Friday, February 24, 2017
A few weeks ago I blogged about the spate of boycotts and buycotts responding to President Trump’s travel ban. Since that time, the #grabyourwallet campaign has taken credit for a number of stores dropping Ivanka Trump’s merchandise. In response, celebrities and others flocked to Nordstrom after criticism by the President’s surrogates about the retailer’s decision to drop the products, even though Nordstrom cited falling sales. Within days, news outlets reported that her perfume was a top seller on Amazon, and that many reviewers indicated that they had bought the product to show support for the President.
Yesterday, NPR reported that the United Auto Workers will revive its 1980s Buy American campaign, which will not only promote American-made products but will also encourage the boycott of cars made by American companies overseas. I’ve argued in the past that boycotts don’t work, and the NPR story provided some support from a professor who noted, “these campaigns, even with catchy song lyrics, almost never work. For instance, garment work essentially left the U.S. almost completely a few years after [the look for the union label ad] ran, and after the last UAW campaign, the American car companies continued to lose market share.” The New York Times has also examined whether these boycotts have long term effect.
The back and forth between boycotts and buycotts related to the President’s family may prove conventional wisdom wrong. It may be time for an empirical study (not by me) of when and how the boycott/boycott movement can sustain itself.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
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.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Shortly after the election in November, I blogged about Eleven Corporate Governance and Compliance Questions for the President-Elect. Those questions (in italics) and my updates are below:
- 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 minimum, may not be out of the question.
Last week, via Executive Order, President Trump made it clear (without naming the law) that portions of Dodd-Frank are on the chopping block and asked for a 120-day review. Prior to signing the order, the President explained, “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank…I have so many people, friends of mine, with nice businesses, they can’t borrow money, because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations and Dodd-Frank.” An executive order cannot repeal Dodd-Frank, however. That would require a vote of 60 votes in the Senate. To repeal or modify portions, the Senate only requires a majority vote.
Some portions of Dodd-Frank are already gone including the transparency provision, §1504, which NGOs had touted because it forced US issuers in the extractive industries to disclose certain payments made to foreign governments. I think this was a mistake. By the time you read this post, the controversial conflict minerals rule, which requires companies to determine and disclose whether tin, tungsten, tantalum, or gold come from the Democratic Republic of Congo or surrounding countries, may also be history. The President may issue another executive order this week that may spell the demise of the rule, especially because others in Congress have already introduced bills to repeal it. I agree with the repeal, as I have written about here, because I don’t think that the SEC is the right agency to address the devastating human rights crisis in Congo.
As for the whistleblower provisions, it is too soon to tell. See #7 below.
Based on an earlier Executive Order meant to cut regulations in general and the President’s reliance on corporate raider/activist Carl Icahn as regulation czar, we can assume that the financial sector will experience fewer and not more regulations under Trump.
- 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?
President Trump has nominated Jay Clayton, a lawyer who has represented Goldman Sachs and Alibaba to replace former prosecutor Mary Jo White. Based on his background and past representations, we may see less enforcement of the FCPA and more focus on capital formation and disclosure reform. Observers are divided on the FCPA enforcement because 2016 had some record-breaking fines. As for the other SEC vacancies, I will continue to monitor this.
- How will the vow to freeze the federal workforce affect OSHA, which enforces Sarbanes-Oxley?
The Department of Labor enforces OSHA, and the current nominee for Secretary, Andy Pudzer, is a fast food CEO with some labor issues of his own. His pro-business stance and his opposition to increases in the minimum wage and the DOL white-collar exemption changes don’t necessarily predict how he would enforce SOX, but we can assume that it won’t be as much of a priority as rolling back regulations he has already publicly opposed.
- 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.
- How will a more conservative Supreme Court deal with the business cases that will appear before it?
I will comment on this after the confirmation hearings of nominee Neil Gorsuch. Others have already predicted that he will be pro-business.
- 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?
Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed yesterday after a contentious hearing. During his hearing, he indicated that he supported whistleblower provisions related to the False Claims Act, and many believe that he will retain retain the Yates Memo. Ironically, prior to that confirmation, President Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, for refusing to defend the President’s executive order on refugees and travel.
- What will happen with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which the DC Circuit recently ruled was unconstitutional in terms of its structure and power?
Despite, running on a populist theme, Trump has targeted a number of institutions meant to protect consumers. Based on reports, we will likely see some major restrictions on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the rules related to disclosure and interest rates. Trump will likely replace the head, Richard Cordray, whom many criticize for his perceived unfettered power and the ability to set his own budget. The Financial Stability Oversight Council, established to address large, failing firms without the need for a bailout, is also at risk. The Volker Rule, which restricts banks from certain proprietary investments and limits ownership of covered funds, may also see revisions.
