US issuers perform due diligence on their supply chains. I have spoken to a number of companies that have told me that  it would have been easier for the US to just ban the use of minerals from Congo because the compliance challenges are too high. Thus it was no surprise that last year’s SEC filings were generally vague and uninformative. It remains to be seen whether the filings due in a few weeks will be any better.

To me Dodd-Frank is a convenient way for the US government to outsource human rights enforcement to multinational corporations. Due diligence and clean supply chains are good, necessary, and in my view nonnegotiable, but they are not nearly enough to deal with the horrors in Congo. Nonetheless, in a surprise move, the EU Parliament voted this week to go even farther than the US law. According to the Parliament’s press release:

Parliament voted by 400 votes to 285, with 7 abstentions, to overturn the Commission's proposal as well as the one adopted by the international trade committee and requested mandatory compliance for "all Union importers" sourcing in conflict areas. In addition, "downstream" companies, that is, the 880, 000 potentially affected EU firms that use tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold in manufacturing consumer products, will be obliged to provide information on the steps they take to identify and address risks in their supply chains for the minerals and metals concerned… The regulation applies to all conflict-affected high risk areas in the world, of which the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes area are the most obvious example. The draft law defines 'conflict-affected and high-risk areas' as those in a state of armed conflict, with widespread violence, the collapse of civil infrastructure, fragile post-conflict areas and areas of weak or non-existent governance and security, characterised by "widespread and systematic violations of human rights".

(emphasis mine). I hope this proposed law works for the sake of the Congolese and all of those who live in conflict zones around the world. The EU member states have to sign off on it, so who knows what the final law will look like. Some criticize the law because the list of “conflict-affected areas” is constantly changing. Although that’s true, I don’t think that criticism should affect passage of the law. The bigger flaw in my view is that there are a number of natural resources from conflict-affected zones- palm oil comes to mind- that this regulation does not address. This law, like Dodd-Frank does both too much and not enough. In an upcoming book chapter, I propose that governments use procurement and other incentives and penalties related to executive compensation and clawbacks to drive human rights due diligence and third-party audits (sorry, I'm prohibited from posting a link to it but it's forthcoming from Cambridge University Press).

In the meantime, I will wait for the DC Circuit to rule on constitutional aspects of the Dodd-Frank bill. I will also be revising my most recent law review article on the defects of the disclosure regime to address the EU development. I will post the article next week from Havana, Cuba, where I will spend 10 days learning about the Cuban legal system and culture. Given my scholarship and the recent warming of relations between the US and Cuba, I may sneak a little research in as well, and in two weeks I will post my impressions on the challenges and opportunities that US companies will face in the Cuban market once the embargo is lifted. Adios!

May 22, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, International Business, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Call for Papers: Business and Human Rights


Business and Human Rights Junior Scholars Conference
                          
The Rutgers Center for Corporate Governance, The University of Washington School of Law, and the Business and Human Rights Journal (Cambridge University Press) announce the first Business and Human Rights Junior Scholars Conference, to be held September 18, 2015 at the Rutgers School of Law – Newark in Newark, New Jersey, just outside of New York City.  The Conference will pair approximately ten junior scholars writing at the intersection of business and human rights issues with senior scholars in the field.  Junior scholars will have an opportunity to present their papers and receive feedback from senior scholars.   Upon request, participants’ papers may be considered for publication in the Business and Human Rights Journal (BHRJ), published by Cambridge University Press.
 
All junior scholars will be tenure-track professors who are either untenured or have been tenured in the past three years.  The Conference is interdisciplinary; scholars from all disciplines are invited to apply, including law, business, human rights, and global affairs.  The papers must be unpublished at the time of presentation.
 
To apply, please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words to msantoro@business.rutgers.edu andarama@uw.edu with the subject line Business & Human Rights Conference Proposal.  Please include your name, affiliation, contact information, and curriculum vitae. 
 
The deadline for submission is June 15, 2015.  Scholars whose submissions are selected for the symposium will be notified no later than July 15, 2015. We encourage early submissions, as selections will be made on a rolling basis.
  
About the BHRJ
 
The BHRJ provides an authoritative platform for scholarly debate on all issues concerning the intersection of business and human rights in an open, critical and interdisciplinary manner. It seeks to advance the academic discussion on business and human rights as well as promote concern for human rights in business practice.
 
