Friday, January 26, 2024

Are Lawyers, Lawmakers, and Law Professors Really Ready for AI in 2024?

We just finished our second week of the semester and I’m already exhausted, partly because I just submitted the first draft of a law review article that’s 123 pages with over 600 footnotes on a future-proof framework for AI regulation to the University of Tennessee Journal of Business Law. I should have stuck with my original topic of legal ethics and AI.

But alas, who knew so much would happen in 2023? I certainly didn’t even though I spent the entire year speaking on AI to lawyers, businesspeople, and government officials. So, I decided to change my topic in late November as it became clearer that the EU would finally take action on the EU AI Act and that the Brussels effect would likely take hold requiring other governments and all the big players in the tech space to take notice and sharpen their own agendas.

But I’m one of the lucky ones because although I’m not a techie, I’m a former chief privacy officer, and spend a lot of time thinking about things like data protection and cybersecurity, especially as it relates to AI. And I recently assumed the role of GC of an AI startup. So, because I’m tech-adjacent, I’ve spent hours every day immersed in the legal and tech issues related to large and small language models, generative AI (GAI), artificial general intelligence (AGI), APIs, singularity, the Turing test, and the minutiae of potential regulation around the world. I’ve become so immersed that I actually toggled between listening to the outstanding Institute for Well-Being In Law virtual conference and the FTC’s 4-hour tech summit yesterday with founders, journalists, economists, and academics. Adding more fuel to the fire, just before the summit kicked off, the FTC announced an inquiry into the partnerships and investments of  Alphabet, Inc., Amazon.com, Inc., Anthropic PBC, Microsoft Corp., and OpenAI, Inc. Between that and the NY Times lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft alleging billions in damages for purported IP violations, we are living in interesting times.

If you’ve paid attention to the speeches at Davos, you know that it was all AI all the time. I follow statements from the tech leaders like other people follow their fantasy football stats or NCAA brackets. Many professors, CEOs, and general consumers, on the other hand, have been caught by surprise by the very rapid acceleration of the developments, particularly related to generative AI.

However, now more members of the general public are paying attention to the concept of deepfakes and demanding legislation in part because the supernova that is Taylor Swift has been victimized by someone creating fake pornographic images of her. We should be even more worried about the real and significant threat to the integrity of the fifty global elections and occurring in 2024 where members of the public may be duped into believing that political candidates have said things that they did not, such as President Biden telling people not to vote in the New Hampshire primary and to save their votes for November.

For those of us who teach in law schools in the US and who were either grading or recovering from grading in December, we learned a few days before Christmas that Lexis was rolling out its AI solution for 2Ls and 3Ls. Although I had planned to allow and even teach my students the basics of prompt engineering and using AI as a tool (and not a substitute for lawyering) in my business associations, contract drafting, and business and human rights class, now I have to also learn Lexis’ solution too. I feel for those professors who still ban the use of generative AI or aren’t equipped to teach students how to use it ethically and effectively.

Even so, I’m excited and my students are too. The legal profession is going to change dramatically over the next two years, and it’s our job as professors to prepare our students. Thompson Reuters, the ABA, and state courts have made it clear that we can’t sit by on the sidelines hoping that this fad will pass.

Professionally, I have used AI to redraft an employee handbook in my client’s voice (using my employment law knowledge, of course), prepare FAQs for another client’s code of conduct in a very specialized industry, prepare interview questions for my podcast, and draft fact patterns for simulations for conferences and in class. I’ve also tested its ability to draft NDAs and other simple agreements using only ChatGPT. It didn’t do so well there, but that’s because I know what I was looking for. And when I gave additional instructions, for example, about drafting a mutual indemnification clause and then a separate supercap, it did surprisingly well. But I know what should be in these agreements. The average layperson does not, something that concerns Chief Justice Roberts and should concern us all.

How have you changed your teaching with the advent of generative AI? If you’re already writing or teaching about AI or just want more resources, join the 159 law professors in a group founded by Professors April Dawson and Dan Linna. As for my law review article, I’m sure a lot of it will be obsolete by the time it’s published, but it should still be an interesting, if not terrifying, read for some.

January 26, 2024 in Business Associations, Compliance, Consulting, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, International Law, Jobs, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Science, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 7, 2023

Generative AI Is the Greatest Thing Since the Discovery of Fire And/Or Will Kill Us All

Depending on who you talk to, you get some pretty extreme perspectives on generative AI. In a former life, I used to have oversight of the lobbying and PAC money for a multinational company. As we all know, companies never ask to be regulated. So when an industry begs for regulation, you know something is up. 

Two weeks ago, I presented the keynote speech to the alumni of AESE, Portugal’s oldest business school, on the topic of my research on business, human rights, and technology with a special focus on AI. If you're attending Connecting the Threads in October, you'll hear some of what I discussed.

I may have overprepared, but given the C-Suite audience, that’s better than the alternative. For me that meant spending almost 100 hours  reading books, articles, white papers, and watching videos by data scientists, lawyers, ethicists, government officials, CEOs, and software engineers. 

Because I wanted the audience to really think about their role in our future, I spent quite a bit of time on the doom and gloom scenarios, which the Portuguese press highlighted. I cited the talk by the creators of the Social Dilemma, who warned about the dangers of social media algorithms and who are now raising the alarms about AI's potential existential threat to humanity in a talk called the AI Dilemma.

I used statistics from the Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum on potential job displacement and from Yale's Jeffrey Sonnenfeld on what CEOs think and are planning for. Of the 119 CEOs from companies like Walmart, Coca-Cola, Xerox and Zoom, 34% of CEOs said AI could potentially destroy humanity in ten years, 8% said that it could happen in five years,  and 58% said that could never happen and they are “not worried.” 42% said the doom and gloom  is overstated, while 58% said it was not. I told the audience about deepfakes where AI can now mimic someone's voice in three seconds.

But in reality, there's also a lot of hope. For the past two days I've been up at zero dark thirty to watch the live stream of the AI For Good Global Summit in Geneva. The recordings are available on YouTube. While there was a more decidedly upbeat tone from these presenters, there was still some tamping down of the enthusiasm.

Fun random facts? People have been using algorithms to make music since the 60s. While many are worried about the intellectual property implications for AI and the arts, AI use was celebrated at the summit. Half of humanity's working satellites belong to Elon Musk. And  a task force of 120 organizations is bringing the hammer down on illegal deforestation in Brazil using geospatial AI. They've already netted 2 billion in penalties. 

For additional perspective, for two of the first guests on my new podcast, I've interviewed lawyer and mediator, Mitch Jackson, an AI enthusiast, and tech veteran, Stephanie Sylvestre, who's been working with OpenAI for years and developed her own AI product somehow managing to garner one million dollars worth of free services for her startup, Avatar Buddy. Links to their episodes are here (and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast).

If you’re in business or advising business, could you answer the following questions I asked the audience of executives and government officials in Portugal?

  • How are you integrating human rights considerations into your company's strategy and decision-making processes, particularly concerning the deployment and use of new technologies?

 

  • Can you describe how your company's corporate governance structure accounts for human rights and ethical considerations, particularly with regards to the use and impact of emerging technologies?

 

  • How are you planning to navigate the tension between increasing automation in your business operations and the potential for job displacement among your workforce?

 

  • How does your company approach balancing the need for innovation and competitive advantage with the potential societal and human rights impact of technologies like facial recognition and surveillance?

 

  • In what ways is your company actively taking steps to ensure that your supply chain, especially for tech components, is free from forced labor or other human rights abuses?

 

  • As data becomes more valuable, how is your company ensuring ethical data collection and usage practices? Are these practices in line with both domestic and international human rights and privacy standards?

 

  • What steps are you taking to ensure digital accessibility and inclusivity, thereby avoiding the risk of creating or enhancing digital divides?

 

  • How is your company taking into account the potential environmental impacts of your technology, including e-waste and energy consumption, and what steps are being taken to mitigate these risks while promoting sustainable development?

 

  • What financial incentives do you have in place to do the ”right thing” even if it’s much less profitable? What penalties do you have in place for the “wrong” behavior?

 

  • Will governments come together to regulate or will the fate of humanity lie in the hands of A few large companies?

Luckily, we had cocktails right after I asked those questions.

Are you using generative AI like ChatGPT4 or another source in your business 0r practice? If you teach, are you integrating it into the classroom? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

July 7, 2023 in Business School, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Science, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2023

Are People in the Tech Industry the Most Powerful People in the World? Part One

My mind is still reeling from my trip to Lisbon last week to keynote at the Building The Future tech conference sponsored by Microsoft.

My premise was that those in the tech industry are arguably the most powerful people in the world and with great power comes great responsibility and a duty to protect human rights (which is not the global state of the law).

I challenged the audience to consider the financial price of implementing human rights by design and the societal cost of doing business as usual.

In 20 minutes, I covered  AI bias and new EU regulations; the benefits and dangers of ChatGPT; the surveillance economy; the UNGPs and UN Global Compact; a new suit by Seattle’s school board against social media companies alleging harmful mental health impacts on students; potential corporate complicity with rogue governments; the upcoming Supreme Court case on Section 230 and content moderator responsibility for “radicalizing” users; and made recommendations for the governmental, business, civil society, and consumer members in the audience.

Thank goodness I talk quickly.

Here are some non-substantive observations and lessons. In a future post, I'll go in more depth about my substantive remarks. 

1. Your network is critical. Claire Bright, a business and human rights rock star, recommended me based on a guest lecture I did for her class. My law students are in for a treat when she speaks with them about the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (that she helped draft) next month.

2. Your social media profile is important. Organizers looked at videos that had nothing to do with this topic to see how I present on a stage. People are always watching.

3. Sometimes you can’t fake it until you make it. This is one of the few times where I didn’t know more than my audience about parts of my presentation. I prepared so that I could properly respect my audience’s expertise. For example, I watched 10 hours of video on a tech issue to prepare one slide just in case someone asked a question during the networking sessions.

4. Speak your truth. Going to a tech conference to tell tech people about their role in human rights and then going to a corporate headquarters to do the same isn’t easy, but it’s necessary and I had no filter or restrictions. I didn't hold back talking about Microsoft-backed ChatGPT even though they invited me to Lisbon for the conference. It was an honor to speak to Microsoft employees the day after the conference with Claire, Luis Amado, former head of B Lab Europe, and Susana Guedes to discuss sustainability, ESG, diversity, and incentivizing companies and employees to do the right thing, even when it's not popular.

5. Explore and leave the hotel even when you’re tired. I was feeling run down last Friday night and wanted to stay in bed with some room service. Manuela Doutel Haghighi (one of my new favorite people) organized a dinner at an Iranian restaurant owned by a former lawyer with 6 badass women, and I now have new colleagues and collaborators.

Stay tuned for my next post where I'll cover some of my remarks.

 

 

February 3, 2023 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, International Business, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Can The Next Generation of Lawyers Save the World?

An ambitious question, yes, but it was the title of the presentation I gave at the Society for Socio-Economists Annual Meeting, which closed yesterday. Thanks to Stefan Padfield for inviting me.

In addition to teaching Business Associations to 1Ls this semester and running our Transactional Skills program, I'm also teaching Business and Human Rights. I had originally planned the class for 25 students, but now have 60 students enrolled, which is a testament to the interest in the topic. My pre-course surveys show that the students fall into two distinct camps. Most are interested in corporate law but didn't know even know there was a connection to human rights. The minority are human rights die hards who haven't even taken business associations (and may only learn about it for bar prep), but are curious about the combination of the two topics. I fell in love with this relatively new legal  field twelve years ago and it's my mission to ensure that future transactional lawyers have some exposure to it.

It's not just a feel-good way of looking at the world. Whether you love or hate ESG, business and human rights shows up in every factor and many firms have built practice areas around it. Just last week, the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive came into force. Like it or not, business lawyers must know something about human rights if they deal with any company that has or is part of a supply or value chain or has disclosure requirements. 