- 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?
I will comment on this in a separate post.
- What happens to the Public Company Accounting Board, which has had an interim director for several months?
The PCAOB is not directly covered by the February 3rd Executive Order described in #1, and many believe that the Executive Order related to paring back regulations will not affect the agency either, although the agency is already conducting its own review of regulations. In December, the agency received a budget increase.
- 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?
President Trump has tapped ex-Goldman Sachs veteran Steve Mnuchin, and some believe that he will be good for both Wall Street and Main Street. More to come on this in the future.
I will continue to update this list over the coming months. I will post separately today updating last week’s post on the effects of consumer boycotts and how public sentiment has affected Superbowl commercials, litigation, and the First Daughter all in the past few days.
February 9, 2017 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, February 2, 2017
Donald Trump has had a busy two weeks. Even before his first official day on the job, then President-elect Trump assembled an economic advisory board. On Monday, January 23rd, President Trump held the first of his quarterly meetings with a number of CEOs to discuss economic policy. On January 27th, the President issued what some colloquially call a “Muslim ban” via Executive Order, and within days, people took to the streets in protest both here and abroad.
These protests employed the use of hashtag activism, which draws awareness to social causes via Twitter and other social media avenues. The first “campaign,” labeled #deleteuber, shamed the company because people believed (1) that the ride-sharing app took advantage of a work stoppage by protesting drivers at JFK airport, and (2) because they believed the CEO had not adequately condemned the Executive Order. Uber competitor Lyft responded via Twitter and through an email to users that it would donate $1 million to the ACLU over four years to “defend our Constitution.” Uber, which is battling its drivers in courts around the country, then established a $3 million fund for drivers affected by the Executive Order. An estimated 200,000 users also deleted their Uber accounts because of the social media campaign, and the CEO resigned today from the economic advisory board.
Other CEOs, feeling the pressure, have also issued statements against the Order. In response, some companies such as Starbucks, which pledged to hire 10,000 refugees, have faced a boycott from many Trump supporters, which in turn may lead to a “buycott” from Trump opponents and actually generate more sales. This leads to the logical question of whether these political statements are good or bad for business, and whether it's better to just stay silent unless the company has faced a social media campaign. Professor Bainbridge recently blogged about the issue, observing:
The bulk of Lyft's business is conducted in large coastal cities. In other words, Obama/Clinton country. By engaging in blatant virtue signaling, which it had to know would generate untold millions of dollars worth of free coverage when social media and the news picked the story up, Lyft is very cheaply buying "advertising" that will effectively appeal to its big city/blue state user base.
Bainbridge also asks whether “Uber's user base is more evenly distributed across red and blue states than Lyft? And, if so, will Uber take that into account?” This question resonates with me because some have argued on social media (with no evidentiary support) that Trump supporters don’t go to Starbucks anyway, and thus their boycott would fail.
All of this boycott/boycott/CEO activism over the past week has surprised me. I have posted in the past about consumer boycotts and hashtag activism/slacktivism because I am skeptical about consumers’ ability to change corporate behavior quickly or meaningfully. The rapid response from the CEOs over the past week, however, has not changed my mind about the ultimate effect of most boycotts. Financial donations to activist groups and statements condemning the President’s actions provide great publicity, but how do these companies treat their own employees and community stakeholders? Will we see shareholder proposals that ask these firms to do more in the labor and human rights field and if so, will the companies oppose them? Most important, would the failure to act or speak have actually led to any financial losses, even if they are not material? Although 200,000 Uber users deleted their accounts, would they have remained Lyft customers forever if Uber had not changed its stance? Or would they, as I suspect, eventually patronize whichever service provided more convenience and better pricing?
We may never know about the consumers, but I will be on the lookout for any statements from shareholder groups either via social media or in shareholder proposals about the use or misuse of corporate funds for these political causes.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Bernard Sharfman, a prolific author on corporate governance, has written his fourth article on the business judgment rule. The piece provides a thought-provoking look at a subject that all business law professors teach. He also received feedback from Myron Steele, former Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, and William Chandler III, former Chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery during the drafting process. I don’t think I will assign the article to my students, but I may take some of the insight when I get to this critical topic this semester. Sharfman has stated that he aims to change the way professors teach the BJR.