BHRJ strives for the broadest possible scope, authorship and readership. Its scope encompasses interface of any type of business enterprise with human rights, environmental rights, labour rights and the collective rights of vulnerable groups. The Editors welcome theoretical, empirical and policy / reform-oriented perspectives and encourage submissions from academics and practitioners in all global regions and all relevant disciplines.
 
A dialogue beyond academia is fostered as peer-reviewed articles are published alongside shorter ‘Developments in the Field’ items that include policy, legal and regulatory developments, as well as case studies and insight pieces.
 
 

May 21, 2015 in Call for Papers, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Marcia Narine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Did a Slave Make Your Product and Do You Care? The California AG Thinks So

Last week, I looked lovingly at a picture of a Starbucks old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwich. It had 580 calories. I thought about getting the sandwich and then reconsidered and made another more “virtuous” choice. These calorie disclosures, while annoying, are effective for people like me. I see the disclosure, make a choice (sometimes the “wrong” one), and move on.

Regular readers of this blog know that I spend a lot of time thinking about human rights from a corporate governance perspective. I thought about that uneaten sandwich as I consulted with a client last week about the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. The law went into effect in 2012 and requires retailers, sellers, and manufacturers that exceed $100 million in global revenue that do business in California to publicly disclose the degree to which they verify, audit, and certify their direct suppliers as it relates to human trafficking and slavery. Companies must also disclose whether or not they maintain internal accountability standards, and provide training on the issue in their direct supply chains. The disclosure must appear prominently on a company’s website, but apparently many companies, undeterred by the threat of injunctive action by the state Attorney General, have failed to comply. In April, the California Department of Justice sent letters to a number of companies stating in part: 

If your company has posted the required disclosures on its Internet website or, alternatively, takes the position that it is not required to comply with the Act, we request that – within 30 days of this letter’s date – you complete the form accessible at http://oag.ca.gov/sb657 and provide this office with (1) the web links (URLs) to both your company’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act disclosures and its homepage containing a link to the disclosures; and/or (2) information demonstrating your company is not covered by the Act.

There are no financial penalties for noncompliance. Rather, companies can face reputational damage and/or an order from the Attorney General to post something on their websites. A company complies even if that disclosure states that the company does no training, auditing, certification, monitoring or anything else related to human trafficking or slavery. The client I spoke to last week is very specialized and all of its customers are other businesses. Based on their business profiles, those “consumers” are not likely to make purchasing decisions based on human rights due diligence. I will be talking to another client in a few weeks on the California law. That client is business to consumer but its consumers specifically focus on low cost—that’s the competitive advantage for that client. Neither company-- the B2B nor the B2 (cost conscious)C-- is likely to lose significant, if any business merely because they don’t do extensive due diligence on their supply chains. Similarly, Apple, which has done a great job on due diligence for the conflict minerals law will not set records with the sale of the Apple Watch because of its human rights record. I bet that if I walked into an Apple Store and asked how many had seen or heard of Apple’s  state of the art conflict minerals disclosure, the answer would be less than 1% (and that would be high).

People buy products because they want them. The majority of people won’t bother to look for what’s in or behind the product, although that information is readily available through apps or websites. If that information stares the consumer in the face (thanks Starbucks), then the consumer may make a different choice. But that assumes that (1) the consumer cares and (2) there is an equally viable choice.

To be clear, I believe that companies must know what happens with their suppliers, and that there is no excuse for using trafficked or forced labor. But I don’t know that the use of disclosures is the way to go. Some boards will engage in the cost benefit analysis of reputational damage and likelihood of enforcement  vs cost of compliance rather than having a conversation about what kind of company they want to be. Many board members will logically ask themselves, “should we care if our customers don’t care?”

My most recent law review article covers this topic in detail. I’ll post it in the next couple of weeks because I need to revise it to cover the April development on the California law, and the EU’s vote on May 19 on their own version of the conflict minerals law. In the meantime, ignorance is bliss. I’m staying out of Starbucks and any other restaurant that posts calories- at least during the stressful time of grading exams.

May 14, 2015 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Is a national bar exam on the way?

