August 05, 2005
Power to the People: Amnesty Launches Grassroots Shareowner Advocacy Program
by William Baue
The SharePower program encourages ordinary people to tell institutional investors holding shares in
their name to vote for shareowner resolutions supporting human rights.
Did you know that you probably have a stronger voice in corporate America than you realize? Your
own investments in companies allow you to vote on shareowner resolutions on social, environmental,
and corporate governance issues. Magnifying this power exponentially is ownership of a mutual fund
for example, or being a beneficiary of a pension fund, or participating in an academic community
supported by an endowment. Mutual funds, pension funds, universities, and other institutions are
significant shareholders, and their fiduciaries are beholden to represent the interests of their
constituents, which includes voting their proxies in line with their constituents' interests.
To leverage the latent power of institutional investors' obligations to their
constituents, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) launched a campaign called "SharePower" earlier this week. Share
Power seeks to coordinate individuals to voice their concerns to the institutions that hold
investments on their behalf. Traditionally, institutional investors would just rubber-stamp
company recommendations on the proxy, which almost always oppose resolutions. However, the spate
of recent prosecutions of corporate fraud has raised valid concerns whether corporate interests are
truly aligned with shareholder interests.
SharePower represents the first attempt to bring
shareowner advocacy campaigning into the hands of ordinary people in a nationally coordinated and
"There have been national proxy solicitations on specific votes, but
it is our understanding that this is the first time activists and citizens across the country are
targeting institutional shareholders by using their constituent power to leverage accountability
for human rights with investments made in their name," said Mila Rosenthal, AIUSA's business and
human rights program director.
SharePower will focus on two specific shareowner
resolutions on human rights and environmental issues, one at Chevron (ticker: CVX) and the other at Dow (DOW). The Chevron
resolution, which Amnesty has co-filed for several years, asks the company to report
on new management initiatives to address health and environmental concerns regarding oil-related
contamination where subsidiary Texaco operated in Ecuador. The Dow
resolution, which Amnesty is co-filing this year, asks the company to report on its
accountability for the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India at a subsidiary Union Carbide plant.
"We use those as examples where Amnesty has research on the human rights abuses in both cases,"
Ms. Rosenthal told SocialFunds.com.
For example, Amnesty released a highly influential
year on twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster.
The SharePower program is not
limited to these resolutions, but rather seeks to facilitate advocacy by urging ordinary people to
voice their opinions on the entire gamut of shareowner resolutions filed at corporations.
"It's trying to effect change in those specific instances and also trying to educate everyone
about the power of shareholder advocacy," said Ms. Rosenthal. "The possibility of effecting
positive change is potentially enormous."
SharePower promotes interactivity by hosting an
online forum where participants can track the progress of shareowner advocacy campaigns across the
US. For example, participants can post the proxy voting records of institutions to provide others
information as fodder for their own campaigning.
Amnesty will measure the success of
SharePower over the next year.
"In the short term, increases in voting percentages in
support of resolutions will represent success," Ms. Rosenthal explained. "Also, seeing
institutional investors take first steps toward implementing proxy voting guidelines that include
human rights criteria would be a measurable shift."
Though difficult to measure, perhaps
the most significant gauge of success will be wider public awareness of how companies handle social
and environmental issues, and the recognition that individuals can influence corporate