The abstract is below:
Anyone who has had the opportunity to teach corporate law understands how difficult it is to provide a compelling explanation of why the business judgment rule (Rule) is so important. To provide a better explanation of why this is so, this Article takes the approach that the Aronson formulation of the Rule is not the proper starting place. Instead, this Article begins by starting with a close read of two cases that initiated the application of the Rule under Delaware law, the Chancery and Supreme Court opinions in Bodell v. General Gas & Elec. By taking this approach, the following insights into the Rule were discovered that may not have been so readily apparent if the starting point was Aronson.
First, without the Rule, the raw power of equity could conceivably require all challenged Board decisions to undergo an entire fairness review. The Rule is the tool used by a court to restrain itself from implementing such a review. This is the most important function of the Rule. Second, as a result of equity needing to be restrained, there is no room in the Rule formulation for fairness; fairness and fiduciary duties must be mutually exclusive. Third, there are three policy drivers that underlie the use of the Rule. Protecting the Board’s statutory authority to run the company without the fear of its members being held liable for honest mistakes of judgment; respect for the private ordering of corporate governance arrangements which almost always grants extensive authority to the Board to make decisions on behalf of the corporation; and the recognition by the courts that they are not business experts, making deference to Board authority a necessity. Fourth, the Rule is an abstention doctrine not just in terms of precluding duty of care claims, but also by requiring the courts to abstain from an entire fairness review if there is no evidence of a breach in fiduciary duties or taint surrounding a Board decision. Fifth, stockholder wealth maximization (SWM) is the legal obligation of the Board and the Rule serves to support that purpose. The requirement of SWM enters into corporate law through a Board’s fiduciary duties as applied under the Rule, not statutory law. In essence, SWM is an equitable concept.
Friday, January 13, 2017
On Friday, I will present as part of the American Society of International Law’s two-day conference entitled Controlling Corruption: Possibilities, Practical Suggestions & Best Practices. The ASIL Conference is co-sponsored by the University of Miami School of Business Administration, the Business Ethics Program of the University of Miami School of Business Administration, UM Ethics Programs & the Arsht Initiatives, the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, Bentley University, and University of Richmond School of Law.
I am particularly excited for this conference because it brings law, business, and ethics professors together with practitioners from around the world. My panel includes:
Marcia Narine Weldon, St. Thomas University School of Law, “The Conflicted Gatekeeper: The Changing Role of In-House Counsel and Compliance Officers in the Age of Whistle Blowing and Anticorruption Compliance”
Todd Haugh, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, “The Ethics of Intercorporate Behavioral Ethics”
Shirleen Chin, Institute for Environmental Security, Netherlands, “Reducing the Size of the Loopholes Caused by the Veil of Incorporation May lead to Better Transparency”
Edwin Broecker, Quarles &Brady LLP, Indiana,& Fernanda Beraldi Cummins, Inc, Indiana, “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Possible Unintended Consequences of Enforcing Supply Chain Transparency”
Stuart Deming, Deming PLLC, Michigan, “Internal Controls and Compliance Programs”
John W. Fanning, Kroll Compliance, “Lessons from ‘Sully’: Parallels of Flight 1549 and the Path to Compliance and Organizational Excellence”
I will discuss some of the same themes that I blogged about here last July related to how the Department of Justice Yates Memo (requiring companies to turn over culpable individuals in order to get cooperation credit) and to a lesser extent the SEC Dodd-Frank Whistleblower program may alter the delicate balance of trust in the attorney-client relationship. Additionally, I will address how President-elect Trump’s nomination of Jay Clayton may change the SEC’s FCPA enforcement priorities from pursuing companies to pursuing individuals, and how that will change corporate investigations. If you’re in Miami on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th, please consider attending the conference.
January 13, 2017 in Behavioral Economics, Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, International Business, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, January 5, 2017
As regular readers of this blog know, I am skeptical of many disclosure regimes, particularly those related to conflict minerals. I am, however, a fan of the Sustainability Accounting Standard Board’s (SASB's) efforts to streamline the disclosure process and provide industry-specific metrics that tie into accepted definitions of materiality.
Dr. Jean Rogers, the CEO and Founder of SASB, presented at the Association of American Law Schools yesterday with other panelists discussing the pros and cons of environmental, social, and governance disclosures. To prove SASB’s case that investors care about sustainability, Dr. Rogers noted that in 2016, sustainable investment strategies came into play in one out of every five dollars under professional management. She cited a number of key sustainability initiatives that investors considered including the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investments ($59 trillion AUM), the Carbon Disclosure Project ($95 trillion AUM), the International Corporate Governance Network ($26 trillion AUM), and the Investor Network on Climate Risk ($13 trillion AUM).
