Saturday, February 24, 2024

Counseling Creators: Influencers, Artists and Trendsetters Negotiation Competition and Conference

If you happen to be in Miami or think it's worth it to fly there next week, this is for you. I'll be moderating the panel on regulatory considerations for promoters and influencers and we have student teams competing from all over the country. 

February 29 - March 1
University of Miami

Content is king. We live in the golden age where content creators, artists, and influencers wield power and can shift culture. Brands want to collaborate. Creators need to be sophisticated, understand deal points and protect their brand and intellectual property. Miami Law will be the first law school in the country to pull together law students with leading lawyers, influencers, artists, creatives and trendsetters for a negotiation competition and conference.  

Negotiation Competition - Thursday, February 29 

Where

Shalala Student Center, 1330 Miller Drive, Coral Gables, FL 33146

Who Should Participate

This competition is ideal for law and business students. THE. TEAMS ARE FINALIZED ALREADY.

What to Expect

Participants will have the chance to represent influencers, brands, artists, fashion companies and other creators in the first ever Counseling Creators: Influencers, Artists and Trendsetters Negotiation Competition

  • Register a team of law students (can include business school students)
    1. Team of up to 4
    2. Individual registrants will be placed on a team
  • In advance of the competition, you will be assigned two negotiations where you may be representing your favorite influencer, brand, artist, or fashion company negotiating the compensation, deliverables, and key deal points
  • Industry judges will grade your negotiation and provide feedback
  • Top teams will advance to the final negotiation to be held live during the conference 

Conference - Friday, March 1 

Where

Lakeside Village Auditorium, 1280 Stanford Dr, Coral Gables, FL 33146

Who Should Attend

This conference appeals to all lawyers, law students, brands, influencers, artists and creators for the first ever law school conference on Counseling Creators: Influencers, Artists and Trendsetters.  

What to Expect

  • Panel conversations + Keynotes
  • Topics such as: The Business of Content Creation, Fair Use for Content Creators, Clearances for Creators, The Brand Deal, Compliance and Regulatory Considerations for Creators, Promoter Liability
  • Opportunity to network and learn from industry leading creators, brands, and lawyers and more

PROGRAM (Subject to change)

9:00am - 9:15am         Opening Remarks

9:15am - 10:15am       The Brand Deal

Moderator: TBA

Speakers:

Jennifer Karlik, Director of Business Development, CAA Brand Management
Michael Calvin Jones, SVP, Creators, Wasserman
Mark Middlebrook, VP, Legal Affairs, Fanatics Collectibles
Michael Isselin, Partner, Entertainment & Media Group, Reed Smith
Jonathan Seiden, Senior Vice President, Associate General Counsel, Endeavor


10:20am - 11:20am    Fair Use and Clearances for Creators

Moderator: Vivek Jayaram, Founder, Jayaram Law and Co-Director, Arts Track, Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Program at Miami Law

Speakers:
John Belcaster, General Counsel, MSCHF and Miami Law Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Program Advisory Board Member
Katie Fittinghoff, Creative, MSCHF
Matt Rayfield, Creative, MSCHF


11:30am - 12:30pm    Athletes as Content Creators
 

Moderator: Greg Levy, JD ’10, Associate Dean & Director Entertainment, Arts & Sports Law Graduate Program, Miami Law

Speakers:
Kirby Porter, Founder, New Game Labs
Michael Raymond, Founder, Raymond Representation
Bob Philp, Sr. Executive, Sports Partnerships & Talent Management, Roc Nation Sports
Darren Heitner, Founder, Heitner Legal


12:30pm -1:30pm      LUNCH
 

1:30pm – 2:20pm      Creator Fireside Chat


2:25pm - 3:25pm       Regulatory Considerations and Promoter Liability for Creators

Moderator: Marcia Narine Weldon, Director of Transactional Skills Program, Miami Law

