Proxy voting is a component of our democratic process that is an important force for moderating the excesses of capitalism. As shareholders, we have the right and the responsibility to understand critical aspects of the challenges facing the corporations in which we have invested, and to express our views and concerns to the management. We do this through the annual proxy voting process.
Each year, companies ask the guidance of shareholders on myriad governance issues such as selection of auditors, board structure, share issuance, etc. In addition, shareholder sponsored resolutions appear on annual proxy ballots to alert management to shareholders views on key policy issues with social and financial impact. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) uses a proxy voting service, called Institutional Shareholder Services, which votes our shares by proxy according to our strict Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) criteria. For more information see the UUA’s proxy voting policies:
- 2008 Proxy Voting Guidelines (PDF, 15 pages)
- 2007 Proxy Voting Recommendations (PDF, 20 pages)
- 2006 Proxy Voting Guidelines (PDF, 15 page)
Examples of high social impact proxy items that have appeared in recent years include:
- equal employment opportunity and environmental disclosure and public reports.
- policies pertaining to international labor standards and corporate codes of conduct.
- guidelines preventing predatory lending.
Members of local congregations often ask questions about how to understand the many issues that appear in materials sent to them by companies in which they or their congregations hold stock. Most issues appearing in proxy materials can be categorized as follows:
The UUA Socially Responsible Investing Committee does not profess to be of help on the many financial issues, most of which are particular to individual corporations, as are a number of the Governance issues.
However, the other categories of Social and Environmental issues, and some of the Governance issues, appear in the proxy materials of several corporations, generally because of campaigns by groups of institutional investors like the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), of which the UUA is a member, or other activist organizations such as labor unions and human rights non-profits.
One source for more information on these issues and guidance on how to vote your proxies is the As You Sow Foundation.