I currently teach two classes that are on the bar exam—civil procedure and business associations. Many of my BA students are terrified of numbers and don’t know much about business and therefore likely would not take the course if it were not required. I know this because they admit that they take certain classes only because they are required or because they will be tested on the bar, and not because they genuinely have an interest in learning the subject. I went to Harvard for law school and although I had an outstanding education, I learned almost nothing that helped me for the NY, NJ, or FL bars (hopefully that has changed). I owe all of my bar passages to bar review courses so naturally (naively?), I think that almost any student can learn everything they need to know for the bar in a few short months assuming that they had some basic foundation in law school and have good study habits.

The pressure to ensure that my students pass the bar exam definitely informs the way I teach. Though there has only been one round of civil procedure testing on the multistate, this semester I found myself ensuring that I covered certain areas and glossed over others, even though I know having litigated for 20 years, that some subjects are more relevant in real life. Similarly, in BA, I had to make sure that I covered what will be on the Florida bar, while still ensuring that my students understand Delaware law and some basic finance and accounting, which isn't on the Florida bar, but which they need to know.

New York recently announced that it would join other states in adopting the uniform bar examination effective July 2016. The other states using the UBE include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. New York, as the largest adopter, hopes to inspire other states to do the same.

NY students would still have to take online courses and pass a 50-question test regarding specific NY laws, but the students would take the MBE, and MPT or multistate performance test. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the two 90-minute MPT exercises are “designed to test an examinee’s ability to use fundamental lawyering skills in a realistic situation and complete a task that a beginning lawyer should be able to accomplish. The MPT is not a test of substantive knowledge. Rather, it is designed to evaluate certain fundamental skills lawyers are expected to demonstrate regardless of the area of law in which the skills arise.” The NY graduates will also no longer have to write on 6 NY-based essays, but will instead write the multistate essay examination. Students will have to write on topics including: Business Associations (Agency and Partnership; Corporations and Limited Liability Companies), Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Family Law, Real Property, Torts, Trusts and Estates (Decedents' Estates; Trusts and Future Interests), and Uniform Commercial Code (Secured Transactions).

In adopting the change, New York officials explained, a “significant advantage of adopting the UBE is that passage of the test would produce a portable score that could be used by the bar applicant to gain admission in other UBE states, assuming the applicant satisfies any other jurisdiction-specific requirements. This portability is crucial in a legal marketplace that is increasingly mobile and requires more and more attorneys to engage in multi-jurisdictional practice.”

I think this is sound reasoning. Many of today’s graduates do not know where they will end up, and I personally know that the thought of taking yet another bar exam was a reason that I decided to stay in Florida when I was in private practice. But the better reason to move to the UBE is the testing of the practical skills that lawyers say recent graduates lack. It won’t solve the problem of the lack of legal work, but it will make it easier for students who want to try to find work in other states. I doubt that Florida, which wants to make it as difficult as possible for snowbirds to set up practice here, will ever adopt the UBE but it should. Many oppose the adoption because schools may not have the faculty or resources to prepare students for the new test. But I welcome the change. Despite the pressure to prep my students for the bar, I have ensured that my students work on drafting client memos, discovery plans, markups of poorly written documents, and even emails to partners and clients so that they can be ready for the world that awaits them. If Florida joins the UBE bandwagon, they will be ready for the MPT too.

 

May 7, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporations, Current Affairs, Jobs, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 1, 2015

The New White Collar Whistleblower: Compliance and Audit Professionals as Tipsters

I’ve been thinking a lot about whistleblowers lately. I serve as a “management” representative to the Department of Labor Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee and last week we presented the DOL with our recommendations for best practices for employers. We are charged with looking at almost two dozen whistleblower laws. I've previously blogged about whistleblower issues here.

Although we spend the bulk of our time on the WPAC discussing the very serious obstacles for those workers who want to report safety violations, at the last meeting we also discussed, among other things, the fact that I and others believed that there could be a rise in SOX claims from attorneys and auditors following the 2014 Lawson decision. In that case, the Supreme Court observed that: “Congress plainly recognized that outside professionals — accountants, law firms, contractors, agents, and the like — were complicit in, if not integral to, the shareholder fraud and subsequent cover-up [Enron] officers … perpetrated.” Thus, the Court ruled, those, including private contractors, who see the wrongdoing but may be too fearful of retaliation to report it should be entitled to SOX whistleblower protection.