Despite this interest, SASB argues, investors lack information that equips them with an apples to apples comparison on material information related to sustainability. What might be material in the beverage industry such as water usage for example, may not be material in another industry.
Dr. Rogers cited a 2014 PwC study reporting that 89% of global institutional investors request sustainability information directly from companies, 67% are more likely to consider ESG information if it is based on a common framework or standard, and 50% are “very likely” to sponsor or co-sponsor a shareholder proposal.
Many who criticize the disclosure regime talk about disclosure overload and challenge the assumptions that investors care as much about sustainability as they care about earnings per share. On the flip side, companies experience what SASB acknowledges is “questionnaire fatigue.” GE for example, indicated that 75 people took months to answer 650 questionnaires with no value to the customers, shareholders, or the environment.
SASB is an independent 501(c)(3) with a who’s who of heavy hitters on the board, including Michael Bloomberg, former SEC Chair Mary Schapiro, the CEO of CalSTRS, and the former Chair of the FASB, among others. The organization first started this initiative in 2011 right after I left in-house life, and I remember thinking that this was an idea whose time has come. Over the years, SASB has worked to develop specific standards for 79 industries in 10 sectors to be used in Form 10-K and 20-F. Although it is a voluntary process, the goal is to allow investors to look at peers across an industry with standards that those industries have helped to develop.The SASB standards integrate into MD & As and risk factors without the requirement of any new regulation.
Some criticize SASB’s mission and fear more disclosure could lead to more lawsuits from investors or consumers. I don’t share this fear, but companies such as Nestle have been sued for fraud and other state law claims after disclosure required under the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act.
I’m a fan of SASB’s work so far. I hope that more organizations and advocacy groups continue to provide constructive feedback. Eventually, using the SASB methodology should become an industry standard that provides value to both investors and the company. Take a look at their 2016 State of Disclosure Report for more information and to find out how you can contribute to the effort.
Friday, December 30, 2016
At the end of every semester I resolve to give less work to my students so that I don't have so much to grade. This upcoming semester I may actually keep that resolution, but I do plan to keep my blogging assignment. In each class, I provide an extra credit or required post or series of posts of between 200-500 words so that students can learn a fundamental legal skill—communicating clearly, correctly, and concisely.
If you are reading this post, then you are already a fan of legal blogs. Academics blog to get their ideas out quickly rather than waiting for the lengthy law review cycle to publicize their thoughts. Academics can also refine ideas they are incubating by blogging and receiving real time feedback from readers. Practicing lawyers blog (or should) for a slightly different reason. Blogging can enhance a lawyer’s reputation and visibility and ultimately lead to more business.
Yesterday, I met with an attorney who will speak to the students in my new course on Legal Issues for Startups, Entrepreneurs, and Small Businesses. I mentioned to him that I found his blog posts enlightening and that they filled a gap in my knowledge base. Although I practiced for almost twenty years before entering academia and had a wide range of responsibility as a deputy general counsel, I delegated a number of areas to my colleagues or outside counsel. That attorney is now part of a growing trend. In 2011, when I left practice, lawyers rarely blogged and few utilized social media. Now, many recognize that lawyers must read legal blogs to keep up on breaking developments relevant to their practice. However, most lawyers understandably complain that they do not have the time to get new clients, retain their existing clients, do the actual legal work, and also blog.
Leaving blogging to the wayside is a mistake, particularly for small or newer firms. A 2016 Pew Research Center Study revealed that only 20% of people get their news from newspapers yet almost 40% rely on social media, which often provides summaries of the news curated to the consumer’s interests. The potential client base’s changing appetite for instant information in a shorter format makes blogging almost a necessity for some lawyers. Indeed, consumers believe that hiring a new lawyer is so overwhelming that some clients are now crowdsourcing. But when they receive multiple “offers” to represent them, how do/should consumers choose? Perhaps they will pick the firm with a social media presence, including a blog that highlights the firm’s expertise.
I read several blogs a day. Admittedly, I have a much longer attention span than many of our students and the lay public. I also get paid to read. Nonetheless, I consider reading blogs an essential part of my work as an academic. In prepping for my new course, I have found posts on startups and entrepreneurship particularly helpful in providing legal information as well as insight into the mindset of entrepreneurs. If I were a busy founder running a new startup, I would likely try to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible online about certain topics prior to retaining a lawyer. Some lawyers, however, don’t really know how to speak to clients without talking down to them, much less write anything “short” and free of jargon. A lawyer/blogger who wrote in a way that I could understand, without all of the legalese, would be more likely to get my business.