Speakers:
Toam Rubinstein, JD ’13, Senior Associate, Entertainment & Media Group, Reed Smith
Mr Eats 305, (@MrEats305), Food, Travel, & Lifestyle Creator & Law School Graduate
Tyler Chou, Founder and CEO, Tyler Chou Law for Creators


3:30pm - 4:30pm       The Fashion Collaboration

Moderator – Carolina Jayaram, CEO, The Elevate Prize and Co-Director, Arts Track, Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Program at Miami Law

Speakers:
Demeka Fields, Counsel for Global Sports Marketing, New Balance
Danielle Garno, Partner and Co-Chair of Entertainment Practice, Holland & Knight and Miami Law Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Program Advisory Board Member
Matthew Growney, Founder, Thermal Brands; Sr. Advisor (Fashion/Creative), PUMA & Stella Artois

 
4:40pm - 5:30pm       Competition Final

 

For More Information

Contact [email protected] or 305-284-1689.

 
 
 

February 24, 2024 in Compliance, Conferences, Current Affairs, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Licensing, Marcia Narine Weldon, Music, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 26, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2023

Ethical and Practical Issues for Lawyers Using AI

I’m a law professor, the general counsel of a medtech company, a podcaster, and I design and deliver courses on a variety of topics as a consultant. I think about and use generative AI daily and it’s really helped boost my productivity. Apparently, I’m unusual among lawyers. According to a Wolter’s Kluwers Future Ready Lawyer report that surveyed 700 legal professionals in the  US and EU, only 15% of lawyers are using generative AI right now but 73% expect to use it next year. 43% of those surveyed see it as an opportunity, 25% see it as a threat, and 26% see it as both.

If you’re planning to be part of the 73% and you practice in the US, here are some ethical implications with citations to select model rules. A few weeks ago, I posted here about business implications that you and your clients should consider.

  • How can you stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in AI technology and best practices, ensuring that you continue to adapt and evolve as a legal professional in an increasingly technology-driven world? Rule 1.1 (Competence)
  • How can AI tools be used effectively and ethically to enhance your practice, whether in legal research, document review, contract drafting, or litigation support, while maintaining high professional standards? Will it be malpractice NOT to use GAI in the future? Rule 1.1 (Competence), Comment 8, duty to understand the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology; Rule 1.3 (Diligence)
  • How can you obtain and document informed consent from clients when using AI tools in your practice, ensuring that they understand the risks, benefits, and alternatives associated with these technologies? Rule 1.4 (Communication); Rule 1.6 (Confidentiality of Information)
  • How can you obtain and document informed consent from clients when using AI tools in your practice, ensuring that they understand the risks, benefits, and alternatives associated with these technologies? Rule 1.4 (Communication); Rule 1.6 (Confidentiality of Information). Tip- Make sure your engagement letter discusses the use of technology and specifically addresses the responsible use of GAI.  If needed, amend your engagement letter. Adequately anonymize client information in your prompts. Make sure to opt out of data sets. Check the terms of service and privacy policies of your AI tools.
  • How do you rethink billing clients and what’s ethical if you have reliable AI models that can do some work in a fraction of the time? Is it still ethical to bill by the hour or do you use a flat rate? Rule 1.5 (Fees)
  • How can you effectively explain and defend the use of AI-generated evidence, analysis, or insights in court, demonstrating the validity and reliability of the methods and results to judges and opposing counsel? Rule 3.3 Candor Toward the Tribunal; Rule 4.1 Truthfulness in Statements to Others
  • What measures should you implement to supervise and train your staff, including paralegals and support personnel, in the responsible use of AI tools, ensuring that ethical and professional standards are maintained throughout the practice? Rule 5.1 (Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers); Rule 5.3 (Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistance)

Then there are the harder questions:

  • How many lawyers and legal professionals will you replace?
  • How many should you replace?
  • Who and how will you retrain and upskill?
  • Should your firm be developing your own large language models as some are already doing?  What are the risks? The 2022 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report found that accuracy is the top barrier preventing many lawyers from adopting AI. Some insurance brokers have indicated the existing GAI tools are not fit for law practice because of reliability, accuracy, confidentiality, and copyright concerns,

If you're ready to take the deep dive or maybe just dip your toe in the AI waters, here are some resources to help you get started on the journey. Of course, with the way things are changing so rapidly on the legislative and tech development front, this list could be relatively useless in the next few weeks.