We also discussed the SEC's April KBR decision, which is causing hundreds of companies to revise their codes of conduct, policies, NDAs, confidentiality and settlement agreements to ensure there is no language that explicitly or implicitly prevents employees from reporting wrongdoing to the government or seeking an award.

Two weeks ago, I spoke in front of a couple hundred internal auditors and certified fraud examiners about how various developments in whistleblower laws could affect their investigations, focusing mainly on Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Whistleblower. I felt right at home because in my former life as a compliance officer and deputy general counsel, I spent a lot of time with internal and external auditors. Before I joined academia, I testified before Congress on what I thought could be some flaws in the law as written. Specifically, I had some concerns about the facts that: culpable individuals could receive awards; individuals did not have to consider reporting wrongdoing internally even if there was a credible, functioning compliance program; and that those with fiduciary responsibilities were also eligible for awards without reporting first (if possible), which could lead to conflicts of interest. The SEC did make some changes to Dodd-Frank. The agency now weighs the whistleblower’s participation in the firm’s internal compliance program as a factor that may increase the whistleblower’s eventual award and considers interference with internal compliance programs to be a factor that may decrease any award. It also indicated that compliance or internal audit professionals should report internally first and then wait 120 days before going external.

Before I launched into my legal update, I gave the audience some sobering statistics about financial professionals:

  • 23% have seen misconduct firsthand
  • 29% believe they may have to engage in illegal or unethical conduct to be successful
  • 24% would engage in insider trading if they could earn $10 million and get away with it 

I also shared the following awards with them:

  • $875,000 to two individuals for “tips and assistance” relating to fraud in the securities market;
  • $400,000 to a whistleblower who reported fraud to the SEC after the employee’s company failed to address internally certain securities law violations;
  • $300,000 to an employee who reported wrongdoing to the SEC after the company failed to take action when the employee reported it internally first;
  • $14 million- tip about an alleged Chicago-based scheme to defraud foreign investors seeking U.S. residency; and
  • More than $30 million to a tipster living in a foreign country, who would have received more if he hadn't delayed reporting

I also informed them about a number of legal developments that affect those that occupy a position of trust or confidence. These white-collar whistleblowers have received significant paydays recently. Last year the SEC paid  $300,000 to an employee who performed “audit or compliance functions.” I predicted more of these awards, and then to prove me right, just last week, the SEC awarded its second bounty to an audit or compliance professional, this time for approximately 1.4 million.

I asked the auditors to consider how this would affect their working with their peers and their clients, and how companies might react. Will companies redouble their efforts to encourage internal reporting? Although statistics are clear that whistleblowers prefer to report internally if they can and don’t report because they want financial gain, will these awards embolden compliance, audit, and legal personnel to report to the government? Will we see more employees with fiduciary duties coming forward to report wrongdoing? Does this conflict with any ethical duties imposed upon lawyers or compliance officers with legal backgrounds? SOX 307 describes up the ladder reporting requirements, but what happens to the attorney who chooses to go external? Will companies consider self-reporting to get more favorable deferred and nonprosecution agreements to pre-empt the potential whistleblower?

I don’t have answers for any of these questions, but companies and boards should at a minimum look at their internal compliance programs and ensure that their reporting mechanisms allow for reports from outside counsel and auditors. In the meantime, it’s now entirely possible that an auditor, compliance officer, or lawyer could be the next Sherron Watkins.

And by the way, if you were in Busan, South Korea last Wednesday, you may have heard me on the morning show talking about whistleblowers. Drop me a line and let me know how I sounded. 

May 1, 2015 in Case Law, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Legislation, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The EU's Conflict over Conflict Minerals

Regular readers know that I have blogged repeatedly about my opposition to the US Dodd-Frank conflict minerals rule, which aims to stop the flow of funds to rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Briefly, the US law does not prohibit the use of conflict minerals, but instead requires certain companies to obtain an independent private sector third-party audit of reports of the facilities used to process the conflict minerals; conduct a reasonable country of origin inquiry; and describe the steps the company used to mitigate the risk, in order to improve its due diligence process. The business world and SEC are awaiting a First Amendment ruling from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on the “name and shame” portion of the law, which requires companies to indicate whether their products are DRC Conflict Free.” I have argued that it is a well-intentioned but likely ineffective corporate governance disclosure that depends on consumers to pressure corporations to change their behavior.

