Friday, November 18, 2022

Why the Judge Was Right to Rule Against DeSantis' Stop WOKE Act

As much as I love being a professor, it can be hard. I’m not talking about the grading, keeping the attention of the TikTok generation, or helping students with the rising mental health challenges.

I mean that it’s hard to know what to say in a classroom. On the one hand, you want to make sure that students learn and understand the importance of critical thinking and disagreeing without being disagreeable.

On the other hand, you worry about whether a factual statement taken out of context or your interpretation of an issue could land you in the cross hairs of cancel culture without the benefit of any debate or discussion.

I’m not an obvious person who should be worried about this. Although I learned from some of the original proponents of critical race theory in law school, that’s not my area of expertise. I teach about ESG, corporate law, and compliance issues.

But I think about this dilemma when I talk about corporate responsibility and corporate speech on hot button issues. I especially think about it when I teach business and human rights, where there are topics that may be too controversial to teach because some issues are too close to home and for many students and faculty members, it’s difficult to see the other side. So I sometimes self censor.

My colleagues who teach in public universities in Florida had even more reason to self censor because of the Stop WOKE act, which had eight topics related to race, gender, critical race theory and other matters that the State deemed “noxious” or problematic.

Yesterday, a federal court issued a 139-page opinion calling the law “dystopian.” The court noted that Justice Sotomayor could violate the law by guest lecturing in a law school and reading from her biography where she talks about how she benefitted from affirmative action. That’s absurd.

I had the chance to give my views to the Washington Post yesterday. This law never personally affected me but as the court noted, the university is the original marketplace of ideas. I told the reporter that one of my areas of expertise, ESG, is full of the kinds of issues that the government of the State of Florida has issues with. I told him that I was glad that I worked at a private university because academic freedom makes me more comfortable to raise issues.  I noted that students need the ability to play devil's advocate and speak freely because there's no way to mold the next generation of thinkers and lawmakers without free speech. I explained that you can't write the laws if you're not willing to hear more than one point of view. 

I hope that we get back to the days when professors don’t self censor, whether there’s a law in place or not. Of course there are some statements that are unacceptable and should never be taught in a classroom.

But I worry that some in this generation don’t know the difference between controversial and contemptible. That goes for my friends of all ideologies.

I worry that some students are missing out on so much because our society doesn’t know how to engage in civil discourse about weighty topics. So people either rant or stay silent.

In any event, my rant is over.

Today is a day for celebration.

Congratulations to my colleagues in public universities.

Reason has won out.

November 18, 2022 in Constitutional Law, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Litigation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

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, July 29, 2022

Practical Tips for Teaching or Training Adult Learners

Millions of law school graduates around the US just took the bar exam. Others are preparing to enter colleges and graduates schools in a few weeks. How will these respective groups do? While a lot depends on how much and how well they study, a large part of their success or failure may depend on how they've been taught. I recently posted about how adults learn and what the research says we should do differently. In this post, I'll show how I used some of the best practices in the last ten days when I taught forty foreign lawyers from around the world  and thirty college students in separate summer courses offered by the University of Miami as well as nine Latin American lawyers who were taking courses in business law from a Panamanian school. I taught these disparate groups about ESG, disclosures, and human rights. With each of the cohorts, I conducted a simulation where I divided them into groups to prioritize issues based on whether they were a CEO, an investor, a consumer, the head of an NGO, and for the US college students, I added the roles of a member of Congress or influencer. In a future post, I will discuss how the groups prioritized the issues based on their demographics. Fascinating stuff. 

Depending on what you read, there are six key principles related to adult learning:

1. It seems obvious, but adults need to know why they should learn something. Children learn because they are primed to listen to authority figures. Too often in law school or corporate training, there's no correlation to what they learn and what they actually do. When I taught the two groups of foreign lawyers, I talked about the reality and the hype about ESG and how the topic could arise in their practices with specific examples. When I spoke to the college students who were considering law school, I focused on their roles and responsibilities as current consumers and as the future investors, legislators, and heads of NGOs. Same powerpoint but different emphasis.

2. Adults are self-directed. Under one definition, "self-directed learning describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes." This may seem radical because many of my colleagues complain that today's students need a lot of hand holding and spoon feeding, and I agree to some extent. But I also think that we don't give students enough credit and we underestimate them. I developed my curriculum for the practicing lawyers but I also asked what they wanted to learn and what would be most useful for them. I only had a few hours with them, so I wasn't able to explore this much as I would have. But in some of my traditional courses at the law school and when I train adults in other contexts, I often give a choice of the exam type and topic. This ensures that they will submit a work product that they are passionate about. At the end of my traditional classes at the law school, I also ask them to evaluate themselves and me based on the learning outcomes I established at the beginning of the semester. They tend to be brutally honest about whether they've taken responsibility for their own learning.

