Friday, June 24, 2016

Poverty Inc. Discussion at NYU

Last fall, I posted some thoughts on the film Poverty Inc., which looked at the impact of foreign aid and business giving through programs like TOMS Shoes' One for One initiative. 

Recently, I came across this discussion on Poverty Inc. by Bill Easterly (NYU Economics) and the film's creators (Michael Matheson Miller and Mark Weber). I posted on one of Bill Easterly's books here

In the discussion at NYU, I especially liked this quote from Michael Matheson Miller: "We tend to treat poor people as objects--as objects of our charity, objects of our pity, objects of our compassion.--instead of subjects...Poor people are not objects; they are subjects and they should be the protagonists in their own stories of development." The personal story Mark Weber tells of his trip while he was studying at Notre Dame was moving, but you will have to watch the discussion to hear it, as it would be tough to summarize. Some of the audience questions are a bit long-winded, but I think the panel does a nice job deciphering and answering. 

The film's trailer, the discussion, and the Q&A with the audience are all worth watching.

Film Trailer

Discussion

Q&A 1

Q&A 2

Q&A 3

Q&A 4

June 24, 2016 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Film, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Last Tour Leg: The Windy City And The Emerald City

Having helped a few Tennessee bar applicants get straight on their knowledge of agency, unincorporated business associations, and personal property law last Friday at my BARBRI lecture (such a nice group present at the taping to keep me company!), it's now time for me to wrap up my June Scholarship and Teaching Tour with a twofer--a week of travel to two of my favorite U.S. cities: Chicago, for the National Business Law Scholars Conference and Seattle for Berle VIII.  At both events, I will present my draft paper (still in process today, unfortunately) on publicly held benefit corporations, Corporate Purpose and Litigation Risk in Publicly Held U.S. Benefit Corporations.  Here's the bird's-eye view from the introduction:

Benefit corporations—corporations organized for the express purpose of realizing both financial wealth for shareholders and articulated social or environmental benefits—have taken the United States by storm. With Maryland passing the first benefit corporation statute in 2010, legislative growth of the form has been rapid. Currently, 31 states have passed benefit corporation statutes.

The proliferation of benefit corporation statutes and B Corp certifications can largely be attributed to the active promotional work of B Lab Company, a nonprofit corporation organized in 2006 under Pennsylvania law that supports social enterprise (“B Lab”). B Lab works with individuals and interest groups to generate attention to social enterprise generally and awareness of and support for the benefit corporation form and B Corp certification (a social enterprise seal of approval, of sorts) specifically. B Lab also supplies model benefit corporation legislation, social enterprise standards that may meet the requirements of benefit corporation statutes in various states, and other services to social enterprises.

Benefit corporation statutes have not, by and large, been the entity law Field of Dreams. Despite the legislative popularity of the benefit corporation form, there have not been as many benefit corporation incorporations as one might expect. In the first four years of benefit corporation authority, for example, Maryland reported the existence of fewer than 40 benefit corporations in total. Tennessee’s benefit corporation statute came into effect in January 2016, and as of May 2, 2016, Secretary of State filings evidence the organization of 26 for-profit benefit corporations. However, a review of these filings suggests that well more than half were erroneously organized as benefit corporations. Colorado, another recent adopter of the benefit corporation, does appear to have a large number of filings (90 in total as of June 12, 2016 based on the list of Colorado benefit corporations on the B Lab website). However, as with Tennessee, a number of these listed corporations appear to be erroneously classified. These anecdotal offerings indicate that published lists of benefit corporations—even those constructed from state filings—over-count the number of benefit corporations significantly.

Research for this article identified no publicly held U.S. benefit corporations. For these purposes (and as referenced throughout this article), the term “publicly held” in reference to a corporation is defined to mean a corporation (a) with a class of equity securities registered under Section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (“1934 Act”), or (b) otherwise required to file periodic reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission under Section 13 of the 1934 Act. Yet, benefit corporations may be subsidiaries of publicly held corporations (as Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., New Chapter Inc., and Plum, PBC have demonstrated), and corporations certified as B Corps have begun to enter the ranks of publicly held corporations (perhaps Etsy, Inc. being the most well known to date). It likely is only a matter of time before we will see the advent of publicly held U.S. benefit corporations.

With the likely prospect of publicly held U.S. benefit corporations in mind, this article engages in a thought experiment. Specifically, this article views the publicly held U.S. benefit corporation from the perspective of litigation risk. It first situates, in Part I, the U.S. benefit corporation in its structural and governance context as an incorporated business association. Corporate purpose and the attendant managerial authority and fiduciary duties are the key points of reference. Then, in Part II, the article seeks to identify the unique litigation risks associated with publicly held corporations with the structural and governance attributes of a benefit corporation. These include both state and federal causes of action. The reflections in Part III draw conclusions from the synthesis of the observations made in Parts I and II. The closing thoughts in Part III are intended to be of use to policy makers, academic observers, and advisers of corporations, among others.