At the beginning of the semester, we discuss the role of the corporation in society. In many classes, we conduct simulations where students serve as board members, government officials, institutional investors, NGO leaders, consumers, and others who may or may not believe that the role of business is business. Every year, I also require the class to examine the top 10 business and human rights topics as determined by the Institute of Human Rights and Business (IHRB). In 2022, the top issues focused on climate change:

  1. State Leadership-Placing people at the center of government strategies in confronting the climate crisis
  2. Accountable Finance- Scaling up efforts to hold financial actors to their human rights and environmental responsibilities
  3. Dissenting Voices- Ensuring developmental and environmental priorities do not silence land rights defenders and other critical voices
  4. Critical Commodities- Addressing human rights risks in mining to meet clean energy needs
  5. Purchasing Power- Using the leverage of renewable energy buyers to accelerate a just transition
  6. Responsible Exits- Constructing rights-based approaches to buildings and infrastructure mitigation and resilience
  7. Green Building- Building and construction industries must mitigate impacts while avoiding corruption, reducing inequality, preventing harm to communities, and providing economic opportunities
  8. Agricultural Transitions- Decarbonising the agriculture sector is critical to maintaining a path toward limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees
  9. Transforming Transport- The transport sector, including passenger and freight activity, remains largely carbon-based and currently accounts for approximately 23% total energy-related CO2 global greenhouse gas emissions
  10. Circular Economy- Ensure “green economy” is creating sustainable jobs and protecting workers

The 2023 list departs from the traditional type of list and looks at the people who influence the decisionmakers in business. That's the basis of the title of this post and yesterday's presentation. The 2023 Top Ten are:

  1. Strategic Enablers- Scrutinizing the role of management consultants in business decisions that harm communities and wider society. Many of our students work outside of the law as consultants or will work alongside consultants. With economic headwinds and recessionary fears dominating the headlines, companies and law firms are in full layoff season. What factors should advisors consider beyond financial ones, especially if the work force consists of primarily lower-paid, low-skilled labor, who may not be able to find new employment quickly? Or should financial considerations prevail?
  2. Capital Providers- Holding investors to account for adverse impacts on people- More than 220 investors collectively representing US$30 trillion in assets under management  have signed a public statement acknowledging the importance of human rights impacts in investment and global prosperity. Many financial firms also abide by the Equator Principles, a benchmark that helps those involved in project finance to determine environmental and social impacts from financing. Our students will serve as counsel to banks,  financial firms, private equity, and venture capitalists. Many financial institutions traditionally focus on shareholder maximization but this could be an important step in changing that narrative. 
  3. Legal Advisors- Establishing norms and responsible performance standards for lawyers and others who advise companies. ABA Model Rule 2.1 guides lawyers to have candid conversations that "may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client's situation." Business and human rights falls squarely in that category. Additionally, the ABA endorsed the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ten years ago and released model supply chain contractual clauses related to human rights in 2021. Last Fall, the International Bar Association's Annual Meeting had a whole track directed to business and human rights issues. Our students advise on sanctions, bribery, money laundering, labor relations, and a host of other issues that directly impact human rights. I'm glad to see this item on the Top 10 list. 
  4. Risk Evaluators- Reforming the role of credit rating agencies and those who determine investment worthiness of states and companies. Our students may have heard of S&P, Moody's, & Fitch but may not know of the role those entities played in the 2008 financial crisis and the role they play now when looking at sovereign debt.  If the analysis from those entities  are flawed or laden with conflicts of interest or lack of accountability, those ratings can indirectly impact the government's ability to provide goods and services for the most vulnerable citizens.
  5. Systems Builders- Embedding human rights considerations in all stages of computer technology. If our students work in house or for governments, how can they advise tech companies working with AI, surveillance, social media, search engines and the spread of (mis)nformation? What ethical responsibilities do tech companies have and how can lawyers help them wrestle with these difficult issues?
  6. City Shapers-  Strengthening accountability and transformation in real estate finance and construction. Real estate constitutes 60% of global assets. Our students need to learn about green finance, infrastructure spending, and affordable housing and to speak up when there could be human rights impacts in the projects they are advising on. 
  7. Public Persuaders- Upholding standards so that advertising and PR companies do not undermine human rights. There are several legal issues related to advertising and marketing. Our students can also play a role in advising companies, in accordance with ethical rule 2.1, about persuaders presenting human rights issues and portraying controversial topics related to gender, race, indigenous peoples, climate change in a respectful and honest manner. 
  8. Corporate Givers- Aligning philanthropic priorities with international standards and the realities of the most vulnerable. Many large philanthropists look at charitable giving as investments (which they are) and as a way to tackle intractable social problems. Our students can add a human rights perspective as advisors, counsel, and board members to ensure that organizations give to lesser known organizations that help some of the forgotten members of society. Additionally, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer note that a shared-value approach, "generat[es] economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges. A shared value approach reconnects company success with social progress. Firms can do this in three distinct ways: by reconceiving products and markets, redefining productivity in the value chain, and building supportive industry clusters at the company's locations." Lawyers can and should play a role in this. 
  9. Business Educators- Mainstreaming human rights due diligence into management, legal, and other areas of academic training. Our readers teaching in business and law schools and focusing on ESG can discuss business and human rights under any of the ESG factors. If you don't know where to start, the ILO has begun signing MOUs with business schools around the world to increase the inclusion of labor rights in business school curricula. If you're worried that it's too touchy feely to discuss or that these topics put you in the middle of the ESG/anti-woke debate, remember that many of these issues relate directly to enterprise risk management- a more palatable topic for most business and legal leaders. 
  10. Information Disseminators- Ensuring that journalists, media, and social media uphold truth and public interest. A couple of years ago, "fake news" was on the Top 10 and with all that's going on in the world with lack of trust in the media and political institutions, lawyers can play a role in representing reporters and media outlets. Similarly, lawyers can explain the news objectively and help serve as fact checkers when appearing in news outlets.

If you've made it to the end of this post, you're either nodding in agreement or shaking your head violently in disagreement. I expect many of my students will feel the same, and I encourage that disagreement. But it's my job to expose students to these issues. As they learn about ESG from me and the press, it's critical that they disagree armed with information from all sides.

So can the next generation of lawyers save the world? Absolutely yes, if they choose to. 

January 14, 2023 in Business Associations, Business School, Compliance, Conferences, Consulting, Contracts, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Private Equity, Shareholders, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching, Technology, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 9, 2022

FIFA, ESG, and BS

I'm a huge football fan. I mean real football-- what people in the US call soccer. I went to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014 twice and have watched as many matches on TV as I could during the last tournament and this one. In some countries, over half of the residents watch the matches when their team plays even though most matches happen during work hours or the middle of the night in some countries. NBC estimates that 5 billion people across the world will watch this World Cup with an average of 227 million people a day. For perspective, roughly 208 million people, 2/3 of the population, watched Superbowl LVI in the US, which occurs on a Sunday.

Football is big business for FIFA and for many of its sponsors. Working with companies such as Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai / KIA, Visa, McDonald's, and Budweiser has earned nonprofit FIFA a record 7.5 billion in revenue for this Cup. Fortunately for Budweiser, which paid 75 million to sponsor the World Cup, Qatar does not ban alcohol. But in a plot twist, the company had to deal with a last-minute stadium ban. FIFA was more effective in Brazil, which has banned beer in stadiums since 2003 to curb violence. The ban was temporarily lifted during the 2014 Cup. I imagine this made Budweiser very happy. I know the fans were. 

This big business is a big part of the reason that FIFA has been accused of rampant corruption in the award of the Cup to Russia and Qatar, two countries with terrible human rights records. The Justice Department investigated and awarded FIFA hundreds of millions as a victim of its past leadership's actions related to the 2018 and 2022 selections. Amnesty International has called these games the "World Cup of Shame" because of the use of forced labor, exorbitant recruitment fees, seizure of passports, racism, delayed payments of $220 per month, and deaths. Raising even more awareness, more than 40 million people have watched comedian John Oliver's 2014 , 2015, and 2022 takedowns of FIFA. 

The real victims of FIFA's corruption are the millions of migrant workers operating under Qatar's kafala system. I remember sitting at a meeting at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva when an NGO accused the Qatar government of using slaves to build World Cup Stadiums. I also remember both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee pledging to consider human rights when selecting sites in the future. Indeed, FIFA claims that human rights were a "key factor" when choosing the Americas to host the 2026 Cup. 

With all of the talk about ESG including human rights and anti-discrimination from FIFA, Coca Cola, Budweiser and others related to the World Cup, how do those pronouncements square with FIFA's ban on team captains wearing the One Love Rainbow Arm Band?  Qatar has banned same sex relations  so seven EU team captains had planned to wear the arm bands as a gesture to "send a message against discrimination of any kind as the eyes of the world fall on the global game."  This was on brand with FIFA 's own  strong and repeated statements against racism after several African players suffered from taunts and chants from fans in stadiums. FIFA reiterated its stance after the death of George Floyd. Just today, FIFA issued another statement against discrimination, noting that over 55% of players received some kind of discriminatory online abuse during the Euro 2020 Final and AFCON 2022 Final.

It's curious then that despite FIFA's and the EU team's pledges about anti-discrimination, just three hours before a match, the teams confirmed that they would not wear the arm bands after all.  Apparently, they learned that players could face yellow card sanctions if they wore them. Qatar also bans advocacy and protests about same sex relationships. Unlike the stadium beer ban, this wasn't new.

And the human rights abuse allegations against FIFA aren't new. I've blogged about FIFA and the issues I encountered when meeting human rights activists in Brazil several times including here. So I will end with the questions I asked years ago about FIFA and its sponsors and add the answers as I know them today. 

1)   Is FIFA, the nonprofit corporation, really acting as a quasi-government and if so, what are its responsibilities to protect and respect local communities under UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights? Answer: FIFA has pledged to comport with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but its arm band ban shows otherwise. 

2)   Does FIFA have more power than the host country and will it use that power when it requires voters to consider a bidding country’s human rights record in the future? Answer: See the answer to #3. Also, it will be interesting to see what FIFA demands of 2026 host Florida, a state which is divesting of funds with a focus on ESG and which has proposed anti-ESG legislation.  

3)   If Qatar remains the site of the 2022 Cup after the various bribery and human rights abuse investigations, will FIFA force that country to make concessions about alcohol and gender roles to appease corporate sponsors? Answer: Nope

4)   Will/should corporate sponsors feel comfortable supporting the Cup in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 given those countries’ records and the sponsors’ own CSR priorities? Answer: Yep, despite public statements to the contrary. It's just too lucrative

5)   Does FIFA’s antidiscrimination campaign extend beyond racism to human rights or are its own actions antithetical to these rights? Answer: Yes the campaign does but again, the arm band ban shows otherwise. 

6)   Are the sponsors commenting publicly on the protests and human right violations? Should they and what could they say that has an impact? Should they have asked for or conducted a social impact analysis or is their involvement as sponsors too attenuated for that? Answer: Amnesty International is seeking corporate support for compensation reform, but hasn't been very successful.

7)   Should socially responsible investors ask questions about whether companies could have done more for local communities by donating to relevant causes as part of their CSR programs? Answer: In my view, yes. The UN has guidance on this as well. 

8)   Are corporations acting as "bystanders", a term coined by Professor Jena Martin?  Answer: Yes. 

9)   Is the International Olympic Committee, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, taking notes? Answer: Yes. Despite or perhaps because of the outrage over selecting China for the Olympics, the IOC has recently approved a Strategic Framework on Human Rights.

10)  Do consumers, the targets of creative corporate commercials and  viral YouTube videos, care about any of this? Answer: It depends on the demographics, but I would say no. How do I know this? Because I teach and write about business and human rights and I have still scheduled my grading of exams and meetings around the World Cup. Advertisers can't miss out on having 25% of the world's eyeballs on their products.  And FIFA knows that the human rights noise will all go away for most fans as soon as the referee blows the whistle to start the match.

In any event, my business and human rights students will enjoy grappling with the ugly side of the beautiful game next semester as we work on proposals for the city of Miami to live up to its 2021 commitments to human rights whether FIFA does or not.

December 9, 2022 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Games, Human Rights, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 4, 2022

How Generation, Nationality, and Expertise Influence Stakeholder Prioritization of Tech Social Issues- Pt. 2

Last month, I posted about an experiment I conducted with students and international lawyers. I’ve asked my law student, Kaitlyn Jauregui to draft this post summarizing the groups’ reasoning and provide her insights. Next week, I’ll provide mine in light of what I’m hearing at various conferences, including this week’s International Bar Association meeting. This post is in her words.

After watching The Social Dilemma, participants completed a group exercise by deciding which social issues were a priority in the eyes of different tech industry stakeholders. The Social Dilemma is a 2020 docudrama that exposes how social media controls that influences the behavior, mental health, and political views of users by subjecting them to various algorithms. Director Jeff Orlowski interviewed founding and past tech employees of some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley to bring awareness to viewers.  

Groups of primarily American college students, primarily American law students, one group of Latin American lawyers, and one group of international lawyers completed the exercise. Each of the groups deliberated from the perspective of a CEO, investor, consumer, or NGO.  Acting as that stakeholder, the team then ranked the following issues in order of importance: Incitements to violence, Labor Issues, Suppression of Speech, Mental Health, Surveillance, and Fake News. 

