| Public Shareholder Activism
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Your state (and perhaps your city as well) manages a pension fund
for public employees, and it may be invested in Dow. Your city or
state treasury may be as well. Find out
– and if so, make sure that they use their shares to support
Why Public Shareholder Activism?
Shareholder proposals can help
change company policies that dictate how a company operates,
whether or not they achieve final passage. For example, by
using shareholder proposals, Amnesty
International (in coalition with other investors) has
been able to engage ExxonMobil in a dialogue about the company’s
human rights obligations, moving them to publicly proclaim
that they condemn human rights violations in any form and
indicate their intent to uphold the core labor standards set
forth by the International Labor Organization. Moreover, ExxonMobil
began participating in the Voluntary Principles on Security
and Human Rights, something the company had earlier refused
to do. In addition, Amnesty and coalition partners recently
won two victories with ALLTEL and Carlisle regarding the adoption
of sexual orientation non-discrimination policies, by using
If YOUR state or city manages investment
funds that hold Dow shares, they have a decision to make. Every
year since 2004, concerned shareholders have introduced a resolution
calling on the company to explain how Bhopal is likely to affect
Dow, its reputation, and its finances, and any plan that the company
may have to address the concerns of the Bhopal survivors. As with
every resolution, all shareholders have the opportunity to vote
– in fact, they’re expected to do so, in line with their
role as owners of the corporation. As with most votes, it’s
a pretty simple choice: a yes or no judgment call. Unfortunately
many shareholders choose not to consult their better judgment, preferring
instead to vote as management recommends – and you’ve
got three guesses as to what Dow recommends.
Public fund managers should come to an informed and independent
decision about how to vote their shares, and you can help. It’s
your tax dollars they’re investing, after all. Public fund
managers are often susceptible to public pressure, especially if
that pressure comes from constituents in their area. Remember: share
voting is quick, easy, costs nothing, and they should be doing it
anyway. A vote in favor of the Bhopal
Shareholder’s Resolution isn’t only the right choice
– it’s an easy one.
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How it Makes a Difference
City and state investment funds hold literally trillions of dollars
in publicly traded stock. Obviously, such large shareholders can
exert tremendous pressure over a company and the decisions it makes,
and bringing that pressure to bear in favor of Bhopal offers us
a tremendous opportunity. Although resolutions such as Bhopal rarely
approach the 50% threshold required for passage, sizeable votes
in favor can nevertheless be a terribly embarrassing rebuke for
the company and inspire media scrutiny they’d
prefer to avoid. Quite often, corporations will be prepared to negotiate
– and even concede some or all of a resolution’s demands
– in order to prevent a vote which may prove humiliating to
the corporate management.
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Shareholder Resolution receives significant support from Dow
shareholders, embarrassing the company and forcing it to address
the survivors’ demands.
..........1. Raise awareness and educate
the public about Bhopal through your efforts, building and strengthening
your local coalition
..........2. Get a written response
from the public fund promising a favorable vote on the Bhopal
..........3. Convince the public fund
to voice its concerns directly to the companies.
..........4. Persuade the public fund
to join Amnesty’s
coalition of responsible investors to publicly support and/or
co-file on future proposals.
..........1. Build a widespread
coalition in support of your efforts
..........2. Educate the public and
the public fund managers through media coverage,
educational events, etc.
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Before You Start
Before you start your campaign, there’s a few things that
you’ll want to know:
..........1. Are any city or state funds
invested in Dow? IF SO:
..........2. Who are the persons responsible
for investments? Who makes decisions on how to vote for a shareholder
proposal? Is it an elected body?
..........3. Have they voted on the
Bhopal resolution in the past and if so, which way did they vote?
Have they, or have they ever considered, filing or co-filing on
a shareholder proposal?
..........4. What are their proxy voting
guidelines, which direct their voting on shareholder proposals?
Since public investments are made up of tax dollars, information
regarding their investments is public. Anyone can request this information
by contacting them, preferably by a formal letter and a follow-up
call. If that route proves difficult, there are many other avenues
to obtain the information including city or state treasurers, elected
officials, public employees, and open
It may very well be that public funds in your area have been past
supporters of the Bhopal
Shareholder’s Resolution – much of the resolution’s
previous support has come from just such funds. If you find that
they have voted in favor of the Bhopal resolution in the past, you
can still ask them to take the next step and support the resolution
as an active co-filer.