As Haskell mentioned in an earlier post, he and Anne and I will be together at the Berle VIII event.  What a great way to end my June tour--with my friends and colleagues from the Business Law Prof Blog!  I look forward to it.

June 20, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

8th Annual Berle Symposium - Benefit Corporations and the Firm Commitment Universe - June 27-28, 2016 - Seattle, WA

Three Business Law Prof Blog editors (myself included) are presenting at the upcoming Berle Symposium on June 27-28 in Seattle.

Colin Mayer (Oxford) is the keynote speaker, and I look forward to hearing him present again. I blogged on his book Firm Commitment after I heard him speak at Vanderbilt a few of years ago. The presenters also include former Chancellor Bill Chandler of the Delaware Court of Chancery. Given that Chancellor Chandler's eBay v. Newmark decision is heavily cited in the benefit corporation debates, it will be quite valuable to have him among the contributors. The author of the Model Benefit Corporation Legislation, Bill Clark, will also be presenting; I have been at a number of conferences with Bill Clark and always appreciate his thoughts from the front lines. Finally, the list is packed with professors I know and admire, or have read their work and am looking forward to meeting. 

More information about the conference is available here.

June 16, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Law School, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Heminway's June Scholarship and Teaching Tour 2016 - Part I

This year, my research and writing season has started off with a bang.  While grading papers and exams earlier this month, I finished writing one symposium piece and first-round-edited another.  Today, I will put the final touches on PowerPoint slides for a presentation I give the second week in June (submission is required today for those) and start working on slides for the presentation I will give Friday.

All of this sets into motion a summer concert conference, Barbri, and symposium tour that (somewhere along the line) got a bit complicated.  Here are the cities and dates:

New Orleans, LA - June 2-5
Atlanta, GA - June 10-11
Nashville, TN - June 17
Chicago, IL - June 23-24
Seattle, WA - June 27

I know some of my co-bloggers are joining me along the way.  I look forward to seeing them.  Each week, I will keep you posted on current events as best I can while managing the research and writing and presentation preparations.  The topics of my summer research and teaching run the gamut from insider trading (through by-law drafting, agency, unincorporated business associations, personal property, and benefit corporations) to crowdfunding.  A nice round lot.

This coming week, I will be at the Law and Society Association annual conference.  My presentation at this conference relates to an early-stage project on U.S. insider trading cases.  The title and abstract for the project and the currently envisioned initial paper (which I would, of course, already change in a number of ways) are as follows:

Continue reading

May 30, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise, Teaching, White Collar Crime, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Benefit Corporation M&A - The (In)Sufficiency of Financial Fairness

Well, given that I just spent several hours constructing a somewhat lengthy post that I apparently lost (aargh!), I will keep this relatively short.

This summer, I am working on a benefit corporation project for the Annual Adolf A. Berle Symposium on Corporation, Law and Society (Berle VIII) to be held in Seattle next month.  In that connection, I have been thinking about litigation risk in public benefit corporations, which has led me to consider the specific litigation risks incident to mergers and acquisitions ("M&A").  I find myself wondering whether anyone has yet done a benefit corporation M&A transaction and, if so, whether a checklist might have been created for the transaction that I could look at.  I am especially interested in understanding the board decision-making aspects of a benefit corporation M&A transaction. (Haskell, maybe you know of something on this . . . ?)

Preliminarily, I note that fairness opinions should not carry as much weight in the benefit corporation M&A approval context, since they only speak about fairness "from a financial point of view." Benefit corporation boards of directors must consider not only the pecuniary interests of shareholders in managing the firm, but also the firm's articulated public benefit or benefits (which is/are set forth in its charter).  Will legal counsel pick up the slack and render an opinion that the board's consideration of the public benefit(s) complies with law?  What diligence would be required to give that opinion?  I assume in the absence of interpretive decisional law, any opinion of that kind would have to be qualified.  I also assume that legal counsel will not readily volunteer to give this kind of opinion.

However, even in the absence of an opinion, legal counsel will have to offer advice on the matter, since the board of a benefit corporation has the legal obligation to manage the firm consistent with its public benefit(s) in any case.  Moreover, M&A agreements typically include representations (on transactional consents, approvals, and governance/legal compliance) affirming that the requisite consents and approvals for the transaction have been obtained and that the agreement and consummation of the transactions contemplated by it do not violate the firm's charter or applicable law.  Legal counsel will be responsible for counseling the client on these contractual provisions.