How The Groups Performed

The college students attend an American law school, but they are not necessarily all American. The groups’ logic behind their rankings could not be provided. I provided the rankings in the last post.

Law Students

The law students attend and American law school, but they are not necessarily all American. They considered six social issues.

Team CEO: Law Students

1.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

2.    Surveillance

3.    Mental Health

4.    Fake News

5.    Suppression of Speech

6.    Incitements to Violence

The law students assigned to view the issues as a CEO based their rankings on an internal to external approach. They believed the CEO is responsible for the operations of the company so would first try to solve internal issues such as labor issues because that would directly affect the bottom line. Surveillance and mental health ranked #2 because the team assumed that these issues directly related to customer satisfaction and retention. Because this group took on the role as a tech CEO and not a social media CEO, they did not view 4-6 as important. Fake news was only relevant if it was about the company. Suppression of speech was not problematic to them because it would not directly impact their business. Finally, they did not view incitement to violence as relevant to the business operations so ranked it last.

Team Investor: Law Students

1.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

2.    Incitements to Violence

3.    Surveillance

4.    Suppression of Speech

5.    Fake News

6.    Mental Health

The law students who prioritized social issues as if they were an Investor approached the task considering market forces. They chose labor issues first because it poses challenges to business operations. Whatever looks bad for revenue generation such as incitement to violence and surveillance means their investment would look bad as well. It is important to note they viewed this assignment as an institutional investor. The remaining factors were not imperative to the success of the tech company so were ranked lower.

Team NGO: Law Students

1.    Fake News

2.    Incitement to Violence

3.    Mental Health

4.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

5.    Surveillance

6.    Suppression of Speech

The law students who took on a role as an NGO based their sense of urgency on the danger and risks the involved in each issue. At the top was fake news because they thought misinformation when taken as fact was unhealthy for making decisions and forming opinions. Incitement to violence closely followed because political polarization can lead to hateful actions outside of social media. They found mental health to be important because of statistics showing teens committing self-harm or worse as a result of social media use. Although labor Issues are abroad, the NGO team could not ignore it. Surveillance was not key to them because they believed platforms are already taking measures against it. And lastly, suppression of speech was not as important to them as deleting hate speech and fake news.

Team Consumer: Law Students

1.    Surveillance

2.    Mental Health

3.    Incitement to Violence

4.    Suppression of Speech

5.    Fake News

6.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

The law students who took on their natural roles as consumers found social issues more important than financial forces. They referred to the many advertisements that tech companies like Apple and Google are posting against surveillance. The effects of social media on mental health and even physical health also stood out to them. As a group of law students, they are informed individuals who can spot fake news so did not see that as a priority. Lastly, labor issues are not in the consumers’ sight so are out of mind and therefore not a priority.

Latin American Lawyers

*The Latin American Lawyers did not consider Fake News or Incitements to Violence.

Team CEO: Latin American Lawyers

1.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

2.    Surveillance

3.    Suppression of Speech

4.    Mental Health

5.    -

6.    -

The Latin American lawyers ranked the social issues regarding business success and long-term goals. Labor issues were their top concern because it influences the legal challenges faced by the company and the costs of production. “Information is power” so surveillance restrictions would greatly decrease money earned from selling data gathered. They did not see suppression of speech as an issue because the company itself is not limited. Mental health was ultimately last because it does not impair business operations.

Team Investor: Latin American Lawyers

1.    Mental Health

2.    Surveillance

3.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

4.    Suppression of Speech

5.    -

6.    -

The Latin American lawyers listed their priorities as a socially responsible Investor. Mental health triggered the most urgency for them because the negative influence of social media on users is growing and is not slowing down. Heavy surveillance conflicts with the rights of persons like themselves so it is a great risk for them. Although labor issues were important, they did not think of it as a widespread issue affecting large populations of people. Lastly, suppression of speech was not a concern at all for them.

Team NGO: Latin American Lawyers

1.    Surveillance

2.    Suppression of Speech / Fake News

3.    Mental Health

4.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

5.    -

6.    -

The Latin American lawyers who participated as an NGO focused their efforts on user experience and rights. They found surveillance to be a growing concern and a human right violation for users. Suppression of speech was also very important to them, especially in the scope of the team’s nationality because of political distress in their home countries. For countries with political instability, their citizens are more conscious of infringed rights through social media. Fake news and censorship on virtual platforms can ultimately destroy the democracy of countries in their point of view. The team preferred life over work so chose to rank mental health higher than labor issues.

Team Consumer: Latin American Lawyers

1.    Surveillance

2.    Suppression of Speech / Fake News

3.    Mental Health

4.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

5.    -

6.    -

The Latin American lawyers used their personal perspective as consumers to rank in accordance with social concerns. Surveillance was seen as a major problem because it makes users uncomfortable knowing that their activity is tracked and sold as data. Suppression of speech was grouped with fake news as an important issue regarding the rights and freedom of the consumers. The gatekeeping of information from mainstream media in general was a concern for these consumers because they feel as if they are being controlled and concealed from the truth. Although the negative mental health results on teens from social media is important, the consumers thought this was the responsibility of parents and not of other consumers. Labor issues were of no concern because the consumers felt as if they have no control over the matter. 

International Lawyers

The International Group comprised of participants from Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jamaica, Mexico, Nepal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine. The group was not assigned to rank Mental Health as a social issue. The groups’ logic behind their rankings could not be provided.

Team CEO: International Lawyers

1.    Fake News

2.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

3.    Surveillance

4.    Incitement to Violence

5.    Suppression of Speech

6.    -

Team Investor: International Lawyers (Socially Responsible)

1.    Incitement to Violence

2.    Fake News

3.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

4.    Surveillance

5.    Suppression of Speech

6.    -

Team Investor: International Lawyers (Institutional)

1.    Labor Issues in the Supply Chain

2.    Incitements to Violence

3.    Suppression of Speech

4.    Fake News

5.    Surveillance

6.    -

Team NGO: International Lawyers

1.    Fake News

2.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

3.    Suppression of Speech

4.    Incitements to Violence

5.    Surveillance

6.    -

 

Team Consumer: International Lawyers

1.    Incitements to Violence

2.    Suppression of Speech

3.    Fake News

4.    Labor Issues in Supply Chain

5.    Surveillance

6.    -

 Insights

When given a business or financial oriented role, the teams ranked the social issues by focusing on whether it impacts company performance. Teams with community or advocate roles tended to rank the social issues according to impact on society. Team CEO prioritized labor issues and surveillance the most. Labor issues along with incitements to violence were of top concern for Team Investor. Fake news was the number one issue for Team NGO. Team Consumer, which reflects the average personal view of the participants, believed incitements to violence and surveillance were the most pressing social issues in the tech industry. Labor issues were the least important to the consumer participants, which is interesting in scope of consumer purchase decisions overall and not just in tech.

The Team Consumer data is reflective of each of the groups’ personal beliefs because all participants are also consumers. The College Students prioritized mental health. Both the law students and the Latin American lawyers found surveillance the most important tech issue. International lawyers instead thought incitement to violence more pressing. A possible explanation is that people in the U.S. and Latin America are trying to protect their privacy from intrusive technology. Because the international lawyers had participants from countries where incitement to violence are occurring, that may be why it was important to them.

Suppression of speech closely followed for Latin American Lawyers and International Lawyers whereas Mental Health was the second priority for the primarily American law Students. Many citizens of countries around the globe face oppressive governments that censor speech which may be influential in why Suppression of Speech was ranked highly. In the United States, citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech and press which is why this issue may not be as concerning for them. American teens also suffer from more mental illness as a result of social media use, possibly why it is second place.

Practices in corporate culture and opinions on social issues are influenced by the ethnic makeup of the employees. Although the stakeholder roles the groups took are the most determinative factor, their nationality is naturally a bias in their decision-making.

The Lewis Model is a triangular spectrum that identifies the prominent features of different cultures. Richard Lewis spoke 10 languages, visited 135 countries, and work in over 20 of them to find observable variability in social behavior. He recognized that stereotypes are unfair, but also emphasized that social norms are standards in each country. There are three defined points of culture: Linear Active, Multi-active, and Reactive.

  • Linear actives — those who plan, arrange, organize, do one thing at a time, follow action chains. They are truthful rather than diplomatic and do not fear confrontation. Their work and as well as personal life is based on logic rather than emotions. Linear actives like facts, fixed agenda and they are very job oriented. They are able to separate social-private and professional life.
  • Multi-actives — people belonging to this cultural category are able to do many things at once, planning their priorities not according to a time schedule, but according to the relative thrill or importance that each appointment brings with it. These cultures are very talkative and impulsive. These characteristics predict their orientation on people. They feel uncomfortable in silence. Multi-active people prefer face to face sessions.
  • Reactives — member of this group has in the priority list courtesy and respect on the top. This group is best listening culture. Listening quietly, reacting calmly and carefully to the other side's proposals are their traits as well. Reactive cultures are the world’s best listeners in as much as they concentrate on what the speaker is saying, do not interrupt a speaker while the discourse or presentation is on-going. Reactive people have large reserves of energy. Reactives tend to use names less frequently than other cultural categories.

How does the Lewis Model explain the results?

The primarily American college and law students fall under linear-active with their priorities aligned with individual rights and performance.

The Latin American lawyers are multi-active, think about the social issues in terms of impact on the community and on building relationships.

The International lawyers are comprised of participants all over the world, bringing in aspects from all over the spectrum.

The Lewis Model most likely plays a part in how each participant individually arrived at their own rankings and how they then communicated to agree on a reflective ranking together. The conversations guiding to the final result would have probably shown more insight as to how and why these social issues are important.

Age

The age of the participants is another influential factors because of the generational variation in trust in surveilling technologies. Generation Z, Millennials, and Generation X+ were asked in a survey how comfortable they felt with programs like Alexa or Siri on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being very and 10 being not.

Generation Z: 7.73

Millennials: 8.28

Generation X+: 8.90

Older generations are more uneasy about virtual assistant technology.

With age comes more experience and better foresight. Researchers in Texas found that “older adults use the experience in decision-making accumulated over their lifetime to determine the long-term utility and not just the immediate benefit before making a choice. However, younger adults tend to focus their decision-making on instant gratification.”

How does age explain the results?

The majority of the college and law students were Generation Z or Millennials whereas the practicing attorneys were mostly Millennials or more senior.

As generations progress, younger people are more comfortable with surveillance technology than older people.

Expertise

Expertise of the participants surely impacted how they ranked social issues. The knowledge of experts in comparison to novices gives them a wider and practical approach to business and social issues. Here are some key aspects:

  1. Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
  2. Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.
  3. Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability: that is, the knowledge is “conditionalized” on a set of circumstances.
  4. Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort.
  5. Though experts know their disciplines thoroughly, this does not guarantee that they are able to teach others.
  6. Experts have varying levels of flexibility in their approach to new situations.

Perhaps the practicing attorneys foresaw further down the line as to why one social issue was more pressing than another.

Thank you, Kaitlyn for providing your analysis of the results. Next week, I’ll provide mine.

November 4, 2022 in Business Associations, Comparative Law, Compliance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Law, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Social Enterprise, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 23, 2022

How Generation, Nationality, and Expertise Influence Stakeholder Prioritization of ESG Issues Pt. 1

You can’t read the business press without seeing some handwringing about ESG. It’s probably why I’ve been teaching, advising, and sitting on a lot more panels about the topic lately. Like it or not, it’s here to stay (at least for now) so I decided to do a completely unscientific experiment on lawyer and law student perceptions of ESG using a class simulation. Over the past three months, I’ve used the topic of tech companies and human rights obligations to demonstrate how the “S” factor plays out in real life. I used the same simulation for foreign lawyers in UM’s US Law in Action program, college students who participated in UM’s Summer Legal Academy, Latin American lawyers studying US Business Entities, and my own law students in my Regulatory Compliance, Corporate Governance, and Sustainability class at the University of Miami.

Prior to the simulation, I required the students to watch The Social Dilemma,  the Netflix documentary about the potentially dangerous effects of social media on individuals and society at large. I also lectured on the shareholder v. stakeholder debate; the role of investors, consumers, NGOs, and governments in shaping the debate about ESG; and the basics of business and human rights. Within business and human rights, we looked at labor, surveillance, speech, and other human rights issues that tech and social media companies may impact.

Participants completed a prioritization exercise based on their assigned roles as either CEO, investor, government, NGO, consumer, or influencer. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison because some groups did not look at all of the issues and some had different stakeholders. In this post, I will provide the results. In a future post, I’ll provide some thoughts and analysis.