Thus, even though I want to grade fewer papers, I also want my students to leave my class with the critical skill of communicating complex topics to the public in digestible chunks (and in line with state bar rules on social media). Over the years, I have advised students to volunteer to update or start a blog for their internship employers. Many have told me that they enjoyed these projects and that their employers have found value in this work. This blogging practice also puts students in the position to start to blog after graduation.
I’ll end this post with a plug for my blogging colleagues who will attend AALS next week in San Francisco. I encourage you to attend some of the socioeconomic panels highlighted here. Please introduce yourself if you attend the panel next Wednesday morning at 9:50 on whistleblowers with me, Professor Bill Black of UMKC; Professor June Carbone of Minnesota; and Professor Ben Edwards of Barry. If you have an interest in the intersection between ethics and business, please swing by next Friday at 1:30 and see me and co-panelists Christopher Dillon from Gibson Dunn; Mina Kim, GC of Sunrun; Professor Eric Orts of Wharton; Professor Joseph Yockey of Iowa; Professor Brian Quinn of Boston College; Dean Gordon Smith of BYU; Professor Lori Johnson of UNLV; and Professor Anne Choike of Michigan.
If you have legal blogs you want to recommend and/or will be speaking at AALS and want to call attention to your session, feel free to comment below. Happy New Year and happy blogging.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
This post is not about politics, although it does concern President-elect Trump's cabinet pick, ExxonMobil head, Rex Tillerson. I first learned about Tillerson during some research on business and human rights in the extractive industries in 2012. I read the excellent book, "Private Empire" by Pultizer-prize winner Steve Coll to get insight into what I believe is the most powerful company in the world.
Although Coll spent most of his time talking about Tillerson's predecessor, Lee Raymond, the book did a great job of describing the company's world view on climate change, litigation tactics, and diplomatic relations. Coll writes, “Exxon’s far flung interests were at times distinct from Washington’s.” The CEO “did not manage the corporation as a subordinate instrument of American foreign policy; his was a private empire.” Raymond even boasted, “I am not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” Indeed, the book describes how ExxonMobil navigated through Indonesian guerilla warfare, dealt with kleptocrats in Africa, and deftly negotiated with Vladmir Putin and Hugo Chavez.
Before I read the book, I knew that big business was powerful--after all I used to work for a Fortune 500 company. But Coll's work described a company that was in some instances more influential to world leaders than the UN, the US State Department, or the World Bank. I don't know if Trump has read the book, but no doubt he knows about the reach of Tillerson's power. I won't comment about whether this pick is good for the country. I will say that this choice is not outrageous or even surprising given Trump's stated view of what he wants for America. The key will be for Tillerson, if he's confirmed, to use the skills he has honed working for ExxonMobil for the country.
If you have time after grading for a really good read (it's a fast 700 pages), pick up the book. Coll's view on the Tillerson nomination is available here.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
A friend of mine is considering teaching his constitutional law seminar based almost entirely on current and future decisions by the President-elect. I would love to take that class. I thought of that when I saw this article about Mr. Trump’s creative use of Delaware LLCs for real estate and aircraft. Here in South Florida, we have a number of very wealthy residents, and my Business Associations students could value from learning about this real-life entity selection/jurisdictional exercise. Alas, I probably can’t squeeze a whole course out of his business interests. However, I am sure that using some examples from the headlines related to Trump and many of his appointees for key regulatory agencies will help bring some of the material to life.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Happy Thanksgiving from the Dominican Republic. I'm blogging from the Fathom Adonia, Carnival's fledgling social impact cruise line. I've spent the past few days in Puerto Plata teaching English in schools and local communities. Other passengers worked on reforestation projects, built water filtration systems, installed concrete floors in homes, worked with women on cocoa farms, and learned how to recycle paper with local workers. Passengers can also do typical excursions such as zip lining and snorkeling, or can lounge around in the $80 million dollar Amber Cove built up like a resort. But most people come on this cruise for the volunteer activities and don't expect frills (our bus got stuck in the mud and we needed pig farmers in a truck to help push us out on the way back from teaching English 75 minutes outside of town). Fathom has restaurants, a spa, dancing, bars, onboard activities such as wine and paint, extremely friendly staff, and enthusiastic, young "impact guides" but no Vegas-style shows and only carries approximately 700 passengers.
Carnival has banked on profiting from people's stated desire to do good in the world. Lots of surveys support this idea in theory. However, as regular readers of this blog know, I have written several posts skeptical of those who claim to care about corporate social responsibility, but choose to buy based on convenience, quality, and price. I have also repeatedly and publicly acknowledged that I am one of those people who selectively boycotts products and vendors. Although the idea of a social impact cruise line excited me, I wondered about whether It would succeed when I first heard of it because most people I know want to relax and not work on a vacation.