At first blush, the embedded issues strike me as somewhat complex and fact-dependent.  Important facts in this context include the precise language of the applicable statutory requirements, the nature of the firm's public benefit or benefits, the type of M&A transaction at issue and the structure of the transaction (including which entity survives in a merger), and the identity of the other party or parties to the transaction (especially whether, e.g., a merger partner is organized as a public benefit corporation or another form of entity).  As I continue to ponder these and related matters in the benefit corporation M&A setting, I invite your comments on any of this--or on broader aspects of litigation risk in the public benefit corporation environment. 

May 23, 2016 in Corporate Finance, Corporations, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, M&A, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

AALS Call for Papers: LLCs, New Charitable Forms, and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism

At the 2017 AALS annual meeting, January 3-7 in San Francisco, the AALS Sections on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations & Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law will hold a joint session on LLCs, New Charitable Forms, and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism.

In December 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, pledged their personal fortune—then valued at $45 billion—to the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a philanthropic effort aimed at “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” But instead of organizing CZI using a traditional charitable structure, the couple organized CZI as a for-profit Delaware LLC. CZI is perhaps the most notable example, but not the only example, of Silicon Valley billionaires exploiting the LLC form to advance philanthropic efforts. But are LLCs and other for-profit business structures compatible with philanthropy? What are the tax, governance, and other policy implications of this new tool of philanthrocapitalism? What happens when LLCs, rather than traditional charitable forms, are used for “philanthropic” purposes?


From the heart of Silicon Valley, the AALS Section on Agency, Partnerships LLCs, and Unincorporated Associations and Section on Nonprofit and Philanthropy Law will host a joint program tackling these timely issues. In addition to featuring invited speakers, we seek speakers (and papers) selected from this call.
Any full-time faculty of an AALS member or fee-paid school who has written an unpublished paper, is working on a paper, or who is interested in writing a paper in this area is invited to submit a 1- or 2-page proposal by June 1, 2016. The Executive Committees of the Sections will review all submissions and select two papers by July 1, 2016. If selected, a very polished draft must be submitted by November 30, 2016. All submissions and inquiries should be directed to the Chairs of the Sections at the email addresses below:

Mohsen Manesh
Associate Professor
University of Oregon School of Law
mohsen@uoregon.edu

Garry W. Jenkins
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Professor of Law
Moritz College of Law,State University
jenkins.434@osu.edu 

May 10, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Call for Papers, Nonprofits, Partnership, Private Equity, Social Enterprise, Unincorporated Entities, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Managing Director, Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business at Georgia Tech

Some readers may be interested in the position listed below. Georgia Institute of Technology, Scheller College of Business has a strong faculty and is a recognized leader in the sustainability area.

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Managing Director, Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business

(Professor of the Practice or Academic Professional)

The Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia seeks applications or nominations for an academic appointment as the Managing Director, Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business (ACSB). The Center is part of the Scheller College of Business, which was ranked #1 in the US and #8 globally in the 2015 Corporate Knights Better World MBA Rankings. The College is a dynamic environment with a commitment to sustainability embedded in its strategic plan and faculty members across many disciplines who have sustainable business interests. The Managing Director will have the opportunity to shape and steer the growth of the Center’s activities and impact, as the Center recently received a long-term gift doubling its operational budget from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. The Managing Director will also have the opportunity to partner with the Georgia Tech Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain (CSLS), an institute-wide undergraduate education initiative that is developing learning and co-curricular opportunities designed to help our students combine their academic and career interests with their desire to create sustainable communities.

More information follows after the break.

Continue reading

March 30, 2016 in Business School, CSR, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Jobs, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 22, 2016

University of Cincinnati College of Law │ The 29th Annual Corporate Law Center Symposium │Corporate Social Responsibility and the Modern Enterprise │ Cincinnati, OH │ March 18, 2016

I am looking forward to presenting at this conference next month. Looks like a great group of academics and practitioners.

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University of Cincinnati College of Law

The 29th Annual Corporate Law Center Symposium - Corporate Social Responsibility and the Modern Enterprise

March 18, 2016

8:45 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Hilton Netherland Plaza

Pavilion Ballroom

 

This event is free. CLE: 5.0 hours, pending approval.

Presented by the University of Cincinnati College of Law’s Corporate Law Center and Law Review.

Symposium materials will be available on March 14 at: law.uc.edu/corporate-law-center/2016-symposium

Please register by contacting Lori Strait: email Lori.Stait@uc.edu; fax 513-556-1236; or phone 513-556-0117

 

Introduction, 8:45 a.m.

Keynote, 9:00 a.m.

Clare Iery, The Procter & Gamble Company

Social Enterprises and Changing Legal Forms, 9:30 a.m.