ABA House of Delegates Resolution 604

Task Force on Responsible Use of Generative AI for Law- MIT

NIST AI Framework

FTC AI Guidance

EEOC Artificial Intelligence and Algorithmic Fairness Initiative

National Conference of State Legislatures-2023-legislation

SEC Investor Advisory Committee Establishment of an Ethical Artificial Intelligence Framework for Investment Advisors

ABA Task Force on the Law and Artificial Intelligence

Health AI Partnership

National Association of Insurance Commissioners

ISO 27701- International Standard for Protecting Personally Identifiable Information

Partnership on AI

Are you using generative AI in the classroom? How are you preparing the next generation of lawyers? If you’re a practicing lawyer, are you ready to be part of the 15% this year or the 73% next year? 

November 10, 2023 in Current Affairs, Ethics, Law Firms, Law School, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Materiality and the SEC's Rulemaking Authority

Over the summer, friend-of-the-BLPB Bernie Sharfman posted a draft paper to SSRN that was the subject of a short colloquy between us.  The paper, The Ascertainable Standards that Define the Boundaries of the SEC's Rulemaking Authority, asserts, among other things, that materiality is one of three "ascertainable policy standards that Congress has placed in the Acts to guide the SEC’s rulemaking discretion."  The reasoning? 

  • "[T]here are multiple references to materiality in the Acts."
  • The SEC's 1972 annual report avers that "[a] basic purpose of the Federal securities laws is to provide disclosure of material financial and other information on companies seeking to raise capital through the public offering of their securities, as well as companies whose securities are already publicly held."
  • "As observed by Professor Ruth Jebe, it is fair to say that materiality 'constitutes the primary framing mechanism for financial reporting.'"

Bernie acknowledges that "there is no explicit statutory language in the Acts that forbids the SEC from promulgating rules requiring non-material disclosures."  I might add that nothing in either the Securities Act of 1933, as amended ("1933 Act"), or the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended ("1934 Act"), explicitly limits the SEC's rulemaking authority to rules qualified by materiality.

Since the U.S. Congress knew to use materiality to qualify some disclosure, enforcement, and other responsibilities under the 1933 Act and the 1934 Act and not others, it easily could have provided an express constraint on the SEC's overall rulemaking authority in that regard.  Arguably, since Congress did not qualify all of the disclosure mandates in the 1933 Act or 1934 Act by materiality, SEC rulemaking that introduces a materiality qualification may be subject to unfavorable scrutiny.  (Congress could then take the view that, if it had meant to restrict the statutory disclosure or other mandates to only those items that are material, it would have said so.)  Yet, overall, Congress has delegated relatively broad authority to the SEC to engage in rule making that serves the investor protection, market integrity maintenance, and capital formation policies underlying the various provisions of the 1933 Act and the 1934 Act.

For example, Schedule A to the 1933 Act sets forth the initial disclosure mandates provided for by Congress for registration statements. See §7(a)(1) of the 1933 Act.  Congress then notes that the SEC "may by rules or regulations provide that any such information or document need not be included in respect of any class of issuers or securities if it finds that the requirement of such information or document is inapplicable to such class and that disclosure fully adequate for the protection of investors is otherwise required to be included within the registration statement."  Id. The disclosure requirements for registration statements are now executed primarily through registration forms adopted by the SEC under the 1933 Act.  In both Schedule A and in the forms of registration statement adopted by the SEC under the 1933 Act, disclosures were or are required that are not expressly qualified by materiality.  In fact, few of the mandatory disclosures in Schedule A are limited only to supplying material information.  The same is true for the initial disclosure mandates applicable to 1934 Act registration statements.  See § 12(b) of the 1934 Act.

