Thursday, January 31, 2019

Symposium on Civil Rights and Shareholder Activism at Washington & Lee

On February 15, the Washington & Lee Law Review will host a one-day symposium on the intersection of Civil Rights and Shareholder Activism.  In March of 1968, a civil rights organization, the Medical Committee for Human Rights, received five shares of Dow Chemical Company stock as a gift.  Well-known for its work deploying doctors and nurses on the front lines of civil rights protests across the American South, MCHR had no track record of shareholder activism.  Within a year, however, MCHR had initiated its first shareholder proposal to stop Dow from manufacturing and selling napalm for military use in the Vietnam War.  The activism campaign advanced MCHR’s commitment to civil and human rights, but it also represented an important innovation in shareholders’ use of corporate governance tools. The civil rights group had catalyzed a movement: shareholder activism campaigns on pollution, minority hiring, and apartheid were quickly brought by other shareholders at major U.S. companies like General Motors and Honeywell, Inc. and, over the decades, numerous other campaigns have followed.

Fifty years later, shareholder activism on ESG matters is surging. In the 2019 Proxy Season, companies will face shareholder campaigns on economic inequality, human rights, discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation, board and workforce diversity, and executive compensation, to name just a few topics.  The symposium will bring together scholars and practitioners to discuss the past, present and future of ESG shareholder activism.  It will also feature a preview of the 2019 Proxy Season, presented by staff members of the Law Review.

Lisa M. Fairfax, the Leroy Sorenson Merrifield Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School, will give a public keynote lecture.  In addition, a number of highly regarded experts will participate in panel discussions to connect the movement’s origins to the modern era. They include Ifeoma Ajunwa, Cornell Law and author of the forthcoming book, The Quantified Worker; Tamara Belinfanti, New York Law School and author of the new book, Citizen Capitalism; Carliss Chatman, W&L Law; D. Wendy Greene, Samford University Cumberland School of Law; Sarah C. Haan, W&L Law; Virginia Harper Ho, University of Kansas School of Law; Barbara Krumsiek, former President, CEO and Chair of Calvert Investments and current Director, MISO Energy; Kish Parella, W&L Law; Harvey L. Pitt, the 26th Chair of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission; Colin Reid, The Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics at W&L University; Cary Martin Shelby, DePaul University College of Law; Omari Simmons, Wake Forest Law School; and David Webber, Boston University Law and author of The Rise of the Working-Class Shareholder.

A link to the full schedule can be found here.  The symposium is open to the public.

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