3. Adults filter what we tell them through their life experiences. In my traditional classes, I send out a survey to every student before the semester starts so that I understand their backgrounds, perspectives, and what's important to them. I often pick hypotheticals in class that directly address what I've learned about them through the surveys so it resonates much more clearly for them. With my three groups this week, I didn't have the chance to survey them but I knew where they were all from and used examples from their countries of origin, when I could. When the college students entered the Zoom room, I asked them to tell me why they picked this class. This helped me understand their perspectives. I also picked up on some of their comments during discussion and used those data points to pivot quickly when needed. It would have been easy to focus on my prepared lecture. But what does ESG mean to a lawyer in Bolivia, when that's not a priority? College students quickly grasped the context of socially responsible investing, so I spent more time there than on the Equator Principles, for example. The cultural and generational differences were particularly relevant when talking about the responsibility of tech companies from a human rights perspective. The lawyers and students from authoritarian regimes looked at social media and the power to influence the masses in one way, while the college students saw the issues differently, and focused more on the mental health issues affecting their peers. Stay tuned for a future post on this, including interesting discussion on whether Congress should repeal Section 230.

4. Adults become ready to learn only when they see how what they are learning applies to what they need to do at work and at home. With the foreign lawyers, I focused on how their clients could have to participate in due diligence or disclosure as part of a request from a company higher up in the supply chain. I focused on reputational issues with the lawyers who worked at larger companies. College students don't deal with supply chains on a regular basis so I spent more time focusing on their role as consumers and their participation in boycotts at their universities and their activism on campus and how that does or does not affect what companies do. 

5. Adults need a task-centered or problem-focused approach to learning. I had to lecture to impart the information, but with each group, they learned by doing. I had 12 hours with the Latin American lawyers so to test them on their understanding of US business entities, instead of having them complete a multiple choice quiz, I asked them to interview me as a prospective client and develop a memo to me related providing the advice, which is what they would do  in practice. They, with the other groups, also prioritized the issues discussed above from their assigned roles as CEO, NGO head, institutional investor, or consumer. When I teach my compliance course to law students, they draft policies, hold simulated board meetings, and present (fake) CLEs or trainings. My business and human rights students  have the option to draft national action plans, write case studies on companies that they love or hate, or write develop recommendations for governments for their home country. Students are much more likely to engage with the material and remember it when they feel like they are solving a real problem rather than a hypothetical.

6. Adults need extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Everyone I taught this week will get some sort of certificate of completion. But they all chose to take these courses and those who weren't part of the UM program either self paid or were reimbursed by their employers. None of them were required to attend the classes, unlike those in elementary and high school. When students choose a course of study and learn something relevant, that's even more important than the certificate or diploma. 

I hope this helps some of you getting ready for the upcoming semester. Enjoy what's left of the summer, and if you try any of these suggestions or have some of your own, please leave a comment.

 

July 29, 2022 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Business, Law School, Lawyering, LLCs, M&A, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching | 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)

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, February 11, 2022

Business and Sports

Between the Winter Olympics and the Superbowl, this weekend is a sports-lover's dream. But it can also be a nightmare for others. Next week in my Business and Human Rights class, we'll discuss the business of sports and the role of business in sports. For some very brief background, under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the state has a duty to protect human rights but businesses have a responsibility (not a duty) to "respect" human rights, which means they can't make things worse. Businesses should also mitigate negative human rights impacts. I say "should" because the UNGPs aren't binding on businesses and there's a hodgepodge of due diligence and disclosure regimes that often conflict and overlap. But things are changing and with ESG discussions being all the rage and human rights and labor falling under the "S" factor, businesses need to do more. The EU is also finalizing mandatory human rights due diligence rules and interestingly, some powerful investors and companies are on board, likely so there's some level of certainty and harmonization of standards. 

I've blogged in the past about human rights issues in sports, particularly the Olympics and World Cup in Brazil, where hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, FIFA had its own courts, and human rights issues abounded. For more on human rights and megasporting events, see this post about the Russian Olympics. The current Olympics in China and the future World Cup in Qatar have been rife with controversy because of the long-standing human rights abuses in those countries. Some athletes have even called the Winter Olympics the Genocide Olympics.

So whose problem is it? If businesses know that there's almost always some human rights impact with megasporting events and they know sponsorship doesn't really add to the bottom line, should they get out of the sponsorship business all together? Are they complicit or merely (innocent) bystanders?

Here are the questions I've asked my students to consider for class this week. 