The topics for prioritization were:

Labor- in complex global supply chains that often employ workers in developing countries, how much responsibility should companies bear for forced labor particularly for Uyghur labor in China and child labor in global mining and supply chains? What about the conditions in factories and warehouses before and during the COVID era? 

Surveillance- how much responsibility do tech companies bear for the (un)ethical use of AI and surveillance of citizens and employees?

Mental Health- how much should companies care about the impact of the “like” button and the role social media plays in bullying, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, addiction, and suicide, especially among pre-teens and teens?

Fake News- should a social media company allow information on platforms that is demonstrably false? What if allowing fake news is profitable because it keeps more eyeballs on the page and thus raises ad revenue? Should Congress repeal Section 230?

Incitement to violence- what responsibilities do social media companies have when content leads to violence? We specifically looked at some of the issues with Meta (Facebook) and India, but we also examined this more broadly.

Suppression of Speech- should a social media company ever suppress speech? This was closely related to fake news and the incitement to violence prompt and some groups combined these.  

The Rankings

 

International Lawyers (approximately 40 total participants)

The international lawyer group consisted of participants from Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jamaica, Mexico, Nepal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine. The group was not assigned to rank mental health as a social issue.

CEO:

  1. Fake news
  2. Labor
  3. Surveillance
  4. Incitement to violence
  5. Suppression of speech

Socially responsible investors:

  1. Incitement to violence
  2. Fake news
  3. Labor
  4. Surveillance
  5. Suppression of speech

Institutional investors:

  1. Labor
  2. Incitement to violence
  3. Suppression of speech
  4. Fake news
  5. Surveillance

NGO:

  1. Fake news
  2. Labor
  3. Suppression of speech
  4. Incitement to violence
  5. Surveillance

Consumers:

  1. Incitement to violence
  2. Suppression of speech
  3. Fake news
  4. Labor
  5. Surveillance

Latin American Lawyers (approximately 10 total participants)

The Latin American lawyers combined fake news and incitements to violence with suppression of speech.

 CEOs:

  1. Labor
  2. Surveillance
  3. Suppression of speech
  4. Mental health

Investors (they chose socially responsible investors):

  1. Mental health
  2. Surveillance
  3. Labor
  4. Suppression of speech

NGO:

  1. Surveillance
  2. Suppression of speech
  3. Mental health
  4. Labor

Consumers:

  1. Surveillance
  2. Suppression of speech
  3. Mental health
  4. Labor

 

Law Students (approximately 52 total participants)

The law students considered six social issues. Several are LLMs or not from the United States, although they attend school at University of Miami.

CEOs:

  1. Labor
  2. Surveillance
  3. Mental Health
  4. Fake News
  5. Suppression of Speech
  6. Incitements to Violence

Investors:

  1. Labor
  2. Incitements to violence
  3. Surveillance
  4. Suppression of speech
  5. Fake news
  6. Mental health

NGO:

  1. Fake news
  2. Incitement to violence
  3. Mental health
  4. Labor
  5. Surveillance
  6. Suppression of speech

Consumers:

  1. Surveillance
  2. Mental Health
  3. Incitement to Violence
  4. Suppression of speech
  5. Fake news
  6. Labor

College Students

Given how little work experience this group had, I divided them into groups of CEOs, investors (no split between institutional and socially responsible investors), members of Congress, social media influencers, and consumers. They also combined suppression of speech, fake news, and incitement to violence in one category.

            CEOs:

  1. Speech
  2. Surveillance
  3. Labor issues
  4. Mental health ramifications

            Investors:

  1. Labor issues
  2. Speech
  3. Surveillance
  4. Mental Health

            Congress:

  1. Speech
  2. Surveillance
  3. Labor
  4. Mental Health

     Consumers:

  1. Mental Health
  2. Speech
  3. Labor
  4. Surveillance

            Influencers:

  1. Mental Health
  2. Speech
  3. Labor
  4. Surveillance

What does this all mean? To be honest, notwithstanding my sophisticated, clickbait blog title, I have no idea. Further, with two of the groups, English was not the first language for most of the participants. Obviously, the sample sizes are too small to be statistically significant. I have thoughts, though, and will post them next week. If you have theories based on the demographics, I would love to hear your comments. 

September 23, 2022 in Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, Law School, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 10, 2022

Why Transactional Lawyers Need to Educate Themselves on Compliance

Prior to joining academia, I served as a compliance officer for a Fortune 500 company and I continue to consult on compliance matters today. It's an ever changing field, which is why I'm glad so many students take my Compliance, Corporate Governance, and Sustainability course in the Fall. I tell them that if they do transactional or commercial litigation work, compliance issues will inevitably arise. Here are some examples: 

  • In M&A deals, someone must look at the target's  bribery, money laundering, privacy, employment law, environmental, and other risks
  • Companies have to complete several disclosures. How do you navigate the rules that conflict or overlap?
  • What do institutional investors really care about? What's material when it relates to ESG issues?
  • What training does the board need to ensure that they meet their fiduciary duties?
  • How do you deal with cyberattacks and what are the legal and ethical issues related to paying ransomware?
  • How do geopolitical factors affect the compliance program?
  • Who can be liable for a compliance failure?
  • What happens when people cut corners in a supply chain and how can that affect the company's legal risk?
  • What does a Biden DOJ/SEC mean compared to the same offices under Trump?
  • Who is your client when representing an organization with compliance failures?
  • and so much more

I'm thrilled to be closing out the PLI Compliance and Ethics Essentials conference in New York with my co-panelist Ben Gruenstein of Cravath, Swaine, & Moore. It's no fun being the last set of presenters, but we do have the ethics credits, so please join us either in person or online on June 28th. Our areas of focus include:

  • Risk assessment, program assessment, and attorney-client privilege
  • Ethical obligations for lawyers and compliance officers
  • Which compliance program communications can (and should) be privileged?

In addition to discussing the assigned issues, I also plan to arm the compliance officers with more information about the recent trend(?) of Caremark cases getting past the motion to dismiss stage and compliance lessons learned from the Elon Musk/Twitter/Tesla saga. 

Here's the description of the conference, but again, even if you're not in compliance, you'll be a better transactional lawyer from learning this area of the law. 

Compliance and ethics programs are critically important to the success of any organization. Effective programs allow organizations to identify and mitigate legal risks. With an increasingly tough enforcement environment, and greater demands for transparency and accountability, an effective compliance program is no longer just “nice-to-have.” It’s essential. 

Whether you are new to the area or a seasoned compliance professional, PLI’s program will give you the tools you need to improve your organization’s compliance program.  We will review the principal elements of compliance programs and discuss best practices and recent developments for each.  Our distinguished faculty, drawn from major corporations, academia, law firms and the government, can help you improve your program, increase employee awareness and decrease legal risk.  Compliance and Ethics Essentials 2022 is highly interactive and includes case studies, practical tools and real-time benchmarking.

What You Will Learn 

  • Designing and conducting effective compliance risk assessments that enhance your program
  • Structuring your program for appropriate independence and authority
  • The evolving role of the board
  • ESG and your compliance program
  • Using data analytics to improve your program
  • Encouraging reporting and investigating allegations of wrongdoing
  • Best practices in compliance codes, communications, training and tools
  • Ethics for compliance professionals

Who Should Attend

If you are involved in any aspect of corporate compliance and ethics as in-house counsel, a compliance and ethics officer, human resources executive, outside counsel, or risk management consultant, this event should be on your annual calendar.

Special Feature: Special luncheon presentation with guest speaker

If you do come to the conference, I would love to grab a cup of coffee with you, so reach out.

June 10, 2022 in Compliance, Conferences, Consulting, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Legislation, M&A, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 20, 2022

What Do FIFA, Nike, and PornHub Have In Common?

It's a lovely Friday night for grading papers for my Business and Human Rights course where we focused on ESG, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. My students met with in-house counsel, academics, and a consultant to institutional investors; held mock board meetings; heard directly from people who influenced the official drafts of EU's mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence directive  and the ABA's Model Contract Clauses for Human Rights; and conducted simulations (including acting as former Congolese rebels and staffers for Mitch McConnell during a conflict minerals exercise). Although I don't expect them all to specialize in this area of the law, I'm thrilled that they took the course so seriously, especially now with the Biden Administration rewriting its National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct with public comments due at the end of this month.

The papers at the top of my stack right now:

  1. Apple: The Latest Iphone's Camera Fails to Zoom Into the Company's Labor Exploitation
  2. TikTok Knows More About Your Child Than You Do: TikTok’s Violations of Children’s Human Right to Privacy in their Data and Personal Information
  3. Redraft of the Nestle v. Doe Supreme Court opinion
  4. Pornhub or Torthub? When “Commitment to Trust and Safety” Equals Safeguarding of Human Rights: A Case Study of Pornhub Through The Lens of Felites v. MindGeek 
  5. Principle Violations and Normative Breaches: the Dakota Access Pipeline - Human rights implications beyond the land and beyond the State
  6. FIFA’s Human Rights Commitments and Controversies: The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game
  7. The Duty to Respect: An Analysis of Business, Climate Change, and Human Rights
  8. Just Wash It: How Nike uses woke-washing to cover up its workplace abuses
  9. Colombia’s armed conflict, business, and human rights
  10. Artificial Intelligence & Human Rights Implications: The Project Maven in the ‘Business of war.’
  11. A Human Rights Approach to “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”: Corporate Accountability and Regulation
  12. Don’t Talk to Strangers” and Other Antiquated Childhood Rules Because The Proverbial Stranger Now Lives in Your Phone
  13. Case studies on SnapChat, Nestle Bottling Company, Lush Cosmetics, YouTube Kidfluencers, and others 

Business and human rights touches more areas than most people expect including fast fashion, megasporting events, due diligence disclosures,  climate change and just transitions, AI and surveillance, infrastructure and project finance, the use of slave labor in supply chains, and socially responsible investing. If you're interested in learning more, check out the Business and Human Rights Resources Center, which tracks 10,000 companies around the world. 

May 20, 2022 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, International Law, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Elon Musk is a Blessing and a Curse

I'm doing what may seem crazy to some- teaching Business Associations to 1Ls. I have a group of 65 motivated students who have an interest in business and voluntarily chose to take the hardest possible elective with one of the hardest possible professors. But wait, there's more. I'm cramming a 4-credit class into 3 credits. These students, some of whom are  learning the rule against perpetuities in Property and the battle of the forms in Contracts while learning the business judgment rule, are clearly masochists. 

If you're a professor or a student, you're coming close to the end of the semester and you're trying to cram everything in. Enter Elon Musk. 

I told them to just skim Basic v. Levenson and instead we used Rasella v. Musk, the case brought by investors claiming fraud on the market. Coincidentally, my students were already reading In Re Tesla Motors, Inc. Stockholder Litigation because it was in their textbook to illustrate the concept of a controlling shareholder. Elon's pursuit of Twitter allowed me to use that company's 2022 proxy statement and ask them why Twitter would choose to be "for" a proposal to declassify its board, given all that's going on. Perhaps that vote will be moot by the time the shareholder's meeting happens at the end of May. The Twitter 8-K provides a great illustration of the real-time filings that need to take place under the securities laws, in this case due to the implementation of a poison pill. Elon's Love Me Tender tweet provides a fun way to take about tender offers. How will the Twitter board fulfill it's Revlon duties? So much to discuss and so little time. But the shenanigans have made teaching and learning about these issues more fun. And who knew so many of my students held Twitter and Tesla stock?

I've used the Musk saga for my business and human rights class too. I had attended the Emerge Americas conference earlier in the week and Alex Ohanian, billionaire founder of Reddit, venture capitalist, and Serena Williams' husband, had to walk a fine line when answering questions about Musk from the CNBC reporter. The line that stuck out to me was his admonition that running a social media company is like being a head of state with the level of responsibility. I decided to bring this up on the last day of my business and human rights class because I was doing an overview of what we had learned during the semester. As I turned to my slide about the role of tech companies in society, we ended up in a 30 minute debate in class about what Musk's potential ownership of Twitter could mean for democracy and human rights around the world. Interestingly, the class seemed almost evenly split in their views. While my business associations students are looking at the issue in a more straightforward manner as a vehicle to learn about key concepts (with some asking for investment advice as well, which I refused), my business and human rights students had a much more visceral reaction. 

Elon is a gift that keeps on giving for professors. He's a blessing because he's bringing concepts to life at a time in the semester where we are all mentally and physically exhausted. Depending on who you talk to in my BHR class and in some quarters of the media, he's also a curse.

All I know is that I don't know how I'll top this semester for real-world, just-in-time application.

Thanks, Elon.