The proposed EU regulation establishes a voluntary process through which importers of certain minerals into the EU self-certify that they do not contribute to financing in “conflict-affected” or “high risk areas.” Unlike Dodd-Frank, it is not limited to Congo. Taking note of various stakeholder consultations and the US Dodd-Frank law, the EU had originally limited the scope to importers, and chose a voluntary mechanism to avoid any regional boycotts that hurt locals and did not stop armed conflict. Those importers who choose to certify would have to conduct due diligence in accordance with the OECD Guidance, and report their findings to the EU. The EU would then publish a list of “responsible smelters and refiners,” so that the public will hold importers and smelters accountable for conducting appropriate due diligence. The regulation also offers incentives, such as assistance with procurement contracts.

One of the problems with researching and writing on hot topics is that things change quickly. Two days after I submitted my most recent article to law reviews in March criticizing the use of disclosure to mitigate human rights impacts, the EU announced that it was considering a mandatory certification program for conflict minerals. That meant I had to change a whole section of my article. (I’ll blog on that article another time, but it will be out in the Winter issue of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review). Then just yesterday, in a reversal, the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee announced that it would stick with the original voluntary plan after all.The European Parliament votes on the proposal in May.

Reaction from the NGO community was swift. Global Witness explained: 

Today the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) wasted a ground-breaking opportunity to tackle the deadly trade in conflict minerals. […] Under this proposal, responsible sourcing by importers of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold would be entirely optional. The Commission’s proposed voluntary self-certification scheme would be open to approximately 300-400 companies—just 0.05% of companies using and trading these minerals in the EU, and would have virtually no impact on companies’ sourcing behaviour. The law must be strengthened to make responsible sourcing a legal requirement for all companies that place these minerals on the European market–in any form. This would put the European Union at the forefront of global efforts to create more transparent, responsible and sustainable business practices. It would also better align Europe with existing international standards on responsible sourcing, and complement mandatory requirements in the US and in twelve African countries.

I’m all for due diligence in the supply chain and for forcing companies to minimize their human rights impacts. Corporations should do more than respect human rights-- they must pay when they cause harm. I plan to spend part of my summer researching and writing in Latin America about stronger human rights protections for indigenous peoples and the deleterious actions of some multinationals.

But a mandatory certification scheme on due diligence is not the answer because it won’t solve deep, intractable problems that require much more widespread reform. To be clear, I don't think the EU has the right solution either. Reasonable people can disagree, but perhaps the members of the EU Parliament should look to Dodd-Frank. SEC Chair Mary Jo White disclosed last month that the agency had spent 2.75 million dollars, including legal fees, and 17,000 hours writing and implementing the conflict minerals rule. A number of scholars and activists have argued that the law has in fact harmed the Congolese it meant to help and news reports have attempted to dispel some of the myths that led to the passage of the law.

So let’s see what happens in May when the EU looks at conflict minerals again. Let’s see what happens in June when the second wave of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals filings come in. As I indicated in my last blog post about Dodd-Frank referenced above, the first set of filings was particularly unhelpful. And let’s see what happens in December when parents start the holiday shopping—how many of them will check on the disclosures before buying electronics and toys for the members of their family? Most important, let's see if someone can actually tie the money and time spent on conflict minerals disclosure directly to lower rates of rape, child slavery, kidnapping, and forced labor-- the behaviors these laws intend to stop. 

April 16, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Law Reviews, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Would the world be a better place if law students were shareholders?