  1. My hometown of Miami is vying for a spot to host the 2026 World Cup. What are the obligations of the "state" when it's a city? As the US government begins revising its National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct in accordance with the UNGPs, should a city do more than the national government? Should FIFA look at issues such as the effect of the games on the cities beyond revenue that will enrich only a few?
  2. Cities have a human rights obligation to protect their citizens but what responsibility do companies have to make sure they don't exacerbate pre-existing homelessness issues?
  3. Does it matter if the company sponsoring is Nike (directly working with athletes), Coca Cola (providing beverages), or another company that's just an advertiser? Is there a difference in the degree of corporate responsibility (if any)?
  4. Commentators have accused Nike and other companies of using forced labor in China. Is there a conflict with their support of Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement while also participating in events where there are alleged human rights abuses?
  5. What about the issue of human trafficking and megasporting events? It's such a big problem that the NFL has partnered with US Customs and Border Patrol for a public service announcement about it in light of the Superbowl. Are public service announcements enough?
  6. Should athletes boycott events in countries with poor human rights records? How would that affect their sponsorships and their other contractual obligations? A Boston Celtic called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, but who's really listening?
  7. How do what athletes say about Black Lives Matter and taking a knee square with participating in events in China? Should athletes, who are businesses, just shut up and dribble? If an athlete/businessman like LeBron James takes on Black Lives Matter does he have an equal obligation to protest against the use of forced labor in China?
  8. FIFA and the International Olympic Committee are corporations that base their human rights policies in part on the UNGPs. They have spoken out against discrimination, human rights, and  racism in sport.  Is it too much or too little? How far should a company like FIFA or the NFL go before they alienate fans by talking about hot button issues?
  9. Should fans boycott events that are known for human rights abuses? How does that affect the livelihood of the workers who depend on that revenue? Would a boycott benefit or hurt those who need the support the most?

I look forward to a lively discussion in class on Wednesday about the respective roles and responsibilities of the state, the companies, and the fans. Will you look at sports any differently after reading this post?  If you have thoughts, please leave a comment or email me at mweldon@law.miami.edu.

 

 

 

February 11, 2022 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Human Rights, International Business, Law School, Marcia Narine Weldon, Sports | 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)

Friday, July 16, 2021

My Thoughts on Cuba

I've posted on Cuba and business in the past. See here, here, and here, for example.

I have 3,000 pictures of Cuba from my four visits to research and speak on business and human rights. I’ve written three law review articles and met with farmers, judges, lawyers, families of people who have “disappeared,” restaurant owners and others. For the law review articles see, Ten Ethics-Based Questions for U.S. Companies Seeking to do Business in Cuba, The Cuba Conundrum: Corporate Governance and Compliance Challenges for U.S. Publicly-Traded Companies, and You Say Embargo, I Say Bloqueo—A Policy Recommendation for Promoting Foreign Direct Investment and Safeguarding Human Rights in Cuba.

This is a different kind of post. It's more personal. 

My first visit in 2016 was during the Bienal art festival, where some of the most talented artists in the region had their work featured by the New York Times. I visited some of them in their homes. Later in the trip, I spent time with members of the Florida bar to learn from local lawyers and economists. One lawyer who spoke with us had to move to the US after someone misreported what he had said to us in a closed door meeting. Our tour guide reminded me that while we had dozens of cheeses and fruits to choose from in our hotel, the average Cuban had to use a ration card. Afrocuban women who walked into nice hotels were stopped because they were assumed to be prostitutes.

I met with Black lawyers in bufetes in Santiago de Cuba during a visit with the National Bar Association and Ben Crump. I sat on a panel with Cuban judges and received a copy of their Constitution as a gift. I was careful to use “bloqueo” instead of “embargo” in my remarks and gently corrected the interpreter when she put a slant on my words about human rights. The Cuban government searched all of our luggage when we landed and unlike other colleagues, my materials weren't confiscated because I made sure not to have hard copies. I destroyed my online version of my presentation as soon as I concluded. This was not any different from my past visits to do business in China and prepared me for my trip to teach in Pakistan in 2019.

The 2018 trip to Cuba was different from my other three visits. I smoked my first and last cigar in Cuba on a tobacco farm in Vinales. I walked the malecón every morning at sunrise to talk to fishermen. I didn't have to use government tour guides who were always watching. One upside of the Trump rules related to Cuba limiting US hotels was that Cubans opened their own AirbnBs. I met with a former accountant who wasn't making any money in his chosen profession but could now afford to travel overseas to get more materials for his Airbnb. He also restored old family cars and made more in a month hiring drivers to take care of his guests than he had in a year.  I went to a baseball game with locals, met with Afrocuban millennial entrepreneurs to learn about ceremonies, ritual, and culture, and watched a 21-year old driver marvel at being able to use the internet on his phone to find a date. The government had just opened up widespread internet access to Cubans the week before. He worried about using up his minutes like we used to ten years ago. Things weren't great, but they were looking up. 