There's more I could say, but I will leave it there for now.  As you might guess from the above, I am skeptical, at best, about the argument that materiality is a required constraint on SEC rule making.  I consider Congress's words and actions to be most important in this matter (absent any issues identified under the U.S Constitution).  Your thoughts on the asserted materiality constraint are welcomed.

October 31, 2023 in Joan Heminway, Legislation, Securities Regulation | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, October 13, 2023

What Business Lawyers Needs to Ask their Clients About Generative AI Usage

Last week I had the pleasure of joining my fellow bloggers at the UT Connecting the Threads Conference on the legal issues related to generative AI (GAI) that lawyers need to understand for their clients and their own law practice. Here are some of the questions I posed to the audience and some recommendations for clients. I'll write about ethical issues for lawyers in a separate post. In the meantime, if you're using OpenAI or any other GAI, I strongly recommend that you read the terms of use. You may be surprised by certain clauses, including the indemnification provisions. 

I started by asking the audience members to consider what legal areas are most affected by GAI? Although there are many, I'll focus on data privacy and employment law in this post.

Data Privacy and Cybersecurity

Are the AI tools and technologies you use compliant with relevant data protection and privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA? Are they leaving you open to a cyberattack?

This topic also came up today at a conference at NCCU when I served as a panelist on cybersecurity preparedness for lawyers.

Why is this important?

ChatGPT was banned in Italy for a time over concerns about violations of the GDPR. The Polish government is investigating OpenAI over privacy issues. And there are at least two class action lawsuits in California naming Microsoft and OpenAI. Just yesterday, a US government agency halted the use of GAI due to data security risks. 

It’s also much easier for bad actors to commit cybercrime because of the amount of personal data they can  scrape and analyze and because deepfake technology allows impersonation of images and voices in a matter of seconds. The NSA and FBI have warned people to be worried about misinformation and cyberthreats due to the technology. On a positive note, some are using GAI to fight cybercrime.

Surveillance and facial recognition technology can violate privacy and human rights. Governments have used surveillance technology to tamp down on and round up dissidents, protestors, and human rights defenders for years. Now better AI tools makes that easier. And if you haven't heard some of the cautions about Clearview AI and the misidentification of citizens, you should read this article. A new book claims that this company could "end privacy as we know it."

What should (you and) your clients do?

  • Ensure algorithms minimize collection and processing of personal data and build in confidentiality safeguards to comply with privacy laws
  • Revise privacy and terms of use policies on websites to account for GAI
  • Build in transparency for individuals to control how data is collected and used
  • Turn on privacy settings in all AI tools and don’t allow your data to be used for training the large language models
  • Turn off chat history in settings on all devices
  • Prevent browser add-ons
  • Check outside counsel guidelines for AI restrictions (or draft them for your clients)
  • Work with your IT provider or web authority to make sure your and your clients’ data is not being scraped for training
  • Use synthetic data sets instead of actual personally identifiable information
  • Ensure that you have a Generative AI Security Policy
  • Check vendor contracts for AI usage
  • Enhance cybersecurity training
  • Conduct a table top exercise and make sure that you have an incident response plan in place
  • Check cyberinsurance policies for AI clauses/exclusions

What about the employment law implications?

According to a Society for Human Resources Management Member Survey about AI usage:

• 79% use AI for recruiting and hiring

• 41% use AI for learning and development

• 38% use AI for performance management

• 18% use AI for productivity monitoring

• 8% use Ai for succession planning

• 4% use AI or promotional decisions

GAI algorithms can also have significant bias for skin color. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released research showing that "not just dark African-American faces, but also Asian faces were up to 100 times more likely to be failed by these systems than the faces of white individuals.”