Mark Loewenstein, University of Colorado Law School

William H. Clark, Jr., Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Haskell Murray, Belmont University College of Business

Russell Menyhart, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP

Sourcing Dilemmas in a Globalized World, 11:00 a.m.

Steve Slezak, University of Cincinnati College of Business

Marsha A. Dickson, University of Delaware Department of Fashion & Apparel Studies

Tianlong Hu, Renmin University of China Law School

Anita Ramasastry, University of Washington School of Law

CSR and the Closely Held Company, 1:15 p.m.

Eric Chaffee, The University of Toledo College of Law

Michael Petrucci, FirstGroup America, Inc.

Lisa Wintersheimer Michel, Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL

Sourcing From the Enterprise Perspective, 2:30 p.m.

Christopher Bedell, The David J. Joseph Company

Walter Spiegel, Standard Textile Co. Inc.

Martha Cutright Sarra, The Kroger Co.

Conclusion, 3:30 p.m.

February 22, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Human Rights, Law School, Research/Scholarhip, Shareholders, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 22, 2016

CSR and Small Business-Part 2

Two weeks ago I posted about whether small businesses, start ups, and entrepreneurs should consider corporate social responsibility as part of their business (outside of the benefit corporation context). Definitions of CSR vary but for the purpose of this post, I will adopt the US government’s description as:

entail[ing] conduct consistent with applicable laws and internationally recognised standards. Based on the idea that you can do well while doing no harm … a broad concept that focuses on two aspects of the business-society relationship: 1) the positive contribution businesses can make to economic, environmental, and social progress with a view to achieving sustainable development, and 2) avoiding adverse impacts and addressing them when they do occur.

During my presentation at USASBE, I admitted my cynical thoughts about some aspects of CSR, discussed the halo effect, and pointed out some statistics from various sources about consumer attitudes. For example:

  • Over 66% of people say they will pay more for products from a company with “good values”
  • 66% of survey respondents indicated that their perception of company’s CEO affected their perception of the company
  • 90% of US consumers would switch brands to one associated with a cause, assuming comparable price and quality
  • 26% want more eco-friendly products
  • 10% purchased eco-friendly products
  • 45% are influenced by commitment to the environment
  • 43% are influenced by commitment to social values and community
  • Those with incomes of 20k or less are 5% more willing to pay more than those with incomes of $50k or more
  • Consumers in developed markets are less willing to pay more for sustainable products than those in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The study’s author opined that those underdeveloped markets see the effects of poor labor and environmental practices first hand
  • 75% of millennial respondents, 72% of generation Z (age 20 and younger) and 51% of Baby Boomers are willing to pay more for sustainable products
  • More than one out of every six dollars under professional management in the United States—$6.57 trillion or more—is invested according to socially-responsible investment strategies.
  • 64% of large companies increased corporate giving from between 2010 and 2013.
  • Among large companies giving at least 10% more since 2010, median revenues increased by 11% while revenues fell 3% for all other companies

From marketing and recruiting perspectives, these are compelling statistics. But from a bottom line perspective, does a company with lean margins have the luxury to implement sustainable business practices? Next week I will post about CSR in larger companies and the role that small suppliers play in global value chains. This leaves some small businesses without a choice but to consider changing their practices. In addition, in some ways, using some CSR concepts factors into enterprise risk management, which companies of all size need to consider.

January 22, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Management, Marcia Narine, Nonprofits, Research/Scholarhip, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Should Small Businesses and Start Ups Consider Corporate Social Responsibility?

I will miss many of you at AALS this weekend because on Sunday morning I am speaking on a panel on corporate social responsibility in small businesses and startups at a conference for the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) in San Diego. My co-panelists include: Julian Lange, Governor Craig R. Benson Professor of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy, Associate Professor, Babson College; Megan M. Carpenter, Professor of Law, Co-Director, Center for Law and Intellectual Property, Faculty Director, IP and Technology Law Clinic, Faculty Director, Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, Texas A&M University School of Law; Sandra Malach, Senior Instructor, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada, former counsel at the Venture Development Legal Clinic, and previous positions at Stantec Engineering, Bennett Jones Barristers & Solicitors, Enron, and SAIT; and John Tyler, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The abstract that we presented to conference organizers stated:

Entrepreneurial and small businesses are increasingly incorporating “people, planet, and profits” into their business models and operations to a degree that goes beyond simply fulfilling the requirements of government regulations. Moreover, it can be argued that expanding a company’s mission to include issues such as sustainability can create competitive advantage in nurturing customer loyalty and employee commitment to company success.   Through the use of presentations, interactive exercises, and group discussion, this workshop will provide participants with an opportunity to examine the implications for entrepreneurs and small business owners of including corporate social responsibility in their business models.