I fell in love with the people and the culture. With each visit, I saw changes and more cautious, skeptical optimism from people. I had planned to visit again after Covid to see the effects of reforms. That will have to wait. I’m so proud of the Cuban people for standing up for themselves with the protests. The rise of the internet gave rise to the government’s worst fear. Artists and their music helped to motivate the people to ignore their fear of repercussions. Cuba is about so much more than rum, salsa, and restored cars. #soscuba

Cuba collage

July 16, 2021 in Compliance, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Social Enterprise Centers

In 2008, my university (Belmont University) was supposedly the first to offer a social entrepreneurship major. Since then, not only have the schools offering majors in social entrepreneurships grown, but many schools have created centers, institutes, or programs dedicated to the area. Below I try to gather these social enterprise centers in universities. The vast majority are in business schools, some are collaborative across campus, and a few are located in other schools such as law, social work, or design. A few have a specifically religious take on business and social good. Happy to update this list with any centers I missed. 

Lewis Institute at Babson https://www.babson.edu/academics/centers-and-institutes/the-lewis-institute/about/# 

Christian Collective for Social Innovation at Baylor https://www.baylor.edu/externalaffairs/compassion/index.php?id=976437

Center for Social Innovation at Boston College https://www.bc.edu/content/bc-web/schools/ssw/sites/center-for-social-innovation/about.html

Watt Family Innovation Center at Clemson https://www.clemson.edu/centers-institutes/watt/

Center for the Integration of Faith and Work at Dayton https://udayton.edu/business/experiential_learning/centers/cifw/index.php

CASE i3 at Duke https://sites.duke.edu/casei3/

Social Innovation Collaboratory at Fordham https://www.fordham.edu/info/23746/social_innovation_collaboratory

Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Clinic at Georgetown  https://www.law.georgetown.edu/experiential-learning/clinics/social-enterprise-and-nonprofit-clinic/

and Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown https://beeckcenter.georgetown.edu

Global Social Entrepreneurship Institute at Indiana https://kelley.iu.edu/faculty-research/centers-institutes/international-business/programs-initiatives/global-social-entrepreneurship-institute.html

Business + Impact at Michigan https://businessimpact.umich.edu

Social Enterprise Institute at Northeastern https://www.northeastern.edu/sei/

Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business at Notre Dame https://cerv-mendoza.nd.edu

Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford https://www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/research/centres-and-initiatives/skoll-centre-social-entrepreneurship

Wharton Social Impact Iniviative at Penn https://socialimpact.wharton.upenn.edu/

and Center for Social Impact Strategy at Penn https://csis.upenn.edu

Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton https://faithandwork.princeton.edu/about-us

Center for Faithful Business at Seattle Pacific https://cfb.spu.edu

Center for Social Innovation at Stanford https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/centers-initiatives/csi

Social Innovation Initiative at Texas https://www.mccombs.utexas.edu/Centers/Social-Innovation-Initiative

Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane https://taylor.tulane.edu/about/

Social Innovation Cube at UNC https://campusy.unc.edu/cube/

Social Innovation at the Wond’ry at Vanderbilt https://www.vanderbilt.edu/thewondry/programs/social-innovation/

Program for Leadership and Character at Wake Foresthttps://leadershipandcharacter.wfu.edu/#

Program on Social Enterprise at Yale https://som.yale.edu/faculty-research/our-centers/program-social-enterprise/programs

 

 

July 6, 2021 in Business School, CSR, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Law School, Religion, Social Enterprise, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

ESG and the Discipline of Secrecy

The ESG movement (or EESG, if you want to follow Leo Strine on this) has been in the business and legal news quite a lot recently.

In a Bloomberg article about the tax perks of trillions of dollars in Environmental, Social, and Governance investing by Wall Street banks, tax specialist Bryen Alperin is quoted as saying: “ESG investing isn’t some kind of hippie-dippy movement. It’s good for business.”

This utilitarian approach to ESG, and social enterprise in general, has made me uncomfortable for a while. The whole “Doing Well by Doing Good” saying always struck me as problematic.

ESG and social enterprise are only needed when the decisions made are not likely to lead to the most financially profitable outcomes. Otherwise, it is just self-interested business.

Over my spring sabbatical, I have been reading a fair bit about spiritual disciplines and the one that is most relevant here is “Secrecy.” The discipline of secrecy is defined as “Consciously refraining from having our good deeds and qualities generally known, which, in turn, rightly disciplines our longing for recognition.” In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard (USC Philosophy) writes, “Secrecy at its best teaches love and humility…. and that love and humility encourages us to see our associates in the best possible light, even to the point of our hoping they will do better and appear better than us.”

As a professor with active social media accounts, the discipline of secrecy is not an easy one for me. But I do think it is a good aspiration for all of us. Not every good deed has to be kept in secret. There can be good reasons for broadcasting good deeds (for example, to encourage others.) However, regularly performing good deeds in secret can help us build selfless character.