Then there’s the question of whether recruiters and hiring managers should use AI to read emotions during an an interview. The EU says absolutely not

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken notice. In a panel discussion, Commissioner Keith Sonderling explained, “carefully designed and properly used, AI has potential to enhance diversity and inclusion, accessibility in the workplace by mitigating the risk of unlawful discrimination. Poorly designed and carelessly implemented, AI can discriminate on a scale and magnitude greater than any individual HR professional.” The EEOC also recently settled the first of its kind AI bias case for $365,000.

What to do 

  • Use AI screening tools to disregard name, sec, age, national origin, etc.
  • Use bots for interviews to eliminate bias because of accents
  • Check local laws such as New York City's automated decision tools guidance for employers
  • Be careful about training large language models on current workforce data because that can perpetuate existing bias
  • Review the EEOC Resource on AI

Questions to Ask Your Clients:

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

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

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

• As data becomes more valuable, how is your company ensuring ethical data collection and usage practices?

• Are these practices in line with both domestic and international human rights and privacy standards?

• How is your organization addressing the potential for algorithmic bias in your technology, which can perpetuate and exacerbate systemic inequalities?

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

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

• Are you at risk of a false advertising or unfair/deceptive trade practices act claim from the FTC or other regulatory body due to your use of AI?

Whether or not you're an AI expert or use GAI in your practice now, it's time to raise these issues with your clients. Future posts will address other legal issues and the ethical implications of using AI in legal practice. 

October 13, 2023 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Human Rights, Law Firms, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 7, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Fourth of July Learning Moment - Foundations of U.S. Business Law

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

 . . .

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

 . . . 

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

 . . .

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to . . . establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Words from the Declaration of Independence that protected and catalyzed the development of the laws that I teach.  Of course, there is a lot more there than support for self-determined business laws.  Perhaps as a result, I rarely have paused to consider the importance of our Declaration of Independence to U.S. business law. 

Is the connection obvious?  Yes.  We all learn about the Boston Tea Party in school, and I worked downtown in the Government Center part of Boston for the better part of fifteen years at the beginning of my career--a constant reminder of that part of our history.  But, for me, the connection of the Declaration of Independence to business law has been all but ignored--or at least forgotten. 

Today, I am grateful for this part of the Declaration of Independence as well as the rest.  We do not always execute our lawmaking freedom perfectly, but our laws are ours.  And that's important.

Happy Fourth to all!

July 4, 2023 in Joan Heminway, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 26, 2023

Trust in Business Associations: Fiduciary Duties

The University of Tennessee College of Law's business law journal, Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law, recently published my essay, "The Fiduciary-ness of Business Associations."  You can find the essay here.  This essay--or parts of it, anyway--has been rattling around in my brain for a bit.   It is nice on a project like this to be able to get the words out on a page and release all that tension building up inside as you fashion your approach.

The abstract for the essay is included below. 

This essay offers a window and perspective on recent fiduciary-related legislative developments in business entity law and identifies and reflects in limited part on related professional responsibility questions impacting lawyers advising business entities and their equity owners. In addition—and perhaps more pointedly—the essay offers commentary on legal change and the legislative process for state law business associations amendments in and outside the realm of fiduciary duties. To accomplish these purposes, the essay first provides a short description of the position of fiduciary duties in U.S. statutory business entity law and offers a brief account of 21st century business entity legislation that weakens the historically central role of fiduciary duties in unincorporated business associations. It then reflects on these changes as a matter of theory, policy, and practice before briefly summarizing and offering related reflections in concluding.

Although I always welcome thoughts on my work, I am especially interested in your thoughts on this essay. It relates to all three of my activities as a law professor--my scholarship, teaching, and service.  And I know that fiduciary duty waivers and opt-ins have different impacts in different business sectors . . . .  So, let me know what you think.

June 26, 2023 in Corporate Governance, Corporations, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Legislation, LLCs, Management, Partnership, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, May 5, 2023

Ten Questions Lawyers Should Ask Themselves about AI

A few months ago, I asked whether people in the tech industry were the most powerful people in the world. This is part II of that post.