I’ll be discussing consumer attitudes toward CSR in the US, the EU, Canada, Asia and other parts of the world, and I will blog about the panel as a whole next week. Regular readers of this blog know that I am generally pretty skeptical about consumers and CSR. They often say a lot about their concern for ethical practices in surveys, but they often purchase based on quality, price, and convenience. CSR does, however, help companies with regulators. A recent study indicated that regulators may impose lighter penalties on corrupt companies with good CSR records.

If you have any thoughts, or more important, any research that you would like me to share with the audience, particularly as it relates to CSR and benefit or social purpose corporations, please leave a comment below or email me at mnarine@stu.edu (before Sunday morning if you want me to share it with USASBE).

 

January 8, 2016 in Conferences, CSR, Current Affairs, Marcia Narine, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Back Off the Chan Zuckerbergs and Their Limited Liability Company (NOT Corporation)

Facebook (not surprisingly) and other social media blew up when Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, released an open letter to their new baby daughter, Max. (Congratulations to all, by the way.) The Chan Zuckerberg family announced that they would be giving a ton of money to support important causes, which caused people to get excited, get skeptical, and get mad.

One big complaint has been that the family chose a limited liability company (LLC), which is not a corporation (more on that later), rather than a not-for-profit entity to do the work.  Some say this makes it a scam.  I say hooey.  Even if it were a scam, it’s not because they chose an LLC. 

  1. First, without knowing the LLCs members or structure, there’s no reason to say the LLC cannot be a 501(c)(3). But, more important, the Letter to Max never says they will give money to charity.  Never. 

The letter says: 

As you begin the next generation of the Chan Zuckerberg family, we also begin the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to join people across the world to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation. Our initial areas of focus will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.

We will give 99% of our Facebook shares -- currently about $45 billion -- during our lives to advance this mission.  

How the Chan Zuckerberg’s choose to advance that mission can easily be through an LLC, whether it is tax-exempt or not.  They may have chosen the for-profit (or benefit) LLC as the entity so that they could seek profit in certain ways, with the thought that the profit seeking supports the mission.  Or maybe they want to be able to give to for-profit entities to build and grow business in areas that further their mission, but lacks status that would satisfy IRS nonprofit requirements.

Regardless, the choice of LLC may be a good one.  I am thinking these folks have good counsel and financial advisors, so the entity choice probably serves their purposes, or at least their best estimate of those future purposes.  And I am all for them putting that kind of money behind what seems to me like an excellent mission.  So, like them or hate, but back off their choice of entity. (Leave the LLC alone!)

And, since this would not be a post of mine without noting the utter media failure in referring to the LLC, again, it’s a limited liability company, not corporation, as several news outlets have reported.  PBS tends to be my favorite news source, which makes it all the more painful that they may be the source of this limited liability corporation nonsense. 

The apparent source of the limited liability “corporation” nonsense is the PBS Newshour, link here.  I know the U.S. Supreme Court has gotten this wrong, too,  but I had hope for better from PBS.  Oh well.  I'll still be listening to PBS for quality news, and I'll still be happy to hear when someone commits to putting billions of dollars behind good causes.  If either one doesn't follow through, I'll be disappointed, but I am not ready to give up hope on either one, just yet.  

December 3, 2015 in Current Affairs, Human Rights, Joshua P. Fershee, LLCs, Nonprofits, Social Enterprise, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Few Thoughts on “Poverty, Inc.”

Index

This past Sunday afternoon, I attended a screening of the film Poverty, Inc.

The trailer is available here.

I share a few, somewhat disconnected, thoughts on Poverty, Inc. under the page break.

Continue reading

November 20, 2015 in CSR, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Film, Haskell Murray, Human Rights, International Law, Nonprofits, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

DOL Warms to ESG Investments by ERISA-governed Funds

The Department of Labor issued new interpretive guidelines for pension investments governed by ERISA.  A thorny issue has been to what extent can ERISA fiduciaries invest in environmental, social and governance-focused (ESG) investments?  The DOL previously issued several guiding statements on this topic, the most recent one in 2008, IB 2001-01, and the acceptance of such investment has been lukewarm. The DOL previously cautioned that such investments were permissible if all other things (like risk and return) are equal.  In other words, ESG factors could be a tiebreaker but couldn't be a stand alone consideration. 

What was the consequence of this tepid reception for ESG investments?  Over $8.4 trillion in defined benefit and defined contribution plans covered by ERISA have been kept out of ESG investments, where non-ERISA investments in the space have exploded from "$202 billion in 2007 to $4.3 trillion in 2014.