Similarly, socially conscious businesses and investors should be focused on the broader good being done, not on the personal benefits. Granted, I don’t think investors can blindly trust the ESG funds or benefit corporations --- the screens are simply unreliable. Also, it may be difficult to determine which companies are really doing social good if they are practicing much of it in secret. But the truth has a tendency of leaking out over time and investors can focus on companies they see doing the right thing without excessive marketing.

As for the companies themselves, I remain optimistic that there are at least a few businesspeople who truly want to benefit society for mostly selfless reasons. Combatting selfishness is not easy, but the discipline of secrecy is one way to fight it.  

April 27, 2021 in Books, Corporations, CSR, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Philosophy, Religion, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Paper from Prof. Haneman: Menstrual Capitalism, Period Poverty, and the Role of the B Corporation

My friend and colleague Prof. Victoria Haneman has shared her paperMenstrual Capitalism, Period Poverty, and the Role of the B Corporation.  Here is the abstract: 

A menstruation industrial complex has arisen to profit from the monthly clean-up of uterine waste, and it is interesting to consider the way in which period poverty and menstrual capitalism are opposite sides of the same coin. Given that the average woman will dispose of 200 to 300 pounds of “pads, plugs and applicators” in her lifetime and menstruate for an average of thirty-eight years, this is a marketplace with substantial profit to be reaped even from the marginalized poor. As consciousness of issues such as period poverty and structural gender inequality increases, menstrual marketing has evolved and gradually started to “go woke” through messaging that may or may not be genuine. Companies are profit-seeking and the woke-washing of advertising, or messaging designed to appeal to progressively-oriented sentimentality, is a legitimate concern. Authenticity matters to those consumers who would like to distinguish genuine brand activism from appropriating marketing, but few objective approaches are available to assess authentic commitment.

This Essay considers the profit to be made in virtue signaling solely for the purpose of attracting customers and driving sales: pro-female, woke menstruation messaging that may merely be an exploitative and empty co-optation. Feminists should be expecting more of menstrual capitalists, including a commitment that firms operating within this space address the diapositive issue of period poverty, one of the most easily solved but rarely discussed public health crisis of our time, and meaningfully assist those unable to meet basic hygiene needs who may never be direct consumers. This Essay serves as a thought piece to explore the idea of B Corporation certification as an implicit sorting device to distinguish hollow virtue signaling from those menstrual capitalists committed to socially responsible pro-womxn business practices.

It is well-known that I am not fond of benefit corporation statutes, but given that they are a thing (along with B Corp certification), we have to deal with them.  I still feel strongly that they benefit entity type, as it currently exists, is not helpful and potentially counterproductive.  And I really don't like that B Corp certification has moved to include mandating entity type.  But that's just facts, for now, anyway.  

My opposition to benefit entities, though, is not anti-signaling by an entity of their values, and there's little doubt in my mind that a benefit entity (if it must exist) certainly makes sense for nonprofits (thought I still think the nonprofit thing told us all we needed to know).  We're stuck with benefit entities, so Professor Haneman is probably correct that choosing the entity type could have value in marketing and signaling to consumers shared values.  I still think companies should signal through acts, not entity choice, and that all entity types should have the latitude to do such signaling. But in the world we live in, this just may be how it is.  Regardless, I recommend taking a look -- even when I disagree, Professor Haneman is always thoughtful, smart, and entertaining.  

April 24, 2021 in Corporations, CSR, Entrepreneurship, Joshua P. Fershee, Marketing, Nonprofits, Research/Scholarhip | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 23, 2021

Corporations and Cancel Culture

Cancel culture has been a hot topic for years, so when the University of Miami Law Explainer podcast asked me to talk about it, I had some reservations. I'm not shy, but I'm also not looking to be a headline in our campus newspaper, a meme, or a topic on Fox News. But I have strong feelings about this, and I agreed to speak.

I'm providing the link to the 20-minute interview here. I talked about my history as a radical protestor in college and law school (and my run in with Rush Limbaugh),  the effect of boycotts and buycotts, whether Teen Vogue missed a teachable moment after firing an editor for tweets she made as a teenager, whether corporations are doing the right thing when they bow to pressure from vocal consumers, the uproar over the 1619 project, and more. If you want a break from drafting contracts or writing exams, take a listen and let me know what you think. 