Signed,

A tired but newly energized professor who plans to assign Ann Lipton's excellent Musk tweets as homework. 

 

 

 

 

 

April 23, 2022 in Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Law School, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 25, 2022

Post-pandemic evolution, change management, and the role of in-house counsel

Join me in sunny Miami on April 26 for this in-person conference featuring outside counsel, inhouse practitioners, and academics. 

Panel topics include:

Change Management: The Legal Department of the Future -  More and more, in-house legal departments are employing new hybrid and remote work models, incorporating artificial intelligence and technology in their workflows, and restructuring and absorbing new teams after mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures. This panel discussion will focus on how the in-house legal department can be a champion in leading successful developmental and transformational change by implementing change management best practices to be effective and efficient, remaining client-focused, and being a trusted business advisor.

Remote Work:  Accelerated Adoption and Related Challenges - Which option would you choose: on-site, hybrid, or virtual? We will discuss the pros and cons of remote work arrangements, including the challenges of implementing a remote work policy in Latin America where the legal framework is a complex patchwork of requirements, as well as the strategies for creating culture and building a team in a remote work environment.

Counseling the Board of Directors (the panel I'm on)-  This panel will focus on issues that arise when counseling the board of directors and address important topics, including governance, ethics, fiduciary duties, director liability, best practices (diversity and environmental, social, and governance (ESG)), privileged insurance, and D&O insurance all in the context of private and public companies operating in the United States and Latin America.

Supply Chain: Challenges and Opportunities- Lessons learned from recent disruptions in global supply chains will shape crossborder business in the coming years. Our panel will discuss short- and long-term challenges and opportunities in supply chain management and logistics, as well as practical strategies for using technology, contractual protections, and risk-transfer solutions to overcome future supply-chain challenges.

What Is Your Company’s ESG Score? This panel will discuss the origins of climate change management, sustainability and how to operationalize it at your company, as well as how to transition to a low-carbon economy— including standards and disclosures. Panelists will also discuss the importance of implementing mechanisms to adopt a company’s ESG score as an ethical obligation to company commitments and as a governance imperative.

Click here to register.

If you make it down to Miami, I promise to buy you a mojito or cafecito. And don't worry, hurricane season doesn't start until June. 

 

March 25, 2022 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, International Business, Law Firms, Lawyering, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 28, 2022

2022 Online Symposium – Mainstreet vs. Wallstreet: The Democratization of Investing Friday, March 4 12:30-3:30

2022 Online Symposium – Mainstreet vs. Wallstreet: The Democratization of Investing

I'm thrilled to moderate two panels this Friday and one features our rock star BLPB editor, Ben Edwards. 

                                                                     REGISTER HERE

The University of Miami Business Law Review is hosting its 2022 online symposium on Friday, March 4, 2022. The symposium will run from 12:30 PM to 3:30 PM. The symposium will be conducted via Zoom. Attendees can apply to receive CLE credits for attending this event—3.5 CLE credits have been approved by the Florida Bar. 

The symposium will host two sessions with expert panelists discussing the gamification of trading platforms and the growing popularity of aligning investments with personal values.

The panels will be moderated by Professor Marcia Narine Weldon, who is the director of the Transactional Skills Program, Faculty Coordinator of the Business Compliance & Sustainability Concentration, and a Lecturer in Law at the University of Miami School of Law.

Panel 1: Gamification of Trading 

This panel will focus on the role of social media and “gamification” of trading apps/platforms in democratizing investing, and the risks that such technology may influence investor behavior (i.e., increase in trading, higher risk trading strategies like options and margin use, etc.).

Gerri Walsh:

Gerri Walsh is Senior Vice President of Investor Education at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). In this capacity, she is responsible for the development and operations of FINRA’s investor education program. She is also President of the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, where she manages the Foundation’s strategic initiatives to educate and protect investors and to benchmark and foster financial capability for all Americans, especially underserved audiences. Ms. Walsh was the founding executive sponsor of FINRA’s Military Community Employee Resource Group. She serves on the Advisory Council to the Stanford Center on Longevity and represents FINRA on IOSCO’s standing policy committee on retail investor education, the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, NASAA’s Senior Investor Advisory Council and the Wharton Pension Research Council.

Prior to joining FINRA in May 2006, Ms. Walsh was Deputy Director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Investor Education and Assistance (OIEA) and, before that, Special Counsel to the Director of OIEA. She also served as a senior attorney in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, investigating and prosecuting violators of the federal securities laws. Before that, she practiced law as an associate with Hogan Lovells in Washington, D.C.

Ari Bargil:

Ari Bargil is an attorney with the Institute for Justice. He joined IJ’s Miami Office in September of 2012, and litigates constitutional cases protecting economic liberty, property rights, school choice, and free speech in both federal and state courts.

In 2019, Ari successfully defended two of Florida’s most popular school choice programs, the McKay Program for Students with Disabilities and the Florida Tax Credit Program, before the Florida Supreme Court. As a direct result of the victory, over 120,000 students in Florida have access to scholarships that empower them to attend the schools of their choice.

Ari also regularly defends property owners battling aggressive zoning regulations and excessive fines in state and federal court nationwide and litigates on behalf of entrepreneurs in cutting-edge First Amendment cases. He was co-counsel in a federal appellate court victory vindicating the right of a Florida dairy creamery to tell the truth on its labels, and he is currently litigating in federal appellate court to secure a holistic health coach’s right to share advice about nutrition with her clients. In 2017, Ari was honored by the Daily Business Review as one of South Florida’s “Most Effective Lawyers.”

In addition to litigation, Ari regularly testifies before state and local legislative bodies and committees on issues ranging from occupational licensing to property rights regulation. Ari has also spearheaded several successful legislative campaigns in Florida, including the effort to legalize the sale of 64-ounce “growlers” by craft breweries and the Florida Legislature’s passage of the Right to Garden Act—a reform which made it unlawful for local governments to ban residential vegetable gardens throughout the state.

Ari’s work has been featured by USA Today, NPR, Fox News, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News and other national and local publications.

Christine Lazaro:

Christine Lazaro is Director of the Securities Arbitration Clinic at St. John’s University School of Law. She joined the faculty at St. John’s in 2007 as the Clinic’s Supervising Attorney. She is also a faculty advisor for the Corporate and Securities Law Society.

Prior to joining the Securities Arbitration Clinic, Professor Lazaro was an associate at the boutique law firm of Davidson & Grannum, LLP.  At the firm, she represented broker-dealers and individual brokers in disputes with clients in both arbitration and mediation.  She also handled employment law cases and debt collection cases.  Professor Lazaro was the primary attorney in the firm’s area of practice that dealt with advising broker-dealers regarding investment contracts they had with various municipalities and government entities.  Professor Lazaro is also of Counsel to the Law Offices of Brent A. Burns, LLC, where she consults on securities arbitration and regulatory matters.

Professor Lazaro is a member of the New York State and the American Bar Associations, and the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association (PIABA). Professor Lazaro is a past President of PIABA and is a member of the Board of Directors.  She is also a co-chair of PIABA’S Fiduciary Standards Committee, and is a member of the Executive, Legislation, Securities Law Seminar, and SRO Committees. Additionally, Professor Lazaro is the co-chair of the Securities Disputes Committee in the Dispute Resolution Section of the New York State Bar Association and serves on the FINRA Investor Issues Advisory Committee. 

Panel 2: ESG Investing

The second panel will address the growing popularity of ESG funds among investors that want to align their investments with their personal values, and the questions/concerns that arise with ESG funds, including: 1) explaining what they are; 2) discussing the varying definitions and disclosure issues; 3) exploring if investors really give up better market performance if they invest in funds that align with their values; and 4) asking if the increased interest in ESG funds affect corporate change? 

Thomas Riesenberg:

Mr. Riesenberg is Senior Regulatory Advisor to Ceres, working on climate change issues. He previously worked as an advisor to EY Global’s Office of Public Policy on ESG regulatory issues. Before that he worked as the Director of Legal and Regulatory Policy at The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board pursuant to a secondment from EY. At SASB he worked on a range of US and non-US policy matters for nearly seven years. He served for more than 20 years as counsel to EY, including as the Deputy General Counsel responsible for regulatory matters, primarily involving the SEC and the PCAOB. Previously he served for seven years as an Assistant General Counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission where he handled court of appeals and Supreme Court cases involving issues such as insider trading, broker-dealer regulation, and financial fraud. While at the SEC he received the Manuel Cohen Outstanding Younger Lawyer Award for his work on significant enforcement cases. He also worked as a law clerk for a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., as a litigator on environmental matters at the U.S. Department of Justice, and as an associate at a major Washington, D.C. law firm.

Mr. Riesenberg graduated from the New York University School of Law, where he was a member of the Law Review and a Root-Tilden Scholar (full-tuition scholarship). He received a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, where he graduated with honors and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He is a former chair of the Law and Accounting Committee of the American Bar Association, former president of the Association of SEC Alumni, former treasurer of the SEC Historical Society, and a current member of the Advisory Board of the BNA Securities Regulation and Law Report. For seven years he was an adjunct professor of securities law at the Georgetown University Law Center. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute. He serves on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including the D.C. Jewish Community Relations Council and the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation. He is the author of numerous articles on securities law and ESG disclosure issues.

Benjamin Edwards:

Benjamin Edwards joined the faculty of the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2017. In addition to being the Director of the Public Policy Clinic, he researches and writes about business and securities law, corporate governance, arbitration, and consumer protection. Prior to teaching, Professor Edwards practiced as a securities litigator in the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. At Skadden, he represented clients in complex civil litigation, including securities class actions arising out of the Madoff Ponzi scheme and litigation arising out of the 2008 financial crisis.

Max Schatzow:

Max Schatzow is a co-founder and partner of RIA Lawyers LLC—a boutique law firm that focuses almost exclusively on representing investment advisers with legal and regulatory issues. Prior to RIA Lawyers, Max worked at Morgan Lewis representing some of the largest financial institutions in the United States and at another law firm where he represented investment advisers and broker-dealers. Max is a business-minded regulatory lawyer that always tries to put himself in the client’s position. He assists clients in all aspects of forming, registering, owning, and operating an investment adviser. He prides himself in preparing clients and their compliance programs to avert regulatory issues, but also assists clients through examinations and enforcement issues. In addition, Max assists advisers that manage private investment funds. In his little spare time, Max enjoys the Peloton (both stationary and road), golf, craft beer, and spending time with his wife and two children.

February 28, 2022 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 24, 2021

Ten Ethical Traps for Business Lawyers

I'm so excited to present later this morning at the University of Tennessee College of Law Connecting the Threads Conference today at 10:45 EST. Here's the abstract from my presentation. In future posts, I will dive more deeply into some of these issues. These aren't the only ethical traps, of course, but there's only so many things you can talk about in a 45-minute slot. 

All lawyers strive to be ethical, but they don’t always know what they don’t know, and this ignorance can lead to ethical lapses or violations. This presentation will discuss ethical pitfalls related to conflicts of interest with individual and organizational clients; investing with clients; dealing with unsophisticated clients and opposing counsel; competence and new technologies; the ever-changing social media landscape; confidentiality; privilege issues for in-house counsel; and cross-border issues. Although any of the topics listed above could constitute an entire CLE session, this program will provide a high-level overview and review of the ethical issues that business lawyers face.

Specifically, this interactive session will discuss issues related to ABA Model Rules 1.5 (fees), 1.6 (confidentiality), 1.7 (conflicts of interest), 1.8 (prohibited transactions with a client), 1.10 (imputed conflicts of interest), 1.13 (organizational clients), 4.3 (dealing with an unrepresented person), 7.1 (communications about a lawyer’s services), 8.3 (reporting professional misconduct); and 8.4 (dishonesty, fraud, deceit).  

Discussion topics will include:

  1. Do lawyers have an ethical duty to take care of their wellbeing? Can a person with a substance use disorder or major mental health issue ethically represent their client? When can and should an impaired lawyer withdraw? When should a lawyer report a colleague?
  2. What ethical obligations arise when serving on a nonprofit board of directors? Can a board member draft organizational documents or advise the organization? What potential conflicts of interest can occur?
  3. What level of technology competence does an attorney need? What level of competence do attorneys need to advise on technology or emerging legal issues such as SPACs and cryptocurrencies? Is attending a CLE or law school course enough?
  4. What duties do lawyers have to educate themselves and advise clients on controversial issues such as business and human rights or ESG? Is every business lawyer now an ESG lawyer?
  5. What ethical rules apply when an in-house lawyer plays both a legal role and a business role in the same matter or organization? When can a lawyer representing a company provide legal advice to an employee?
  6. With remote investigations, due diligence, hearings, and mediations here to stay, how have professional duties changed in the virtual world? What guidance can we get from ABA Formal Opinion 498 issued in March 2021? How do you protect confidential information and also supervise others remotely?
  7. What social media practices run afoul of ethical rules and why? How have things changed with the explosion of lawyers on Instagram and TikTok?
  8. What can and should a lawyer do when dealing with a businessperson on the other side of the deal who is not represented by counsel or who is represented by unsophisticated counsel?
  9. When should lawyers barter with or take an equity stake in a client? How does a lawyer properly disclose potential conflicts?
  10. What are potential gaps in attorney-client privilege protection when dealing with cross-border issues? 