In an effort to correct the misperceptions that have followed publication of IB 2008-01, the Department announced that it is withdrawing IB 2008-01 and is replacing it with IB 2015-01

The new guidance admits that previous interpretations may have

"unduly discouraged fiduciaries from considering ETIs and ESG factors. In particular, the Department is concerned that the 2008 guidance may be dissuading fiduciaries from (1) pursuing investment strategies that consider environmental, social, and governance factors, even where they are used solely to evaluate the economic benefits of investments and identify economically superior investments, and (2) investing in ETIs even where economically equivalent."

Under the new interpretive guidelines, the DOL takes a much more permissive stance regarding the economic value of ESG factors.

"Environmental, social, and governance issues may have a direct relationship to the economic value of the plan's investment. In these instances, such issues are not merely collateral considerations or tie-breakers, but rather are proper components of the fiduciary's primary analysis of the economic merits of competing investment choices. Similarly, if a fiduciary prudently determines that an investment is appropriate based solely on economic considerations, including those that may derive from environmental, social and governance factors, the fiduciary may make the investment without regard to any collateral benefits the investment may also promote. Fiduciaries need not treat commercially reasonable investments as inherently suspect or in need of special scrutiny merely because they take into consideration environmental, social, or other such factors."

In other words, ESG factors may be economic factors and such investments are not automatically suspect under ERISA fiduciary duty obligations.

-Anne Tucker

November 4, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Corporate Finance, CSR, Current Affairs, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Georgetown Law Graduate Clinical Teaching Fellowship

I recently received information about this social enterprise & nonprofit clinical teaching fellowship position at Georgetown University Law Center. My friend, Georgetown law professor Alicia Plerhoples, is the director of the clinic, and the fellowship sounds like an excellent opportunity.

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Georgetown Law Graduate Clinical Teaching Fellowship

Description of the Clinic 

The Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Law Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center offers pro bono corporate and transactional legal services to social enterprises, nonprofit organizations, and select small businesses headquartered in Washington, D.C. and working locally or internationally. Through the Clinic, law students learn to translate theory into practice by engaging in the supervised practice of law for educational credit. The Clinic’s goals are consistent with Georgetown University's long tradition of public service. The Clinic’s goals are to:

  • Teach law students the materials, expectations, strategies, and methods of transactional lawyering, as well as an appreciation for how transactional law can be used in the public interest.
  • Represent social enterprises and nonprofit organizations in corporate and transactional legal matters.
  • Facilitate the growth of social enterprise in the D.C. area.

The clinic’s local focus not only allows the Clinic to give back to the community it calls home, but also gives students an opportunity to explore and understand the challenges and strengths of the D.C. community beyond the Georgetown Law campus. As D.C. experiences increasing income inequality, it becomes increasingly important for the Clinic to provide legal assistance to organizations that serve and empower vulnerable D.C. communities. Students are taught how to become partners in enterprise for their clients with the understanding that innovative transactional lawyers understand both the legal and non-legal incentive structures that drive business organizations.

Description of Fellowship

The two-year fellowship is an ideal position for a transactional lawyer interested in developing teaching and supervisory abilities in a setting that emphasizes a dual commitment—clinical education of law students and transactional law employed in the public interest. The fellow will have several areas of responsibility, with an increasing role as the fellowship progresses. Over the course of the fellowship, the fellow will: (i) supervise students in representing nonprofit organizations and social enterprises on transactional, operational, and corporate governance matters, (ii) share responsibility for teaching seminar sessions, and (iii) share in the administrative and case handling responsibilities of the Clinic. Fellows also participate in a clinical pedagogy seminar and other activities designed to support an interest in clinical teaching and legal education. Successful completion of the fellowship results in the award of an L.L.M. in Advocacy from Georgetown University. The fellowship start date is August 1, 2016, and the fellowship is for two years, ending July 31, 2018.

Qualifications

Applicants must have at least 3 years of post J.D. legal experience. Preference will be given to applicants with experience in a transactional area of practice such as nonprofit law and tax, corporate law, intellectual property, real estate, or finance. Applicants with a strong commitment to economic justice are encouraged to apply. Applicants must be admitted or willing to be admitted to the District of Columbia Bar. 

Application Process 

To apply, send a resume, an official or unofficial law school transcript, and a detailed letter of interest by December 15, 2015.  The letter should be no longer than two pages and address a) why you are interested in this fellowship; b) what you can contribute to the Clinic; c) your experience with transactional matters and/or corporate law; and d) anything else that you consider pertinent. Please address your application to Professor Alicia Plerhoples, Georgetown Law, 600 New Jersey Ave., NW, Suite 434, Washington, D.C. 20001, and email it to socialenterprise@law.georgetown.edu. Emailed applications are preferred. More information about the clinic can be found at www.socialenterprise-gulaw.org.

Teaching fellows receive an annual stipend of approximately $53,500 (taxable), health and dental benefits, and all tuition and fees in the LL.M. program.  As full-time students, teaching fellows qualify for deferment of their student loans. In addition, teaching fellows may be eligible for loan repayment assistance from their law schools.