April 23, 2021 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 9, 2021

New ABA Model Contract Clauses

As regular readers of the blog know, my passion is business and human rights, particularly related to supply chain due diligence and disclosure. The ABA has just released thirty-three model clauses  based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct. The ABA committee's reasoning for the model clauses is here:

The human rights performance of global supply chains is quickly becoming a hot button issue for anyone concerned with corporate governance and corporate accountability. Mandatory human rights due diligence legislation is on the near-term horizon in the E.U. Consumers and investors worldwide are increasingly concerned about buying from and investing in companies whose supply chains are tainted by forced or child labor or other human rights abuses. Government bodies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection are increasingly taking measures to stop tainted goods from entering the U.S. market. And supply chain litigation, whether led by human rights victims or Western consumers, is on the rise. There can therefore be little doubt that the face of global corporate accountability for human rights abuses within supply chains is changing. The issue is “coming home,” in other words. ... Some of the key MCCs 2.0 obligations include: (1) Human Rights Due Diligence: buyer and supplier must each conduct human rights due diligence before and during the term of the contract. This requires both parties to take appropriate steps to identify and mitigate human rights risks and to address adverse human rights impacts in their supply chains. (2) Buyer Responsibilities: buyer and supplier must each engage in responsible sourcing and purchasing practices (including practices with respect to order changes and responsible exits). A fuller description of responsible purchasing practices is contained in the Responsible Buyer Code of Conduct (Buyer Code), also developed and published by the Working Group. (3) Remediation: buyer and supplier must each prioritize stakeholder-centered remediation for human rights harms before or in conjunction with conventional contract remedies and damage assessments. Buyer must also participate in remediation if it caused or contributed to the adverse impact.

Even if you're not obsessed with business and human rights like I am, you may find the work product provides an interesting context in which to discuss contract clauses such as representations, warranties, and damages either in a first-year contract course or a transactional drafting course. 

April 9, 2021 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Human Rights, International Business, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 29, 2021

The New Normal of ESG Across Borders

Please join me for this ABA Conference on February 10-11. I'm excited to serve as a mock board member on the 11th as well as on the plenary panel on “Leading Voices in ESG Initiatives” with representatives from United Airlines, Microsoft Asia, and others focusing on the many and sometimes conflicting imperatives of implementing ESG goals. I'll be particularly interested in the session by the General Motors GC, who will speak about the plan to go away from gasoline-powered vehicles, which GM just announced.

You can register by clicking here.

About the Virtual Conference:

The state of New York, on December 9, 2020, announced that its pension fund with over $226 billion in assets would divest its oil and gas stocks in companies that, in its view, contribute to global warming. The announcement emphatically highlights how ESG factors (Environmental, Social and Governance) across borders represent business risks but also opportunities for companies, their stockholders, and their other stakeholders. In-house legal departments are the first line of defense to re-orient business operations to address global ESG issues and to identify risks. These challenges, risks and opportunities are creating additional demands on legal departments with constrained resources as they navigate this “New Normal” in addition to their traditional responsibilities to stockholders.  This two-day conference will provide in-depth critical analysis through three tracks that efficiently canvas each of the ‘E’, ‘S’ and ‘G’ elements. Through these three tracks, the conference will identify, explore, and evaluate key areas of relevance to in-house counsel wanting to navigate the numerous complex legal and operational issues raised by ESG in jurisdictions around the globe.

Key Speakers:

  • Craig Glidden, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, General Motors
  • Tim O’Connor, Senior Director, Environmental Defense Fund
  • Olga V. Mack, CEO, Parley Pro
  • Ashley Scott, Senior Counsel, Lime
  • In-House Executives: Several current and former General Counsel, along with numerous senior in-house counsel across various industries, including Google, Nestle, Microsoft, General Motors, Accenture, LexisNexis, Chubb, United Airlines, Liberty Mutual, OPEC, Lazard, Iron Mountain, Willis Towers Watson, Norsk Hydro, and Equinor.
  • ESG leaders: Leading ESG voices from law firms, non-profit organizations, and universities

What to Expect

This two-day cutting-edge conference will provide opportunities for-in-depth analysis of these issues through three tracks of interactive panel discussions that canvas each of the ‘E’, ‘S’ and ‘G’ elements, including how COVID-19 is accelerating ESG trends. Key areas of relevance to in-house counsel wanting to navigate the numerous complex legal and operational issues raised by ESG in jurisdictions around the globe, including NGO and government stakeholder perspectives, will also be examined.

CLEs will be available. I hope to see you there!

January 29, 2021 in Compliance, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Should We Call it Moral Money?: Ownership Matters and Commitment Too

In my previous post on the "Study on Directors' Duties and Sustainable Corporate Governance" ("Study on Directors' Duties") that Ernst & Young prepared for the European Commission (Commission), I focused on the transformative power of corporate governance. I said that stakeholder capitalism would have a practical value if supported by corporate governance rules based on appropriate standards such as the ones provided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Some of my pointers for the Commission were the creation of a regulatory framework that enables the representation and protection of stakeholders, the representation of “stakewatchers,” that is, non-governmental organizations and other pressure groups through the attribution of voting and veto rights and their members’ nomination to the management board (similar to German co-determination). I also suggested expanding directors' fiduciary duties to include the protection of stakeholders’ interests, accountability of corporate managers, consultation rights, and additional disclosure requirements.