If you need some ethics CLE, please join in me and my co-bloggers, who will be discussing their scholarship. In case Joan Heminway's post from yesterday wasn't enough to entice you...

Professor Anderson’s topic is “Insider Trading in Response to Expressive Trading”, based upon his upcoming article for Transactions. He will also address the need for business lawyers to understand the rise in social-media-driven trading (SMD trading) and options available to issuers and their insiders when their stock is targeted by expressive traders.

Professor Baker’s topic is “Paying for Energy Peaks: Learning from Texas' February 2021 Power Crisis.” Professor Baker will provide an overview of the regulation of Texas’ electric power system and the severe outages in February 2021, explaining why Texas is on the forefront of challenges that will grow more prominent as the world transitions to cleaner energy. Next, it explains competing electric power business models and their regulation, including why many had long viewed Texas’ approach as commendable, and why the revealed problems will only grow more pressing. It concludes by suggesting benefits and challenges of these competing approaches and their accompanying regulation.

Professor Heminway’s topic is “Choice of Entity: The Fiscal Sponsorship Alternative to Nonprofit Incorporation.” Professor Heminway will discuss how for many small business projects that qualify for federal income tax treatment under Section 501(a) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, the time and expense of organizing, qualifying, and maintaining a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation may be daunting (or even prohibitive). Yet there would be advantages to entity formation and federal tax qualification that are not available (or not easily available) to unincorporated business projects. Professor Heminway addresses this conundrum by positing a third option—fiscal sponsorship—and articulating its contextual advantages.

Professor Moll’s topic is “An Empirical Analysis of Shareholder Oppression Disputes.” This panel will discuss how the doctrine of shareholder oppression protects minority shareholders in closely held corporations from the improper exercise of majority control, what factors motivate a court to find oppression liability, and what factors motivate a court to reject an oppression claim. Professor Moll will also examine how “oppression” has evolved from a statutory ground for involuntary dissolution to a statutory ground for a wide variety of relief.

Professor Murray’s topic is “Enforcing Benefit Corporation Reporting.” Professor Murray will begin his discussion by focusing on the increasing number of states that have included express punishments in their benefit corporation statutes for reporting failures. Part I summarizes and compares the statutory provisions adopted by various states regarding benefit reporting enforcement. Part II shares original compliance data for states with enforcement provisions and compares their rates to the states in the previous benefit reporting studies. Finally, Part III discusses the substance of the benefit reports and provides law and governance suggestions for improving social benefit.

All of this and more from the comfort of your own home. Hope to see you on Zoom today and next year in person at the beautiful UT campus.

September 24, 2021 in Colleen Baker, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Delaware, Ethics, Financial Markets, Haskell Murray, Human Rights, International Business, Joan Heminway, John Anderson, Law Reviews, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Litigation, M&A, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Short Paper: The Benefits and Burdens of Limited Liability

I recently received the final version of my short article, "The Benefits and Burdens of Limited Liability," in Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law.  The article is based on some of my prior blog posts, as well as my presentation as part of the fourth annual Business Law Prof Blog symposium, Connecting the ThreadsIt was great event, as always, thanks to Joan and the whole crew at Tennessee Law, and it was my pleasure to be part of it.  

Here's the abstract: 

Law students in business associations and people starting businesses often think the only choice for forming a business entity is a limited liability entity like a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC). Although seeking a limited liability entity is usually justifiable, and usually wise, this Article addresses some of the burdens that come from making that decision. We often focus only on the benefits. This Article ponders limited liability as a default rule for contracts with a named business and considers circumstances when choosing a limited liability entity might not communicate what a business owner intends. The Article notes also that when choosing an entity, you get benefits, like limited liability, but burdens (such as need for counsel or tax consequences) also attach. It's not a one-way street. The Article closes by urging courts to consider both the benefits and burdens of an entity choice, especially in considering whether to uphold or disregard an entity, to help parties achieve some measure of certainty and equity.

The journal also has thoughtful and insightful commentary from Professor George Kuney (available here) and student Tyler Ring (here). 

 

 

June 1, 2021 in Conferences, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Lawyering, LLCs, Partnership | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Ten Business Questions for the Biden Administration

If you read the title, you’ll see that I’m only going to ask questions. I have no answers, insights, or predictions until the President-elect announces more cabinet picks. After President Trump won the election in 2016, I posed eleven questions and then gave some preliminary commentary based on his cabinet picks two months later. Here are my initial questions based on what I’m interested in -- compliance, corporate governance, human rights, and ESG. I recognize that everyone will have their own list:

  1. How will the Administration view disclosures? Will Dodd-Frank conflict minerals disclosures stay in place, regardless of the effectiveness on reducing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Will the US add mandatory human rights due diligence and disclosures like the EU??
  2. Building on Question 1, will we see more stringent requirements for ESG disclosures? Will the US follow the EU model for financial services firms, which goes into effect in March 2021? With ESG accounting for 1 in 3 dollars of assets under management, will the Biden Administration look at ESG investing more favorably than the Trump DOL? How robust will climate and ESG disclosure get? We already know that disclosure of climate risks and greenhouse gases will be a priority. For more on some of the SEC commissioners’ views, see here.
  3. President-elect Biden has named what is shaping up to be the most diverse cabinet in history. What will this mean for the Trump administration’s Executive Order on diversity training and federal contractors? How will a Biden EEOC function and what will the priorities be?
  4. Building on Question 3, now that California and the NASDAQ have implemented rules and proposals on board diversity, will there be diversity mandates in other sectors of the federal government, perhaps for federal contractors? Is this the year that the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act passes? Will this embolden more states to put forth similar requirements?
  5. What will a Biden SEC look like? Will the SEC human capital disclosure requirements become more precise? Will we see more aggressive enforcement of large institutions and insider trading? Will there be more controls placed on proxy advisory firms? Is SEC Chair too small of a job for Preet Bharara?
  6. We had some of the highest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act fines on record under Trump’s Department of Justice. Will that ramp up under a new DOJ, especially as there may have been compliance failures and more bribery because of a world-wide recession and COVID? It’s more likely that sophisticated companies will be prepared because of the revamp of compliance programs based on the June 2020 DOJ Guidance on Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs and the second edition of the joint SEC/DOJ Resource Guide to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. (ok- that was an insight).
  7. How will the Biden Administration promote human rights, particularly as it relates to business? Congress has already taken some action related to exports tied to the use of Uighur forced labor in China. Will the incoming government be even more aggressive? I discussed some potential opportunities for legislation related to human rights abuses abroad in my last post about the Nestle v Doe case in front of the Supreme Court. One area that could use some help is the pretty anemic Obama-era US National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct.
  8. What will a Biden Department of Labor prioritize? Will consumer protection advocates convince Biden to delay or dismantle the ERISA fiduciary rule? Will the 2020 joint employer rule stay in place? Will OSHA get the funding it needs to go after employers who aren’t safeguarding employees with COVID? Will unions have more power? Will we enter a more worker-friendly era?
  9. What will happen to whistleblowers? I served as a member of the Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee for a few years under the Obama administration. Our committee had management, labor, academic, and other ad hoc members and we were tasked at looking at 22 laws enforced by OSHA, including Sarbanes-Oxley retaliation rules. We received notice that our services were no longer needed after the President’s inauguration in 2017. Hopefully, the Biden Administration will reconstitute it. In the meantime, the SEC awarded record amounts under the Dodd-Frank whistleblower program in 2020 and has just reformed the program to streamline it and get money to whistleblowers more quickly.
  10. What will President-elect Biden accomplish if the Democrats do not control the Congress?

There you have it. What questions would you have added? Comment below or email me at [email protected]

December 18, 2020 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, White Collar Crime | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, December 6, 2020

A Purposive Approach to Corporate Governance Sustainability - Lécia Vicente Guest Post

The post below is the first in Lécia Vicente's December series that I heralded in my post on Friday.  Due to a Typepad login issue, I am posting for her today.  We hope to get the issue corrected for her post for next week. 

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My series of blog posts cover the recent "Study on Directors' Duties and Sustainable Corporate Governance" ("Study on Directors' Duties") prepared by Ernst & Young for the European Commission. This study promises to set the tone of the EU's policymaking in the fields of corporate law and corporate governance. The study explains that the "evidence collected over 1992-2018 period shows there is a trend for publicly listed companies within the EU to focus on short-term benefits of shareholders rather than on the long-term interests of the company." The main objective of the study is to identify the causes of this short-termism in corporate governance and determine European Union (EU) level solutions that permit the achievement of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Both the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement are trendsetters, for they have elevated the discussion on sustainable development and climate change mitigation to the global level. That discussion has been captured not only by governments and international environmental institutions but also by corporations. Several questions come to mind.

What is sustainability? This one is critical considering that the global level discussion is often monotone, with the blatant disregard of countries' idiosyncrasies, the different historical contexts, regulatory frameworks, and political will to implement reforms. The UN defined sustainability as the ability of humanity "to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

The other question that comes to mind is: what is development? Is GDP the right benchmark, or should we be focusing on other factors? There is disagreement among economists on the merit of using GDP as a development measure. Some economists like Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo say, "it makes no sense to get too emotionally involved with individual GDP numbers." Those numbers do not give us the whole picture of a country's development.

The Study on Directors' Duties maintains as a general objective the development of more sustainable corporate governance and corporate directors' accountability for the company's sustainable value creation. This general objective would be specifically implemented either through soft law (non-legislative measures) or hard law (legislative measures) that redesign the role of directors (this includes the creation of a new board position, the Chief Value Officer) and directors' fiduciary duties. This takes me to a third question.

What is the purpose of the company? In other words, what is it that directors should be prioritizing? In a recent blog post, Steve Bainbridge says

I don't "disagree with the assertion that the law does not mandate that a corporation have as its purpose shareholder wealth maximization" but only because I don't think it's useful to ask the question of "what purpose does the law mandate the corporation pursue?

[…] Purpose is always associated with the intellect. In order to have a purpose or aim, it is necessary to come to a decision; and that is the function of the intellect. But just as the corporation has neither a soul to damn nor a body to kick, the corporation has no intellect.

Bainbridge prefers "to operationalize this discussion as a question of the fiduciary duties of corporate officers and directors rather than as a corporate purpose."

Continue reading

December 6, 2020 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Joan Heminway, Law and Economics, Management, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 4, 2020

Did A Child Slave Help Make Your Chocolate Bar and If So, Who Should Be Responsible? The Supreme Court and Nestle v. Doe

If you’re sipping some hot chocolate while reading this post or buying your Hanukah or Christmas candy, chances are you’re consuming a product made with cocoa beans harvested by child slaves in Africa. Almost twenty years ago, the eight largest chocolate companies, a US Senator, a Congressman,  the Ambassador to the Ivory Coast, NGOs, and the ILO pledged through the Harkin Engel Protocol to eliminate “the worst forms of” child slavery and forced labor in supply chains. In 2010, after seeing almost no progress, government representatives fom the US, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast released a Framework of Action to support the implementation and to reduce the use of child and forced labor by 70% by 2020. But, the number of child slaves has actually increased.

2020 has come and almost gone and one of the Harkin Engel signatories, Nestle, and another food conglomerate, Cargill, had to defend themselves in front of the Supreme Court this week in a case filed in 2005 by former child slaves. The John Does were allegedly kidnapped in Mali and forced to work on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast, where they worked 12-14 hours a day in 100-degree weather, spoke a different language from the farmers, lived off dirty water and bowls of rice, and were never paid. According to counsel for the Respondents who gave a debrief earlier this week, the children were locked up at night, told to work or starve, whipped, and when one tried to escape, his feet were slashed and then hot chilis were rubbed into his soles. Respondents sued under the Alien Tort Statute, which Congress passed in 1789 to allow foreign citizens to sue in US federal courts for violations of “the law of nations” to avoid international tensions. In two recent cases, the Court has limited the use of the ATS against foreign corporations sued for acts against foreign plaintiffs because of jurisdictional grounds and ruled that foreign corporations were not subject to the ATS. But the Nestle and Cargill case is different. Respondents sued a US company and the US arm of a Swiss company. (Click here for access to the briefs and here to listen to the oral argument.) For an excellent symposium on the issues see here.