Unfortunately, it appears that Carnival's bet may not be paying off. Yesterday, the Miami Herald had an article discussing the future of the social impact product. Apparently, the Fathom, which also goes to Cuba, may stop doing these impact cruises, although Carnival promises that passengers will have "voluntourism" opportunities on its other cruise lines. Carnival also plans to continue its trips to Cuba on a different line starting next summer.
This change in direction, if true, does not surprise me. The Fathom trips to the Dominican Republic have never sold out, even at prices that are one third the price of the Cuba trip- my husband and I paid less than $1000 between the two of us for a seven day cruise, and were upgraded because they had capacity. We learned from one of Fathom's partners on the ground that there have been layoffs in Puerto Plata because they don't have enough volunteers traveling on the ship. Fathom has even had to cancel some of the sailings altogether.
Although the trips have not been popular with the masses, everyone that I have met on this trip has raved about their activities (particularly the English teaching) and the interactions with the warm Dominican people. Carnival may have hoped that word of mouth would suffice and that they wouldn't need heavy marketing. It's possible that Carnival believed all of the surveys of millennials who claim they want to change the world. Either way, it appears that there won't be a cruise line dedicated to social impact after next summer. That will be a huge loss for Puerto Plata and for those who want this kind of experience and are willing to pay to work with reputable, caring organizations.
I'm pulling for Fathom to survive in some form and for this idea to spread to other cruise lines. My husband and I both found that teaching English to 5th graders in a crowded classroom in a rain storm was the best Thanksgiving we have ever spent. When the students and volunteers spoke about the expeierence at the end of today's tutoring, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. That may not be profitable for Carnival, but it was priceless for those of us who experienced it.
Monday, November 21, 2016
Thanks to all who responded to my query two weeks ago on teaching corporate fiduciary duties. I continue to contemplate your suggestions as I recover from the cold that has consumed me now for a week. Don't catch this version of the common cold! It's a bear.
Anyway, the weekend after I published that post, I presented at a super symposium on shareholder rights at the University of Oklahoma College of Law--"Confronting New Market Realities: Implications for Stockholder Rights to Vote, Sell, and Sue," hosted by the Oklahoma Law Review. (I spoke on rights to sell securities purchased in an offering exempt from registration under the CROWDFUND Act, Title III of the JOBS Act.) Although it was not part of the formal agenda for the symposium, I got a chance to chat informally with a group of folks at and after the conference, including our host, Megan Shaner, along with Jessica Erickson, Gordon Smith, and Vice Chancellor Travis Laster from the Delaware Chancery Court (among others) about fiduciary duty complexity. All, even the Vice Chancellor, had sympathy, offering ideas for simplifying corporate fiduciary duty law (as opposed to merely the teaching of it) that made sense. And it seems that among those of us in the academy, there are many ways this material currently is taught in an introductory Business Associations/Organizations or Corporations course.
Of course, I am not the only one worried about teaching the law of business associations. In extended discussions on the topic, co-blogger Marcia Narine raised a great question. In general, she asked how one might teach business associations law to a relatively small class. I understand that she in the past has taught 60-75 students in a four-credit-hour course. That's similar to my situation at UT Law. I typically teach up to 72 students (although I teach a three-credit-hour-course). But in the future, Marcia may teach as few as 30 students in her four-credit-hour offering.
She noted that she doesn't want to overburden the students or herself, but she wants to think about doing things differently. She floated the idea of more peer grading. I suggested in response that my oral midterm exam becomes more palatable in a smaller class. I also noted that I would generally use more skills training in that environment and maybe even introduce current events or group presentations (2-3 students in each group) over the course of the semester. But I also allowed as how I wouldn't try too many things all at once. In fact, I noted that she might be better off just deepening what she already does that works.
What ideas do you have? Do some of you teach a Business Associations class that includes as few as 30 students? Do you use any specific pedagogies or tools that may be especially useful in a course like Business Associations/Organizations--a basic doctrinal upper-division course--when taught to a 30-student class? Do you have any tricks of the trade you would feel comfortable offering? If so, please post them in the comments.
In other Business Associations teaching news, I requested and have received permission to increase my Advanced Business Associations offering to three credit-hours from two. This is great news. I use this course to focus in more on publicly held and closely held firms, business combinations, derivative and securities litigation, and social enterprise and corporate social responsibility topics. I ask the students to describe and assess the interaction among policy, theory, doctrine, and practice skills in corporate governance. I like to have the students read full cases and law review articles, in addition to teaching text and excerpts. (And I now plan to add Ann Lipton's new book chapter to the reading list this spring for the part of the course in which we cover the importance of bylaw amendments to contemporary corporate governance. Great timing.)