In my last guest post in this series dedicated to the Study on Directors’ Duties, I ask the following questions. Do investors have a moral duty to internalize externalities such as climate change and income inequality, for example? Do firm ownership and investor commitment matter? Should investors’ money be “moral” money? 

In their study Corporate Purpose in Public and Private FirmsClaudine Gartenberg and George Serafeim utilize Rebecca Henderson’s and Eric Van den Steen’s definition of corporate purpose, that is, “a concrete goal or objective for the firm that reaches beyond profit maximization.” In their paper, Gartenberg and Serafeim analyzed data from approximately 1.5 million employees across 1,108 established public and private companies in the US. In their words:

[W]e find that employee beliefs about their firm’s purpose is weaker in public companies. This difference is most pronounced within the salaried middle and hourly ranks, rather than senior executives. Among private firms, purpose is lower in private equity owned firms. Among public companies, purpose is lower for firms with high hedge fund ownership and higher for firms with long-term investors. We interpret our findings as evidence that higher owner commitment is associated with a stronger sense of purpose among employees within the firm.

With institutional investors on the rise, these findings are important because they redirect our attention from the board of directors’ short-termism discussion to shareholders' nature, composition, ownership, and long-term commitment. When it comes to owner commitment, Gartenberg and Serafeim say:

Owner commitment could lead to a stronger sense of purpose for multiple reasons. First, to the extent that commitment translates to an ability to think about the long-term and avoid short-term pressures, this would enable a firm to focus on its purpose rather than on solely short-term performance metrics. Second, committed owners may invest to gain and evaluate more soft information about firms, which in turn may allow managers to invest in productive but hard to verify projects that otherwise would not be approved by less committed owners (e.g., Grossman and Hart, 1986). Third, committed owners might mitigate free rider problems inside the firm, allowing employees to make firm-specific investments with greater confidence that they will not be subject to holdup by firm principals (Alchian and Demsetz 1972; Williamson 1985), which in turn could enhance the sense of purpose inside the organization. A similar argument could hold for customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders, who could see a strong sense of corporate purpose from owner commitment as a credible signal that enables the development of trust or ‘relational contracts’ (Gibbons and Henderson 2012; Gartenberg et al. 2019).

Gertenberg’s and Serafeim’s paper also discloses other findings. They found that firms are more likely to hire outside CEOs when less committed investors control the firms. Additionally, those firms are more likely to pay higher executive compensation levels, particularly relative to what they pay employees. Those firms also engage more frequently in mergers and acquisitions and other corporate restructuring processes. A simple explanation for this would be that such firms have higher agency costs since their ownership is more dispersed.

If we understand the company’s ownership structure, we know the purpose of the company. Therefore, there must be an underlying mechanism to better understand the company’s ownership structure because it will help us understand the company's purpose better. 

Besides, Gertenberg’s and Serafeim’s findings spell out that financial performance and corporate ownership positively impact corporate culture, employees' satisfaction, and employee work meaningfulness. Putting it differently, the corporate culture, employees' satisfaction, and employee work meaningfulness can be standards for evaluating the impact of corporate ownership, governance, and leadership.

Now that the focus is on investors, what can they do to change corporate behavior and consequently impact stakeholders like employees? They can be actively engaged through proxy voting. In their paper Shareholder Value(s): Index Fund ESG Activism and the New Millennial Corporate Governance, Barzuza, Curtis, and Webber explain that index funds often are considered ineffective stewards. The authors also explain how index funds have claimed an active role by challenging management and voting against directors to promote board diversity and sustainability.

Still, institutional investors manage their companies’ portfolios depending on the market, which is heavily impacted by systemic shocks we know will eventually occur. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how volatile markets are and our current economic model is.

Corporate laws of most European Union (EU) countries determine that the board of directors must act in the company's interest (e.g., Unternehmensinteresse in Germany, l'intérêt social in France, interesse sociale in Italy, etc.). Defining what the interest of the company is has shown to be a rather tricky endeavor. Gelter explains that, in all cases, one side of the debate claims that the company's interest is different from the interest of shareholders. In the US, the purpose of the company is commingled with the idea of shareholder wealth maximization.

To overcome the tension between prioritizing shareholders' wealth maximization and corporate purpose that considers shareholders' and stakeholders' interests, the Commission should take into account the following dimensions in developing policies in corporate law and corporate governance. 

  1. Investors’ ownership and their impact on intangibles like employees’ satisfaction and employee work meaningfulness.
  2. Governance structure and how it relates to the company’s ownership structure.
  3. Governance structure and how it integrates stakeholders’ interests in the decision-making process.
  4. Board diversity and recruitment.
  5. Institutional investors’ financial resilience.

Finally, investors should demand CEOs and boards of directors show how they are changing the game and moving the needle toward a more sustainable and resilient conception of the corporation. Why? Because ownership matters and commitment too.