Respondents claim that the companies provided money and resources to the farmers in Africa and knew that child slaves harvested their cocoa. The two questions before the Court were:

  1. May an aiding and abetting claim against a domestic corporation brought under the Alien Tort Statute overcome the extraterritoriality bar where the claim is based on allegations of general corporate activity in the United States and where the Respondents cannot trace the alleged harms, which occurred abroad at the hands of unidentified foreign actors, to that activity?
  1. Does the judiciary have the authority under the Alien Tort Statute to impose liability on domestic corporations?

To those who obsess about business and human rights and ESG issues like I do, this case has huge potential implications. Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve written more than half a dozen posts, law review articles, and an amicus brief on the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals disclosures, which purport to inform consumers about the use of forced labor and child slaves in the harvesting of tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. I’ve been skeptical of those disclosure rules that don’t have real penalties. The Nestle case could change all of that by crafting a cognizable cause of action.

To my surprise, the Justices weren’t completely hostile to the thought of corporate liability under the ATS. Here are some of the more telling questions to the counsel for the companies:

Justice Alito: Mr. Katyal, many of your arguments lead to results that are pretty hard to take. So suppose a U.S. corporation makes a big show of supporting every cause de jure but then surreptitiously hires agents in Africa to kidnap children and keep them in bondage on a plantation so that the corporation can buy cocoa or coffee or some other agricultural product at bargain prices. You would say that the victims who couldn't possibly get any recovery in the courts of the country where they had been held should be thrown out of court in the United States, where this corporation is headquartered and does business?

Justice Breyer: …I don't see why exempt all corporations, including domestic corporations, from this -- the scope of the statute.

Justice Kagan: If you could bring a suit against 10 slaveholders, when those 10 slaveholders form a corporation, why can’t you bring a suit against the corporation?

Justice Kavanaugh: The  Alien  Tort  Statute was once an engine of international human rights protection. Your position, however, would allow suits by aliens only against individuals, as you've said, and only for torts international law recognized that occurred in the United States. And Professor Koh's amicus brief on behalf of former government officials, for example, says that your position would "gut the statute." So why should we do that?

Here are some of the more interesting questions to the government, which supports the companies’ positions against application of the ATS to corporations:

Chief Justice Roberts: We don't have objections from foreign countries in this case. As far as we can tell, they're perfectly comfortable having U.S. citizens, U.S. corporations hailed into their U -- in U.S. courts. What should we make of that, and doesn't that suggest we ought to be a little more -- a little less cautious about finding a cause of action here?

Justice Breyer: …what’s new about suing corporations? When I looked it up once, there were 180 ATS lawsuits against corporations. Most of them lost but on other grounds. So why not sue a domestic corporation? You can't sue the individual because, in my hypothetical, the individuals have all moved to Lithuania. All you have is the corporate assets in the bank and minutes that prove it was a corporate decision. What's new about it? Why is it creating a form of action?

Justice Alito: Won't your arguments about aiding and abetting and extraterritoriality all lead to essentially the same result as holding that a domestic corporation cannot be sued under the ATS? Corporations always act through natural persons, so if a corporation can't aid and abet, there -- there will be only a sliver of activity where they could be responsible under respondeat superior, isn't that true?

Justice Amy Coney Barrett:  You say that the focus of the tort should be the primary conduct, so, here, what was happening in Cote d'Ivoire, rather than the aiding and abetting, which you characterize as secondary. But why should that be so? I mean, let's imagine you have a U.S. corporation or even a U.S. individual that is making plans to facilitate the use of child slaves, you know, making phone calls, sending money specifically for that purpose, writing e-mails to that effect.Why isn't that conduct that occurs in the United States something that touches and concerns, you know, or should be the focus of conduct, however you want to state the test?

Finally, here are some of the tough questions posed to counsel for the Respondents:

Justice Thomas: The TVPA [Trafficking Victims Protection Act] seems to suggest that Congress does not see the ATS the way you do. Obviously, there, you don't have corporate liability and you don't have aiding and abetting liability. So why shouldn't we take that as an indication that Congress sought limitations on -- on the ATS jurisdiction?

Justice Breyer: Assume that there is corporate liability for domestic corporations. Assume that there is aiding and abetting liability. Now what counts as aiding and abetting for purposes of this statute? When I read through your complaint, it seemed to me that all or virtually all of your complaint amount to doing business with these people.They help pay for the farm. And that's about it.And they knowingly do it. Well, unfortunately, child labor, it's terrible, but it exists throughout the world in many, many places. And if we take this as the norm, particularly when Congress is now working in the area, that will mean throughout the world this is the norm. And I don't know, but I have concern that treating this allegation, the six that you make here, as aiding and abetting falling within that term for purposes of this statute, if other nations do the same, and we do the same, could have very, very significant effects. I'm just saying I'm worried about that.

Justice Alito: So, after 15 years, is it too much to ask that you allege specifically that the -- the defendants involved -- the defendants who are before us here specifically knew that forced child labor was being used on the farms or farm cooperatives with which they did business? Is that too much to ask?

 

To be fair, Nestle and Cargill have worked to remedy these issues. Nestle’s 2019 Shared Values Report tracks its commitments to individuals and families, communities, and the planet to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Among other things, the report highlights Nestle's work to reduce human rights abuses and links to its December 2019 report on child labor and cocoa farms. The company touts its progress but admits it has a long way to go. Cargill has a separate Cocoa Sustainability Progress Report, which describes its 2012 Cargill Cocoa Promise for capacity building and a more transparent supply chain. But is it enough?

In any event, we won’t know what the Court decides until Spring. In the meantime, despite the best efforts of the companies, almost two million children still work in the cocoa harvesting business and most aren’t kidnapped anymore. They need the work. The local governments have taken notice in part due to the terrible publicity from the media. Allegedly, however, Hershey and Mars are trying to avoid the $400 a ton premium that the West African governments are levying to provide more funding for the farmers. The companies deny these allegations. But there’s now a chocolate war. This means your chocolate may get more expensive, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

How will this all shake out? There’s a chance that the Court could find for the Respondents. More likely, though advocates will focus on convincing Congress to expand the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to include corporations. Some NGOs are already talking about increasing consumer awareness and spurring boycotts. Perhaps, advocates will put pressure on the Biden administration to ban the import on chocolate harvested with child labor, similar to the ban on some products produced by Uighurs in China.I expect that there will be a lot of lobbying at the state and federal level to deal with the larger issue of whether corporations that have some of the rights of natural persons should also have the responsibilities. Boards and companies should get prepared. In the meantime, do you plan to give up chocolate?

December 4, 2020 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 23, 2020

When Wall Street Talks, Does Washington Listen?

It’s hard to believe that the US will have an election in less than two weeks. Three years ago, a month after President Trump took office, I posted about CEOs commenting on his executive order barring people from certain countries from entering the United States. Some branded the executive order a “Muslim travel ban” and others questioned whether the CEOs should have entered into the political fray at all. Some opined that speaking out on these issues detracted from the CEOs’ mission of maximizing shareholder value. But I saw it as a business decision - - these CEOs, particularly in the tech sector, depended on the skills and expertise of foreign workers.

That was 2017. In 2018, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, told the largest companies in the world that “to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society…Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders.” Fink’s annual letter to CEOs carries weight; BlackRock had almost six trillion dollars in assets under management in 2018, and when Fink talks, Wall Street listens. Perhaps emboldened by the BlackRock letter, one year later, 181 CEOs signed on to the Business Roundtable's Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, which “modernized” its position on the shareholder maximization norm. The BRT CEOs promised to invest in employees, deal ethically and fairly with suppliers, and embrace sustainable business practices. Many observers, however, believed that the Business Roundtable statement was all talk and no action. To see how some of the signatories have done on their commitments as of last week, see here.

Then came 2020, a year like no other. The United States is now facing a global pandemic, mass unemployment, a climate change crisis, social unrest, and of course an election. During the Summer of 2020, several CEOs made public statements on behalf of themselves and their companies about racial unrest, with some going as far as to proclaim, “Black Lives Matter.” I questioned these motives in a post I called “"Wokewashing and the Board." While I admired companies that made a sincere public statement about racial justice and had a real commitment to look inward, I was skeptical about firms that merely made statements for publicity points. I wondered, in that post, about companies rushing to implement diversity training, retain consultants, and appoint board members to either curry favor with the public or avoid the shareholder derivative suits facing Oracle, Facebook, and Qualcomm. How well had they thought it out? Meanwhile, I noted that my colleagues who have conducted diversity training and employee engagement projects for years were so busy that they were farming out work to each other. Now the phones aren’t ringing as much, and when they are ringing, it’s often to cancel or postpone training.

Why? Last month, President Trump issued the Executive Order on Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping. As the President explained:

today . . .  many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans ... Therefore, it shall be the policy of the United States not to promote race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating in the Federal workforce or in the Uniformed Services, and not to allow grant funds to be used for these purposes. In addition, Federal contractors will not be permitted to inculcate such views in their employees.

The Order then provides a hotline process for employees to raise concerns about their training. Whether you agree with the statements in the Order or not -- and I recommend that you read it -- it had a huge and immediate effect. The federal government is the largest procurer of goods and services in the world. This Order applies to federal contractors and subcontractors. Some of those same companies have mandates from state law to actually conduct training on sexual harassment. Often companies need to show proof of policies and training to mount an affirmative defense to discrimination claims. More important, while reasonable people can disagree about the types and content of diversity training, there is no doubt that employees often need training on how to deal with each other respectfully in the workplace. (For a thought-provoking take on a board’s duty to monitor diversity  training by co-blogger Stefan Padfield, click here.)

Perhaps because of the federal government’s buying power, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce felt compelled to act. On October 15th, the Chamber and 150 organizations wrote a letter to the President stating:

As currently written, we believe the E.O. will create confusion and uncertainty, lead to non-meritorious investigations, and hinder the ability of employers to implement critical programs to promote diversity and combat discrimination in the workplace. We urge you to withdraw the Executive Order and work with the business and nonprofit communities on an approach that would support appropriate workplace training programs ...  there is a great deal of subjectivity around how certain content would be perceived by different individuals. For example, the definition of “divisive concepts” creates many gray areas and will likely result in multiple different interpretations. Because the ultimate threat of debarment is a possible consequence, we have heard from some companies that they are suspending all D&I training.  This outcome is contrary to the E.O.’s stated purpose, but an understandable reaction given companies’ lack of clear guidance. Thus, the E.O. is already having a broadly chilling effect on legitimate and valuable D&I training companies use to foster inclusive workplaces, help with talent recruitment, and remain competitive in a country with a wide range of different cultures. … Such an approach effectively creates two sets of rules, one for those companies that do business with the government and another for those that do not. Federal contractors should be left to manage their workforces and workplaces with a minimum amount of interference so long as they are compliant with the law.

It’s rare for the Chamber to make such a statement, but it was bold and appropriate. Many of the Business Roundtable signatories are also members of the U.S. Chamber, and on the same day, the BRT issued its own statement committing to programs to advance racial equity and justice. BRT Chair and WalMart CEO Doug McMillon observed,  “the racial inequities that exist for many Black Americans and people of color are real and deeply rooted . .  These longstanding systemic challenges have too often prevented access to the benefits of economic growth and mobility for too many, and a broad and diverse group of Americans is demanding change. It is our employees, customers and communities who are calling for change, and we are listening – and most importantly – we are taking action.” Now that's a stakeholder maximization statement if I ever heard one.

Those who thought that some CEOs went too far in protesting the Muslim ban, may be even more shocked by the BRT’s statements about the police. The BRT also has a subcommittee to address racial justice issues and noted that “For Business Roundtable CEOs, this agenda is an important step in addressing barriers to equity and justice . . . This summer we took on the urgent need for policing reform. We called on Congress to adopt higher federal standards for policing, to track whether police departments and officers have histories of misconduct, and to adopt measures to hold abusive officers accountable. Now, with announcement of this broader agenda, CEOs are supporting policies and undertaking initiatives to address several other systems that contribute to large and growing disparities.”