I posed that question after speaking at a tech conference in Lisbon sponsored by Microsoft. They asked me to touch on business and human rights and I presented the day after the company announced a ten billion dollar investment in OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT. Back then, we were amazed at what ChatGPT 3.5 could do. Members of the audience were excited and terrified- and these were tech people. 

And that was before the explosion of ChatGPT4. 

I've since made a similar presentation about AI, surveillance, social media companies to law students, engineering students, and business people. In the last few weeks, over 10,000 people including Elon Musk, have called for a 6-month pause in AI training systems. If you don't trust Musk's judgment (and the other scientists and futurists), trust the "Godfather of AI," who recently quit Google so he could speak out on the dangers, even though Google has put out its own whitepaper on AI development. Watch the 60 Minutes interview with the CEO of Google.

Just yesterday, the White House held a summit with key AI stakeholders to talk about AI governance

Between AI-generated photos winning competitions, musicians creating songs simulating real artists' voices, students using generative AI to turn in essays that fool professors, and generative AI's ability to hallucinate (come up with completely wrong answers that look correct), what can we as lawyers do? Are our jobs at risk? Barrons has put out a list.  IBM has paused hiring because it believes it can gain efficiencies though AI.  Goldman Sachs has said that 300 million jobs might be affected by this technology. I'm at a conference for entrepreneurs and the CEO of a 100-million dollar company said that he has reassigned and is re-skilling 90% of his marketing team because he can use AI for most of what they do. 

Should we be excited or terrified? I've been stressing to lawyers and my students that we need to understand this technology to help develop the regulations around it as well to wrestle with the thorny legal and ethical issues that arise. Here are ten questions, courtesy of ChatGPT4, that lawyers should ask themselves:

  1. Do I understand the basic principles and mechanics of AI, including machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing, to make informed decisions about its use in my legal practice?
  2. How can AI tools be used effectively and ethically to enhance my practice, whether in legal research, document review, contract drafting, or litigation support, while maintaining high professional standards?
  3. Are the AI tools and technologies I use compliant with relevant data protection and privacy regulations, such as GDPR and CCPA, and do they adequately protect client confidentiality and sensitive information?
  4. How can I ensure that the AI-driven tools I utilize are unbiased, transparent, and fair, and what steps can I take to mitigate potential algorithmic biases that may compromise the objectivity and fairness of my legal work?
  5. How can I obtain and document informed consent from clients when using AI tools in my practice, ensuring that they understand the risks, benefits, and alternatives associated with these technologies?
  6. What are the intellectual property implications of using AI, particularly concerning AI-generated content, inventions, and potential copyright or trademark issues that may arise?
  7. How can I assess and manage potential liability and accountability issues stemming from the use of AI tools, including understanding the legal and ethical ramifications of AI-generated outputs in my practice?
  8. How can I effectively explain and defend the use of AI-generated evidence, analysis, or insights in court, demonstrating the validity and reliability of the methods and results to judges and opposing counsel?
  9. What measures should I implement to supervise and train my staff, including paralegals and support personnel, in the responsible use of AI tools, ensuring that ethical and professional standards are maintained throughout the practice?
  10. How can I stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in AI technology and best practices, ensuring that I continue to adapt and evolve as a legal professional in an increasingly technology-driven world?

Do you use ChatGPT or any other other generative AI in your work? Can you answer these questions? I'll be talking about many of these issues at the Connecting the Threads symposium and would love to get your insights as I develop my paper. 

May 5, 2023 in Compliance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Jobs, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Monday, November 14, 2022

Business Lawyers as "Financial Institutions"?

Earlier today, I received a communication from the American Bar Association's Governmental Affairs Office.  It was a request for action (as would often come from a government affairs office) relating to the ENABLERS Act amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The contents admittedly somewhat stunned me.  I include them in pertinent part below.