It’s that time of year again where I have my business associations students pretend to be shareholders and draft proposals. I blogged about this topic last semester here. Most of this semester’s proposals related to environmental, social and governance factors. In the real world, a record 433 ESG proposals have been filed this year, and the breakdown as of mid-February was as follows according to As You Sow:

Environment/Climate Change- 27%

Political Activity- 26%

Human Rights/Labor-15%

Sustainability-12%

Diversity-9%

Animals-2%

Summaries of some of the student proposals are below (my apologies if my truncated descriptions make their proposals less clear): 

1) Netflix-follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the core standards of the International Labour Organization

2) Luxottica- separate Chair and CEO

3) DineEquity- issue quarterly reports on efforts to combat childhood obesity and the links to financial risks to the company

4) Starbucks- provide additional disclosure of risks related to declines in consumer spending and decreases in wages

5) Chipotle- issue executive compensation/pay disparity report

6) Citrix Systems-add board diversity

7) Dunkin Donuts- eliminate the use of Styrofoam cups

8) Campbell Soup- issue sustainability report

9) Shake Shack- issue sustainability report

10) Starbucks- separate Chair and CEO

11) Hyatt Hotels- institute a tobacco-free workplace

12) Burger King- eliminate GMO in food

13) McDonalds- provide more transparency on menu changes

14) Google-disclose more on political expenditures

15) WWE- institute funding cap

One proposal that generated some discussion in class today related to a consumer products company. As I skimmed the first two lines of the proposal to end animal testing last night, I realized that one of my friends was in-house counsel at the company. I immediately reached out to her telling her that my students noted that the company used to be ”cruelty-free,” but now tested on animals in China.  She responded that the Chinese government required animal testing on these products, and thus they were complying with applicable regulations. My students, however, believed that the company should, like their competitors, work with the Chinese government to change the law or should pull out of China.  Are my students naïve? Do companies actually have the kind of leverage to cause the Chinese government to change their laws? Or would companies fail their shareholders by pulling out of a market with a billion potential customers? This led to a robust debate, which unfortunately we could not finish.

I look forward to Tuesday’s class when we will continue these discussions and I will show them the sobering statistics of how often these proposals tend to fail. Hopefully we can also touch on the Third Circuit decision, which may be out on the Wal-Mart/Trinity Church shareholder proposal issue.These are certainly exciting times to be teaching about business associations and corporate governance.

April 9, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Key Legal Documents for Startups and Entrepreneurs

Earlier this week I went to a really useful workshop conducted by the Venture Law Project and David Salmon entitled "Key Legal Docs Every Entrepreneur Needs." I decided to attend because I wanted to make sure that I’m on target with what I am teaching in Business Associations, and because I am on the pro bono list to assist small businesses. I am sure that the entrepreneurs learned quite a bit because I surely did, especially from the questions that the audience members asked. My best moment, though was when a speaker asked who knew the term "right of first refusal" and the only two people who raised their hands were yours truly and my former law student, who turned to me and gave me the thumbs up.

Their list of the “key” documents is below:

1)   Operating Agreement (for an LLC)- the checklist included identity, economics, capital structure, management, transfer restrictions, consent for approval of amendments, and miscellaneous.

2)   NDA- Salmon advised that asking for an NDA was often considered a “rookie mistake” and that venture capitalists will often refuse to sign them. I have heard this from a number of legal advisors over the past few years, and Ycombinator specifically says they won't sign one.

3)   Term Sheets- the seminar used an example for a Series AA Preferred Stock Financing, which addressed capitalization, proposed private placement, etc.

4)   Independent Contractor Agreement- the seminar creators also provided an IRS checklist.

5)   Consulting Agreement- this and some other documents came from  Orrick's start-up forms page and ycombinator. FYI, Cooley Goddard also has some forms and guidance.

6)   Employment Agreement- as a former employment lawyer, I would likely make a lot of tweaks to the document, and vey few people have employment contracts in any event. But it did have good information about equity grants.

7)   Convertible Promissory Note Purchase Agreement- here's where the audience members probably all said, "I need an attorney" and can't do this from some online form generator or service like Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer.

8)   Stock Purchase Agreement- the sample dealt with Series AA preferred stock.

9)   IRS 83(b) form- for those who worry that they may have to pay taxes on "phantom income" if the value of their stock rises.

10) A detailed checklist dealing with basic incorporation, personnel/employee matters, intellectual property, and tax/finance/administration with a list of whether the responsible party should be the founders, attorney, officers, insurance agent, accountant, or other outside personnel.

What’s missing in your view? The speakers warned repeatedly that business people should not cut and paste from these forms, but we know that many will. So my final question- how do we train future lawyers so that these form generators and workshops don't make attorneys obsolete to potential business clients?

 

April 2, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporations, Entrepreneurship, Law School, LLCs, M&A, Marcia Narine, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (4)