October 29, 2015 in Haskell Murray, Jobs, Social Enterprise, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Public Benefit Corporations: Take 2

Fellow BLPB editor Haskell Murray highlighted Laureate Education's IPO (here on BLPB) last week as the first publicly traded benefit corporation.  Steven Davidoff Solomon, the "Deal Professor" on Dealbook at NYT, focused on the interesting issues that can be raised by public benefit corporations in his article, Idealism That May Leave Shareholders Wishing for Pragmatism, which appeared yesterday.  Among the concerns he raised were the  vagueness of the "benefit"provided by the company, the potential laxity or at least untested waters of benefit auditing, and the potential for management rent seeking at the expense of shareholder profit in the new form.  Davidoff Solomon, who (deliciously and derisively) dubs benefit corporations the "hipster alternative to today’s modern company, which is seen as voracious in its appetite for profits," is certainly skeptical. But the concerns are valid and will have to be worked out successfully for this hybrid form to carve out a place in the securities market.  What I found particularly interesting was his focus on the role of institutional investors, who as fiduciaries for their individual investors, have fiduciary obligations to pursue profits which may be in conflict with or at least require greater monitoring when investing in these alternative firms.  The question of institutional investors' appetite for alternative purpose firms, like benefit corporations, is the focus of a recent article of mine, Institutional Investing When Shareholders Are Not Supreme, and a big question for the future success of these firms.

For those of you wanting to highlight alternative firms in a general corporations course or a seminar, this article would be a good introduction and an accessible summary of the issues on the forefront. I will be including this in my seminar reading next semester as it is surely to generate discussion.

-Anne Tucker

 

October 14, 2015 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Laureate Education - First IPO for a Benefit Corporation

Alicia Plerhoples (Georgetown) has the details about the first benefit corporation IPO: Laureate Education.*

She promises more analysis on SocEntLaw (where I am also a co-editor) in the near future.

The link to Laureate Education's S-1 is here. Laureate Education has chosen the Delaware public benefit corporation statute to organize under, rather than one of the states that more closely follows the Model Benefit Corporation Legislation. I wrote about the differences between Delaware and the Model here.

Plum Organics (also a Delaware public benefit corporation) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the publicly-traded Campbell's Soup, but it appears that Laureate Education will be the first stand-alone publicly traded benefit corporation.

*Remember that there are differences between certified B corporations and benefit corporations. Etsy, which IPO'd recently, is currently only a certified B corporation. Even Etsy's own PR folks confused the two terms in their initial announcement of their certification.

October 5, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Delaware, Haskell Murray, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Social Business and Scandal

Unfortunately, touting a business as socially-consious does not seem to lessen the chance of scandal.

Some companies known for their commitment to social causes have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. A few are noted below:

Predictably, the media latches onto these stories and claims of hypocrisy fly. See, e.g., Here's The Joke Of A Sustainability Report That VW Put Out Last Year and Whole Foods Sales Sour After Price Scandal and BP's Hypocrisy Problems.

No business is perfect, so what should social businesses do to limit the impact of these scandals? First, before a scandal hits, I think social businesses need to be candid about the fact that they are not perfect. Second, after the scandal, the social business needs to take responsibility and take significant corrective action beyond what is legally required. 

Patagonia's founder does a really nice job of admitting the imperfection of his company and the struggles they face in his book The Responsible Company. Whole Foods supposedly offered somewhat above-market severance packages to laid off employees and took some corrective action in the price scandal, but I wonder if they went far enough, especially given the lofty praise for the company's social initiatives by the Whole Food's co-CEO in his book Conscious Capitalism. Whole Foods quickly admitted mistakes in the pricing scandal, but then lost points in my mind when they backtracked and claimed they were a victim of the media.

Even if social businesses take the appropriate steps, I think scandals probably hit them harder than the average business because social businesses have more customer goodwill at risk. I would love to see some empirical work on impact of scandal on social business as compared to those that do not market themselves as such; please pass any such studies my way. 

Given this post, Marcia Narine's post, and Joan Heminway's post, it is turning out to be a very pessimistic week at BLPB, but I am sure there will be good news to report in coming weeks.

October 2, 2015 in Business Associations, CSR, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crowdfunding Chattanooga Style

As I earlier noted, I participated in a continuing legal education program at The University of Tennessee College of Law last Friday on the basics of crowdfunding.  My partners in crime for the last hour of the event were two folks from Chattanooga, Tennessee (yes, home of the famous choo choo) who have been involved in crowdfunding efforts for local businesses.  One used crowdfunding to finance a change in the location of a business; the other used crowdfunding to gauge interest in his business concept and raise seed capital.  They described their businesses and financing efforts in the second segment of the program (after a foundational hour on crowdfunding from me). 