This . . . Senate amendment, like the similar amendment contained in the House-passed version of the NDAA, would regulate many business lawyers and law firms under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and could require them to report a substantial amount of attorney-client privileged and other protected client information to the government.

The ENABLERS Act amendment, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would change the BSA’s definition of “financial institution” to include lawyers and law firms that provide legal services to clients involving company formation, trust services, acquiring or disposing of interests in those entities, and many other specified financial activities. It would also require the Treasury Department to issue new regulations that could subject these lawyers and law firms to some or all of the BSA’s requirements for financial institutions. This could force you to submit Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on your clients’ financial transactions (without notifying the clients); identify and verify your clients’ accounts to the government; establish due diligence policies that could conflict with state supreme court rules; create costly and burdensome new anti-money laundering programs within your law firm; and undergo periodic or random audits to assess compliance. 

I have not been following this at all.  I wonder if any of you have been . . . .  Of course, the ostensible purpose is to combat money laundering--certainly a worthy goal.  But the incursion on the lawyer-client relationship, assuming the description above is accurate (and I am still wading into this, in all candor), does seem rather vast.  Please leave comments if you have thoughts to offer.  I am intrigued.

November 14, 2022 in Joan Heminway, Lawyering, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (1)

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)

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Federalization of Corporate Governance - Heminway on Karmel

Last May, I posted on a wonderful two-day event--a symposium hosted over Zoom by Brooklyn Law School celebrating the career of Professor Roberta Karmel.  As I noted then, I was honored to be invited to speak at the event. It was so inspiring.

I have just posted the essay that I presented at the symposium, "Federalized Corporate Governance: The Dream of William O. Douglas as Sarbanes-Oxley Turns 20" (recently published by the Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial & Commercial Law), on SSRN.  It can be found here

The roadmap paragraph from the essay's introduction offers a brief description of the essay's contents.

This essay focuses on the federalization of U.S. corporate governance since Sarbanes-Oxley—and, more specifically, since Roberta’s article was published in 2005 [Realizing the Dream of William O. Douglas — The Securities and Exchange Commission Takes Charge of Corporate Governance, 30 DEL. J. CORP. L. 79 (2005)]—pulling forward key aspects of Roberta’s work in Realizing the Dream. To accomplish this purpose, the essay first briefly reviews the contours of Roberta’s article. It then offers observations on corporate governance in the wake of (among other things) the public offering reforms adopted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2005, the SEC’s 2010 adoption of Rule 14a-11, the 2010 enactment of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank), the 2012 enactment of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act), and recent adoptions of corporate charter and bylaw provisions that constrain aspects of shareholder-initiated federal securities and derivative litigation. Finally, before briefly concluding, the essay provides brief insights on the overall implications for future corporate governance regulation of these and other occurrences since the publication of Realizing the Dream.

I found it great fun to build on the architecture of Roberta's earlier work in writing this piece.  Work on the essay allowed me to appreciate in new ways the many linkages between corporate governance and corporate finance--an appreciation that will no doubt continue to infuse my teaching with new ideas over time.  I hope some of you will take time out to read the essay and that you gain some insight from it.   Comments are, of course, always welcomed.

April 11, 2022 in Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Joan Heminway, Legislation, Securities Regulation | 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, December 31, 2021

New Year's Resolution for Lawyers

People rarely keep resolutions, much less ones they don’t make for themselves, but here are some you may want to try.