Bottom line? The course, structured this way, just felt too densely packed with only two hours per week of teaching time. So, my last two-credit-hour version of the course will be taught this spring. Then, I will revamp the syllabus to add the extra credit-hour for 2018. Interestingly, it was my students who came to me originally asking for the change, because they wanted to pause more over some of the material. I did, too. So, now I am not worried about this any more. One thing to take off the ever-growing list of Business Associations teaching worries . . . .
Thursday, November 10, 2016
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:
- 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)
Sunday, October 23, 2016
The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Annual Meeting will be held Tuesday, January 3 – Saturday, January 7, 2017, in San Francisco. Readers of this blog who may be interested in programs associated with the AALS Section on Socio-Economics & the Society of Socio-Economics should click on the following link for the complete relevant schedule:
Specifically, I'd like to highlight the following programs:
On Wednesday, Jan. 4:
9:50 - 10:50 AM Concurrent Sessions:
- The Future of Corporate Governance:
How Do We Get From Here to Where We Need to Go?
andre cummings (Indiana Tech) Steven Ramirez (Loyola - Chicago)
Lynne Dallas (San Diego) - Co-Moderator Janis Sarra (British Columbia)
Kent Greenfield (Boston College) Faith Stevelman (New York)
Daniel Greenwood (Hofstra) Kellye Testy (Dean, Washington)
Kristin Johnson (Seton Hall) Cheryl Wade (St. John’s ) Co-Moderator
Lyman Johnson (Washington and Lee)
- Socio-Economics and Whistle-Blowers
William Black (Missouri - KC) Benjamin Edwards (Barry)
June Carbone (Minnesota) - Moderator Marcia Narine (St. Thomas)
1:45 - 2:45 PM Concurrent Sessions:
1. What is a Corporation?
Robert Ashford (Syracuse) Moderator Stefan Padfield (Akron)
Tamara Belinfanti (New York) Sabeel Rahman (Brooklyn)
Daniel Greenwood (Hofstra)
On Thursday, Jan. 5:
3:30 - 5:15 pm:
Section Programs for New Law Teachers
Principles of Socio-Economics
in Teaching, Scholarship, and Service
Robert Ashford (Syracuse) Lynne Dallas (San Diego)
William Black (Missouri - Kansas City) Michael Malloy (McGeorge)
June Carbone (Minnesota) Stefan Padfield (Akron)
On Saturday, Jan. 7:
10:30 am - 12:15 pm:
Economics, Poverty, and Inclusive Capitalism
Robert Ashford (Syracuse) Stefan Padfield (Akron)
Paul Davidson (Founding Editor Delos Putz (San Francisco)
Journal of Post-Keynesian Economics) Edward Rubin (Vanderbilt)
Richard Hattwick (Founding Editor,
Journal of Socio-Economics)
October 23, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, October 21, 2016
Sadly, I am still in the midst of grading business associations and civil procedure midterms so I cannot finish my substantive post on Wells Fargo yet. WF is the gift that keeps on giving from a teaching perspective, though. Yesterday I showed students some of the litigation that has come out of the debacle to illustrate the difference between a direct and derivative suit (and to reinforce some civil procedure principles too).
Last night I took a break from grading to go to a Meetup called Ask a Start Up Lawyer. I hope to teach a 2-credit skills course on legal issues for startups, small businesses, and entrepreneurs next semester and I have found that going to these sessions and listening to actual entrepreneurs ask their questions helpful. Last night's meetup was partcularly enlightening because a number of international entrepreneurs here in Miami for a State Department initiative attended. While in the past some of these sessions have focused on funding options and entity selection, last night's "students" mainly wanted to learn about intellectual property and international protection. Many of them come from countries with no copyright law, for example. Others come from countries where owning shares is a rarity. Although my course will focus on domestic entities, given the South Florida market in which I teach, I may need to add some of these comparative components to my already ambitious draft syllabus covering tax, employment, entity selection, governance, IP, business torts, basic securities regulation, social entrepreneurship, and exit strategies.
If you have taught a course like this or have any ideas on materials to use, please comment below or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
Today I used Wells Fargo as a teaching tool in Business Associations. Using this video from the end of September, I discussed the role of the independent directors, the New York Stock Exchange Listing Standards, the importance of the controversy over separate chair and CEO, 8Ks, and other governance principles. This video discussing ex-CEO Stumpf’s “retirement” allowed me to discuss the importance of succession planning, reputational issues, clawbacks and accountability, and potential SEC and DOJ investigations. This video lends itself nicely to a discussion of executive compensation. Finally, this video provides a preview for our discussion next week on whistleblowers, compliance, and the board’s Caremark duties.