The business location change was for The Camp House, a coffeehouse owned and operated as part of The Mission Chattanooga, a local church.  Private events, including music performances, also take place at the venue.  The Camp House raised over $32,000 through a crowdfunding campaign on Causeway.  Matt Busby, Director of The Camp House, educated us on donation crowdfunding through a non-profit platform.

The new business concept and capital raise was for Treetop Hideaways (a/k/a, The Treehouse Project), a business that designed, built, and rents time in a luxury treehouse.  The principals raised over $34,000 on Kickstarter.  One of the two men behind this project, Enoch Elwell, offered us practical information about reward crowdfunding.  Enoch also told attendees about his work with local entrepreneurs through CO.LAB and CO.STARTERS.

In the last hour of the program, the three of us reflected on crowdfunding successes and failures and speculated about the future of crowdfunding (using their experiences and my research as touchstones).  It was a wide-ranging discussion, filled with disparate tidbits of information on business formation, finance, and governance, as well as professional responsibility and the provision of practical, cost-sensitive legal advice.  Both Matt and Enoch turned out to be great folks to talk to about business finance, choice of entity, and the role of lawyers in small business formation and operation.  Their observations were thoughtful and sensible.  I learned a lot from them, and participants (practitioners and students) also indicated that they learned a lot.  Everyone had fun.  It was pure business lawyer/law student joy on a Friday afternoon!  :>)

For those who were not at the program on Friday and would have liked to have been there, all is not lost.  We plan to post a recorded version of all three program segments here in a few weeks.  Continuing legal education credit will be available in Tennessee for viewing the online recording, upon completion of the test provided and payment of the applicable fee.

September 23, 2015 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, LLCs, Nonprofits, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Crowdfunding CLE in Knoxville

Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law is sponsoring a continuing legal education program on the afternoon of Friday, September 18 entitled "Crowdfunding: The Basics."  If you will be in or near Knoxville at the end of next week (maybe because you're arriving early for a certain football game on Saturday night versus Western Carolina . . . ), come on over and check it out.  I am presenting for the introductory session.  The second session will feature entrepreneurs from two local (Chattanooga-based) crowdfunded social enterprises, and the third session will be a discussion among the three of us about successful and unsuccessful crowdfunding efforts.  

I am excited to be able to participate in this program with local entrepreneurs and have the opportunity to talk to them about the future of crowdfunding.  I will post important out-takes from the program in the future. I assume there will be a number of them . . . .

September 10, 2015 in Corporate Finance, Entrepreneurship, Joan Heminway, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

More Summer Reading: The Henry Ford Legacy Beyond Dodge v. Ford

Readers of this blog know I am fond of writing about Henry Ford and the Dodge v. Ford case (PDF here).  This summer, I am still working my way through Fordlandia, by Greg Grandin.  It's a really interesting read.  

Henry Ford had plans to build a town in the Amazon that would run like an ideal American town.  The industry would be rubber for car tires, and he was sure he could make a town that produced rubber AND moral people.  He was wrong.  

The book provides more about Ford than just his Amazon city planning. It highlights all sorts of what I will call "interesting" ideas Ford had (many of the quite appalling), and it provides context for a person who was far more interesting and disruptive than many people appreciate.  A good summary of the book is available from NPR here, where the author explains:

"Ford basically tried to impose mass industrial production on the diversity of the jungle," Grandin says. But the Amazon is one of the most complex ecological systems in the world — and didn't fit into Ford's plan. "Nowhere was this more obvious and more acute than when it came to rubber production," Grandin says.

Ford was so distrustful of experts that he never even consulted one about rubber trees. If he had, Grandin says, he would have learned that plantation rubber can't be grown in the Amazon. "The pests and the fungi and the blight that feed off of rubber are native to the Amazon. Basically, when you put trees close together in the Amazon, what you in effect do is create an incubator — but Ford insisted."

As Grandin explains, Ford's plans are a lasting disaster: 

[T]he most profound irony is currently on display at the very site of Ford’s most ambitious attempt to realize his pastoralist vision. In the Tapajós valley, three prominent elements of Ford’s vision—lumber, which he hoped to profit from while at the same time finding ways to conserve nature; roads, which he believed would knit small towns together and create sustainable markets; and soybeans, in which he invested millions, hoping that the industrial crop would revive rural life—have become the primary agents of the Amazon’s ruin, not just of its flora and fauna but of many of its communities.

Despite my love of the business judgment rule, it's hardly surprising that Ford was one of the folks who didn't get its protection. Stories like this give us some idea why.  

August 4, 2015 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joshua P. Fershee, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)