  1. Post information about the law and current events that lay people can understand on social media. You don’t need to be a TikTok lawyer and dance around, but there’s so much misinformation out there by “influencers” that lawyers almost have a responsibility to correct the record.
  2. Embrace legal tech. Change is scary for most lawyers, but we need to get with the times, and you can start off in areas such as legal research, case management, accounting, billing, document automation and storage, document management, E-discovery, practice management, legal chatbots, automaton of legal workflow, contract management, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based applications. Remember, lawyers have an ethical duty of technological competence.
  3. Learn about legal issues related to the metaverse such as data privacy and IP challenges.
  4. Do a data security audit and ensure you understand where your and your clients’ data is and how it’s being transmitted, stored, and destroyed. Lawyers have access to valuable confidential information and hackers know that. Lawyers also have ethical obligations to safeguard that information. Are you communicating with clients on WhatsApp or text messages? Do you have Siri or Alexa enabled when you’re talking about client matters? You may want to re-think that. Better yet, hire a white hat hacker to assess your vulnerabilities. I'll do a whole separate post on this because this is so critical. 
  5. Speaking of data, get up to speed on data analytics. Your clients use data every day to optimize their business performance. Compliance professionals and in-house lawyers know that this is critical. All lawyers should as well.
  6. Get involved with government affairs. Educate legislators, write comment letters, and publish op-ed pieces so that people making the laws and influencing lawmakers can get the benefit of your analytical skills. Just make sure you’re aware of the local, state, and federal lobbying laws.
  7. Learn something completely new. When you do your CLE requirement, don’t just take courses in your area of expertise. Take a class that has nothing to do with what you do for a living. If you think that NFTs and cryptocurrency are part of a fad waiting to implode, take that course. You’ll either learn something new or prove yourself right.
  8. Re-think how you work. What can you stop, start, and continue doing in your workplace and family life?
  9. Be strategic when thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lawyers talk about it, but from what I observe in my lawyer coaching practice and the statistics, the reality is much different on the ground and efforts often backfire.
  10. Prioritize your mental health and that of the members on your team. Do you need to look at billable hours requirements? What behavior does your bonus or promotion system incentivize? What else can you do to make sure that people are valued and continually learning? When was the last time you conducted an employee engagement survey and really listened to what you team members are saying? Whether your team is remote or hybrid, what can you do to make people believe they are part of a larger mission? There are so many resources out there. If you do nothing else on this list, please focus on this one. If you want help on how to start, send me an email.

Wishing you a safe, healthy, and happy 2022.

December 31, 2021 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Film, Intellectual Property, Jobs, Law Firms, Lawyering, Legislation, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Technology, Wellness | 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)

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Gensler and Michalski's The Million Dollar Diversity Docket

"I'm no civ-pro geek," I confessed today at a research presentation by OU College of Law colleagues Professors Steven Gensler and Roger Michalski on their recent article, The Million Dollar Diversity Docket. But I also shared having been immediately intrigued by their paper after reading its abstract.  And I am even more so now after today's presentation.  Diversity of citizenship jurisdiction is, of course, a tremendously important subject for both business lawyers and business litigation. So, even if like me, civil procedure generally isn't your thing, check out their fascinating project!  Here's the article's Abstract: 

What would happen if Congress raised the jurisdictional amount in the diversity jurisdiction statute? Given that it has been almost 25 years since the last increase, we are probably overdue for another one. But to what amount? And with what effect? What would happen if Congress raised the jurisdictional amount from the current $75,000 to $250,000 or, say, $1 million?

Using a novel hand-coded data set of pleadings in 2900 cases, we show that the jurisdictional amount is not a neutral throttle. Instead, different areas of law, different parts of the country, and different litigants are more affected by changes in the jurisdictional amount than others. Our findings thus provide new guidance for Congress to consider when evaluating proposed changes to the amount threshold.

We build from our data to explore different ways Congress could use the amount in controversy lever to adjust the diversity docket, ranging from traditional techniques like incremental inflation-adjustments to radical experiments with lotteries or replacing the amount in controversy minimum with a maximum. Our analysis of the options highlights the normative choices Congress makes when deciding which cases to bless and curse with a federal forum. Thus, our study also provides a new window into the longstanding debates about the existence and reach of diversity jurisdiction. We hope our empirical work will inform these debates and enable a new wave of scholarship on the basic functions and functioning of the federal diversity docket.

March 10, 2021 in Colleen Baker, Legislation, Litigation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Ten Business Questions for the Biden Administration

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2020

When Wall Street Talks, Does Washington Listen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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