Now that stakeholders have seen so many of these social statements, they have asked for more. Last week, a group of executives from the Leadership Now Project issued a statement supporting free and fair elections. However, as Bennett Freeman, former Calvert executive and Clinton cabinet member noted, no Fortune 500 CEOs have signed on to that statement. Yesterday, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) sent a letter to 200 CEOs, including some members of the BRT asking for their support. ICCR asked that they endorse:

  1. Active support for free and fair elections
  2. A call for a thorough and complete counting of all ballots
  3. A call for all states to ensure a fair election
  4. A condemnation of any tactics that could be construed as voter intimidation
  5. Assurance that, should the incumbent Administration lose the election, there will be a peaceful transfer of power
  6. Ensure that lobbying activities and political donations support the above

Is this a pipe dream? Do CEOs really want to stick their necks out in a tacit criticism of the current president’s equivocal statements about his post-election plans? Now that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has spoken about the importance of respect for the democratic process and the peaceful transfer of power, perhaps more executives will make public statements. But should they? On the one hand, the markets need stability. Perhaps Dimon was actually really focused on shareholder maximization after all. Nonetheless, Freeman and others have called for a Twitter campaign to urge more CEOs to speak out. My next post will be up on the Friday after the election and I’ll report back about the success of the hashtag activism effort. In the meantime, stay tuned and stay safe.

October 23, 2020 in Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Nonprofits, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, October 2, 2020

Sex, Lies, and M&A- Part II

No. You didn't miss Part 1. I wrote about Weinstein clauses last July. Last Wednesday, I spoke with a reporter who had read that blog post.  Acquirors use these #MeToo/Weinstein clauses to require target companies to represent that there have been no allegations of, or settlement related to, sexual misconduct or harassment. I look at these clauses through the lens of a management-side employment lawyer/compliance officer/transactional drafting professor. It’s almost impossible to write these in a way that’s precise enough to provide the assurances that the acquiror wants or needs.

Specifically, the reporter wanted to know whether it was unusual that Chevron had added this clause into its merger documents with Noble Energy. As per the Prospectus:

Since January 1, 2018, to the knowledge of the Company, (i), no allegations of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct have been made against any employee of the Company with the title of director, vice president or above through the Company’s anonymous employee hotline or any formal human resources communication channels at the Company, and (ii) there are no actions, suits, investigations or proceedings pending or, to the Company’s knowledge, threatened related to any allegations of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct by any employee of the Company with the title of director, vice president or above. Since January 1, 2018, to the knowledge of the Company, neither the Company nor any of its Subsidiaries have entered into any settlement agreements related to allegations of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct by any employee of the Company with the title of director, vice president or above.

Whether I agree with these clauses or not, I can see why Chevron wanted one. After all, Noble’s former general counsel left the company in 2017 to “pursue personal interests” after accusations that he had secretly recorded a female employee with a video camera under his desk. To its credit, Noble took swift action, although it did give the GC nine million dollars, which to be fair included $8.3 million in deferred compensation. Noble did not, however, exercise its clawback rights. Under these circumstances, if I represented Chevron, I would have asked for the same thing. Noble’s anonymous complaint mechanisms went to the GC’s office. I’m sure Chevron did its own social due diligence but you can never be too careful. Why would Noble agree? I have to assume that the company’s outside lawyers interviewed as many Noble employees as possible and provided a clean bill of health. Compared with others I’ve seen, the Chevron Weinstein clause is better than most.

Interestingly, although several hundred executives have left their positions due to allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment since 2017, only a small minority of companies use these Weinstein clauses. Here are a few:

  1. Merger between Cotiviti and Verscend Technologies:

Except in each case, as has not had and would not reasonably be expected to have, individually or in the aggregate, a Company Material Adverse Effect, to the Knowledge of the Company, (i) no allegations of sexual harassment have been made against (A) any officer or director of the Acquired Companies or (B) any employee of the Acquired Companies who, directly or indirectly, supervises at least eight (8) other employees of the Acquired Companies, and (ii) the Acquired Companies have not entered into any settlement agreement related to allegations of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct by an employee, contractor, director, officer or other Representative.

  1. Merger between Genuine Parts Company, Rhino SpinCo, Inc., Essendant Inc., and Elephant Merger Sub Corp.:

To the knowledge of GPC, in the last five (5) years, no allegations of sexual harassment have been made against any current SpinCo Business Employee who is (i) an executive officer or (ii) at the level of Senior Vice President or above.

  1. AGREEMENT AND PLAN OF MERGER BY AND AMONG WORDSTREAM, INC., GANNETT CO., INC., ORCA MERGER SUB, INC. AND SHAREHOLDER REPRESENTATIVE SERVICES LLC:

(i) The Company is not party to a settlement agreement with a current or former officer, employee or independent contractor of the Company or its Affiliates that involves allegations relating to sexual harassment or misconduct. To the Knowledge of the Company, in the last eight (8) years, no allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct have been made against any current or former officer or employee of the Company or its Affiliates.

  1. AGREEMENT AND PLAN OF MERGER By and Among RLJ ENTERTAINMENT, INC., AMC NETWORKS INC., DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT HOLDINGS LLC and RIVER MERGER SUB INC.:

(c) To the Company’s Knowledge, in the last ten (10) years, (i) no allegations of sexual harassment have been made against any officer of the Company or any of its Subsidiaries, and (ii) the Company and its Subsidiaries have not entered into any settlement agreements related to allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct by an officer of the Company or any of its Subsidiaries.

Here are just a few questions:

  1. What's the definition of "sexual misconduct"? Are the companies using a legal definition? Under which law? None of the samples define the term.
  2. What happens of the company handbook or policies do not define "sexual misconduct"?
  3. How do the parties define "sexual harassment"? Are they using Title VII, state law, case law, their diversity training decks,  the employee handbook? None of the samples define the term.
  4. What about the definition of "allegation"? Is this an allegation through formal or informal channels (as employment lawyers would consider it)? Chevron gets high marks here.
  5. Have the target companies used the best knowledge qualifiers to protect themselves?
  6. How will the target company investigate whether the executives and officers have had “allegations”? Should the company lawyers do an investigation of every executive covered by the representation to make sure the company has the requisite “knowledge”? If the deal documents don't define "knowledge," should we impute knowledge?
  7. What about those in the succession plan who may not be in the officer or executives ranks?

Will we see more of these in the future? I don’t know. But I sure hope that General Motors has some protection in place after the most recent allegations against Nikola’s founder and former chairman, who faces sexual assault allegations from his teenage years. Despite allegations of fraud and sexual misconduct, GM appears to be moving forward with the deal, taking advantage of Nikola’s decreased valuation after the revelation of the scandals.

I’ll watch out for these #MeToo clauses in the future. In the meantime, I’ll ask my transactional drafting students to take a crack at reworking them. If you assign these clauses to your students, feel free to send me the work product at [email protected].

Take care and stay safe.

October 2, 2020 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Lawyering, M&A, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 18, 2020

Where Were The Gatekeepers Pt 2- Social Media's Social Dilemma

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the role of compliance officers and general counsel working for Big Pharma in Where Were the Gatekeepers- Part 1. As a former compliance officer and deputy general counsel, I wondered how and if those in-house sentinels were raising alarm bells about safety concerns related to rushing a COVID-19 vaccine to the public. Now that I’ve watched the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” I’m wondering the same thing about the lawyers and compliance professionals working for the social media companies.

The documentary features some of the engineers and executives behind the massive success of Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms. Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, is the star of the documentary and the main whistleblower. He raised concerns to 60 Minutes in 2017 and millions have watched his TED Talk.  He also testified before Congress in 2019 about how social media companies use algorithms and artificial intelligence to manipulate behavior. Human rights organizations have accused social media platforms of facilitating human rights abuses. Facebook and others have paid billions in fines for privacy violations.  Advertisers boycotted over Facebook and hate speech. But nothing has slowed their growth.

The documentary explicitly links the rising rate of youth depression, suicide, and risk taking behavior to social media’s disproportionate influence. Most of my friends who have watched it have already decreased their screen time or at least have become more conscious of it. Maybe they are taking a cue from those who work for these companies but don’t allow their young children to have any screen time. Hmmm … 

I’ve watched the documentary twice. Here are some of the more memorable quotes:

If you’re not paying for the product, then you’re the product.”

“They sell certainty that someone will see your advertisement.” 

“It’s not our data that’s being sold. They are building models to predict our actions based on the click, what emotions trigger you, what videos you will watch.” 

“Algorithms are opinions embedded in code.”

”It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in our own behavior and perception that is the product.”

“Social media is a drug.”

”There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”

”Social media is a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures.”

”The very meaning of culture is manipulation.”

“Social media isn’t a tool waiting to be used. It has its own goals, and it has its own means of pursuing them.”

“These services are killing people and causing people to kill themselves.”

“When you go to Google and type in “climate change is,” you will get a different result based on where you live … that’s a function of … the particular things Google knows about your interests.”

“It’s 2.7 billion Truman Show. Each person has their own reality, their own facts.” 

“It worries me that an algorithm I worked on is increasing polarization in society.”

“Fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than real news.”

“People have no idea what is true and now it’s a matter of life and death.”

“Social media amplifies exponential gossip and exponential hearsay to the point that we don’t know what’s true no matter what issue we care about.”

“If you want to control the operation of a country, there’s never been a better tool than Facebook.”

"The Russians didn't hack Facebook. What they did was use the tools Facebook created for legitimate advertisers and legitimate users, and they applied it to a nefarious purpose." 

“What [am I] most worried about? In the short term horizon? Civil War.”

“How do you wake up from the matrix when you don’t know you’re in the matrix”?

“You could shut down the service and destroy . . . $20 billion in shareholder value and get sued, but you can’t in practice put the genie back in the model.”

“We need to accept that it’s ok for companies to be focused on making money but  it’s not ok when there’s no regulation, no rules, and no competition and companies are acting as de facto governments and then saying ‘we can regulate ourselves.’ “

“There’s no fiscal reason for these companies to change.”

This brings me back to the beginning of my post. We’ve heard from former investors, engineers, and algorithm magicians from these companies, but where were and are the gatekeepers? What were they doing to sound the alarm?  But maybe I’m asking the wrong question. As Ann Lipton’s provocative post on Doyle, Watson, and the Purpose of the Corporation notes, “Are you looking at things from outside the corporation, in terms of structuring our overall legal and societal institutions?  Or are you looking at things from inside the corporation, in terms of how corporate managers should understand their jobs and their own roles?”

If you’re a board member or C-Suite executive of a social media company, you have to ask yourself, what if hate speech, fake news, polarization, and addiction to your product are actually profitable? What if perpetuating rumors that maximize shareholder value is the right decision? Why would you change a business model that works for the shareholders even if it doesn’t work for the rest of society? If social media is like a drug, it’s up to parents to instill the right values in their children. I get it. But what about the lawyers and the people in charge of establishing, promoting, and maintaining an ethical culture? To be clear, I don’t mean in any way to impugn the integrity of lawyers and compliance professionals who work for social media companies. I have met several at business and human rights events and privacy conferences who take the power of the tech industry very seriously and advocate for change.

The social media companies have a dilemma. Compliance officers talk about “tone at the top,” “mood in the middle,” and the “buzz at the bottom.” Everyone in the organization has to believe in the ethical mandate as laid out and modeled by leadership. Indeed, CEOs typically sign off on warm, fuzzy statements about ethical behavior in the beginning of the Code of Conduct. I’ve drafted quite a few and looked at hundreds more.  Notably, Facebook’s Code of Conduct, updated just a few weeks ago, has no statement of principle from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and seems very lawyerlike. Perhaps there’s a more robust version that employees can access where Zuckerberg extols company values. Twitter’s code is slightly better and touches more on ethical culture. Google’s Code states, “Our products, features, and services should make Google more useful for all our users. We have many different types of users, from individuals to large businesses, but one guiding principle: “Is what we are offering useful?”’ My question is “useful” to whom? I use Google several times a day, but now I have to worry about what Google chooses to show me. What's my personal algorithm? I’ve been off of Facebook and Instagram since January 2020 and I have no plans to go back.

Fifty years ago, Milton Friedman uttered the famous statement, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” The social media companies have written the rules of the game. There is no competition. Now that the “Social Dilemma” is out, there really isn’t any more deception or fraud.

Do the social media companies actually have a social responsibility to do better? In 2012,  Facebook’s S-1 proclaimed that the company’s mission was to “make the world more open and connected.” Facebook’s current Sustainability Page claims that, “At Facebook, our mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Why is it, then that in 2020, people seem more disconnected than ever even though they are tethered to their devices while awake and have them in reach while asleep? Facebook’s sustainability strategy appears to be centered around climate change and supply chain issues, important to be sure. But is it doing all that it can for the sustainability of society? Does it have to? I have no answer for that. All I can say is that you should watch the documentary and judge for yourself.

September 18, 2020 in Ann Lipton, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Family, Film, Human Rights, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Psychology, Shareholders, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)