Regular readers of this blog know that in my prior life I served as a deputy general counsel and compliance officer for a Fortune 500 Company. Next week when I am out from under all of the midterms I am grading, I will post a more substantive post on the Wells Fargo debacle. I have a lot to say and I imagine that there will be more fodder to come in the next few weeks. In the meantime, check out this related post by co-blogger Anne Tucker.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
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.
Friday, September 16, 2016
Earlier this week the House Financial Services Committee voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule, which I last wrote about here and in a law review article criticizing this kind of disclosure regime in general.
Under the proposed Financial Choice Act (with the catchy tagline of "Growth for All, Bailouts for None"), a number of Dodd-Frank provisions would go by the wayside, including conflict minerals because:
Title XV of the Dodd-Frank Act imposes a number of overly burdensome disclosure requirements related to conflict minerals, extractive industries, and mine safety that bear no rational relationship to the SEC’s statutory mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and promote capital formation. The Financial CHOICE Act repeals those requirements. There is overwhelming evidence that Dodd-Frank’s conflict minerals disclosure requirement has done far more harm than good to its intended beneficiaries – the citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring Central African countries. SEC Chair Mary Jo White, an Obama appointee, has conceded the Commission is not the appropriate agency to carry out humanitarian policy. The provisions of Title XV of the Dodd-Frank Act are a prime example of the increasing use of the federal securities laws as a cudgel to force public companies to disclose extraneous political, social, and environmental matters in their periodic filings.
The House report cites a number of scholars and others who raise some of the same issues that I addressed in an amicus brief when the case was litigated at the trial and appellate level years ago.
This weekend I am attending the Business and Human Rights Scholars Conference co-sponsored by the University of Washington School of Law, the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, the Rutgers Business School, the Rutgers Center for Corporate Law and Governance, and the Business and Human Rights Journal. I present on Cuba, human rights, and investor-state dispute resolution, but a number of papers concern conflict minerals and disclosure in general.
As I have argued in the past, I’m not sure that repeal is the answer. I do believe that the law should be re-examined and possibly reformed to ensure that the diligence and disclosure actually leads to tangible and sustained benefits for the Congolese people. In short, I want to see some evidence of linkages between this corporate governance disclosure and reductions in rape, violence, child slavery, pillaging of villages, and forced labor. I want to see proof that the individual ethical consumers who claim in surveys to care about human rights have actually changed their buying habits because of this name and shame campaign.
Although I do not agree with many of the proposals in the House report and I am not against all disclosure, I do not believe that the SEC is the appropriate agency to address these issues. The State Department and others can and should take the lead on the very serious security and justice reform issues that I witnessed firsthand in Goma and Bukavu when I went to the DRC to research this law five years ago. These issues and the violence perpetrated by rebel groups, police, and the military persist. I look forward to hearing how and if proponents of the conflict minerals rule address this report during the conference.
Friday, September 2, 2016
I previously wrote on the Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance released by high profile investors and corporate titans such as Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffet. Others, such as Steve Bainbridge have also weighed in. Now proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis has spoken, stating in part:
While the Principles may disappoint investors expecting a more comprehensive and robust approach similar to that found in the UK and other countries, there are a few areas where the principles promote forward-thinking stances. For example, the Principles criticize dual class voting structures and state that companies should consider specific sunset provisions based upon time or a triggering event to eventually eliminate dual class structures. This is notwithstanding the dual class structure at signatory Warren Buffet’s company Berkshire Hathaway…
There are several areas the Principles do not address, including key anti-takeover defenses such as poison pills, supermajority vote requirements and classified boards. The Principles generally address some issues such as special meeting rights and term/age limits for directors but do not recommend specific thresholds or tenure limits…
Despite the Principles’ relatively narrow scope and high level, we believe they contain enough substance to spark a dialogue inside boardrooms, which could lead to increased shareholder engagement from boards that traditionally have relied on executives and investor relations departments to lead those efforts. In our view, direct engagement between investors and boards leads to greater transparency and fosters mutual understanding of the company and its strategy, promoting long-term value creation. As a result, the Principles could have a salutary effect on companies, shareholders and the market.
Given the concern expressed by some in the business community and Congress about the "undue influence" of proxy advisory firms, the Glass Lewis statement is worth a read.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
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.