December 27, 2020 in Agency, Business Associations, Comparative Law, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, M&A, Private Equity, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 20, 2020

“T” is for Transformative (Corporate Governance)

In my first post on the "Study on Directors' Duties and Sustainable Corporate Governance" ("Study on Directors' Duties") prepared by Ernst & Young for the European Commission, I said that corporate boards are free to apply a purposive approach to profit generation. I added that:

[a]pplying such a purposive approach will depend on moral leadership, CEOs' and corporate boards' long-term vision, clear measurement of the companies' interests and communication of those interests to shareholders, and rethinking executive compensation to encourage board members to take on other priorities than shareholder value maximization. Corporate governance has a significant transformative role to play in this context. 

This week, I focus on corporate governance’s enabling power. Therefore, “T” is for transformative corporate governance. Market-led developments can and do precede and inspire legal rules. Corporate governance rules are not an exception in this regard. To illustrate these rules’ transformative potential, I dwell on the ongoing debate around stakeholder capitalism.

First question. What is stakeholder capitalism? In a recent debate with Lucian Bebchuk about the topic, Alex Edmans explained that “stakeholder capitalism seeks to create shareholder welfare only through creating stakeholder welfare.” The definition suggests that the way to create value for both shareholders and stakeholders alike is by increasing the size of the pie.

In his book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, R. Edward Freeman defines “stakeholder” as “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organisation’s objectives.” (1984: p. 46). The Study on Directors’ Duties is concerned with the negative impact of corporate short-termism on stakeholders such as the environment, the society, the economy, and the extent to which corporate short-termism may impair the protection of human rights and the attainment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). I am not going to discuss whether there is a causal link between short-termism and sustainability. In my previous post, I say that we need to take a step back to determine short-termism and whether it is as harmful as it sounds. Instead, I am interested in finding an answer to the following question. Has stakeholder capitalism practical value?

Edmans points out that “in a world of uncertainty, stakeholder capitalism is practically more useful.” It is more challenging to put a tag on various things in a world of uncertainty, and the market misvalues intangibles. Therefore, in this context, stakeholder capitalism would be a better decisional tool that improves shareholder value and profitability and shareholders' welfare.

Still, how do we measure CEO’s and directors’ accountability toward shareholders and the corporation for the choices they make? Can CEOs and directors be blamed for not caring about social causes? Is stakeholder capitalism, or as Lucian Bebchuk calls it “stakeholderism,” the right way to force managers to make the right decisions for the shareholders and the corporation?

While Edmans stays firmly behind stakeholder capitalism because he considers it has practical value in increasing shareholder wealth while increasing shareholders’ welfare, Bebchuk maintains that “stakeholderism” is “illusory” and costly both for shareholders and stakeholders. Clearly, they disagree.

However, both Edmans and Bebchuk agree on this – we need a normative framework that goes beyond private ordering and prevents companies from subjecting stakeholders to externalities such as climate change, inequality, poverty, and other adverse economic effects.

Corporate managers respond to incentives such as executive compensation, financial reporting, and shareholders' ownership. The challenge is to understand what type of corporate governance rules are more likely to nudge CEOs and managers to value other interests than shareholder wealth maximization. Would a set of principles suffice, or do we need a regulatory framework?

Freeman's definition of a stakeholder is telling because it allows us to think of corporations and governments as stakeholders for sustainable development. I am also inspired by the distinction that Yves Fassin makes in his article The Stakeholder Model Refined, between stakeholders (e.g., consumers), stakewatchers (e.g., non-governmental organizations) and stakekeepers (e.g., regulators). I suggest that the way to ensure stakeholder capitalism’s practical value is to create corporate governance rules based on appropriate standards. The SDGs afford the propriety of those standards.

Within this regulatory setting, corporate governance will fulfill its transformative potential by enabling, for example, the representation and protection of stakeholders, the representation of “stakewatchers” through the attribution of voting and veto rights and nomination to the management board (similar to German co-determination by which stakeholders like employees are appointed to the supervisory board). Corporate governance will show its transformative potential by enabling the expansion of directors' fiduciary duties to include the protection of stakeholders’ interests, accountability of corporate managers, consultation rights, and additional disclosure requirements.  

The authors Onyeka K. Osuji and Ugochi C. Amajuoyi contributed an interesting piece, titled Sustainable Consumption, Consumer Protection and Sustainable Development: Unbundling Institutional Septet for Developing Economies to the book Corporate Social Responsibility in Developing and Emerging Markets: Institutions, Actors and Sustainable Development. The book was edited by Onyeka K. Osuji, Franklin N. Ngwu, and Dima Jamali. The piece addresses the stakeholder model from the emerging economies perspective. It goes to show how interconnected we are.

December 20, 2020 in Books, Business Associations, Comparative Law, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Financial Markets, Law and Economics, Management | Permalink | Comments (6)

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 mweldon@law.miami.edu. 

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)