Two: Formulate Your Campaign
Now that you’ve had the chance to assess the information you’ve
collected you should have a clear idea of the demands your campaign
will focus on. Draft a statement outlining these demands, which
will form the basis of your campaign.
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Now you’re ready to carry out a public campaign:
One: Educate Yourself
Make sure that your group is familiar with the issues surrounding
Bhopal, and that you’re able to speak about them with confidence.
This website and the Amnesty International report on Bhopal, Clouds
of Injustice, are excellent places to start. Links to more detailed
background information is available on our Resources
page. You should also familiarize yourself with shareholder
activism in general, and the Bhopal
Shareholder Resolution in particular.
Two: Build a Coalition
Build a coalition in support of your
campaign. Reach out to other organizations in your area –
make sure that you’re not only talking to the “usual
suspects” but that you’re also reaching out to a wide
range of potential supporters, including your local Amnesty
International chapter, community groups, Indian or Indian-American
organizations, ecological or religious groups, NGOs etc. The networking
possibilities are endless!
Three: Find a Champion
Identify an elected official or a member of the investment board
that you think will be sympathetic toward your issue. This is essential.
Without an official who will actually take ownership of the issue
and make it his or her cause, it’ll be far more difficult
for you to prevail. You can identify likely champions by asking
your coalition partners for advice and investigating the background
of these public officials.
Contact your champion. Once you arrange a meeting, try to organize
as diverse a group as possible to represent your cause. By involving
a wide range of coalition partners in the discussion, you demonstrate
that your issue has community support. At the meeting, make a strong
case for why the resolution is important. Most likely, the official
will never have heard about Bhopal before, so you should come prepared
with such background information as the Amnesty International report
on Bhopal, Clouds
of Injustice; the financial report Dow
Chemical: Risks for Investors; and a Bhopal film such as Litigating
Disaster which lays out the complicated legal issues in a brief
and powerful way. Naturally, you should also bring a copy of the
Shareholder Resolution, and any brief informational
sheets that might be useful. Although the official may agree
right away – if so, great news! – it’s more likely
that they’ll want some time to go over the information and
consider it. Leave your contact information, but offer to call back
in a week or two and see what they may have decided.
Four: Building Support
Chart the political landscape. When meeting with your champion,
ask them to predict which members of their fellow members are likely
to support or oppose voting for the Bhopal
Shareholder Resolution, and what may be the best approaches
to convincing them. They may invite you to make a presentation to
the investment board, as an opportunity to present your case. Prepare
by building public support for action:
..........• Make your campaign
visible in your community and across your state. Plan educational
events to spread the word and get more people involved.
..........• Draft a letter or
petition outlining your demands, based on the response you receive.
Address the letter to the person in charge of the investment board
and/or proxy voting decisions. The more signatures you get for your
letters and the more public attention you attract, the more powerful
your campaign will be! As with your initial inquiry, be sure to
attach any relevant information to your letter or petition when
you deliver it.
the media to cover your story and draw attention to your campaign.
Make the case that action is needed. Offer opinion
pieces and letters to the editor to local newspapers.
Five: Assess Your Progress
If you’re having trouble receiving a response, continue pushing.
Follow up with a call or visit if more than 2 weeks have gone by
and you haven’t heard from them. If they refuse to answer
all or some of your questions, ask them to reply in writing as to
why they will not provide the information. Remember that a refusal
is not a failure! It can be used effectively in your campaigning.
Letters to the editor or op-eds in your
local newspaper may also be an effective route if officials are
turning a deaf ear.
..........• Assess the response
you receive based on your demands. Consult with your coalition members
about next steps.
..........• If you’re not
satisfied with the response, plan a follow up letter, meeting and
public actions if necessary. Publish the response in your local
paper and other news outlets along with your new demands, if any.
..........• If the response is
favorable, be sure to follow up with thanks. Make a public statement
of appreciation in your local papers.
Remember that your campaign will constantly be evolving based on
the progress you’re making, and how receptive or stubborn
your targets may be. You may need to adapt your campaign demands
based on the responses you receive.
REPEAT UNTIL YOUR GOALS ARE MET! Like all campaigns, yours might
not be immediately successful, but perseverance will pay off!
Six: Share What You’ve Learned
Log in to the
Amnesty SHARE POWER forum to learn about similar campaigns across
the country and share what you’ve learned.
International SHARE POWER campaign
..........• The Social
Investment Forum (Advocacy and Policy Program)
guidebook for shareholder activists produced by Friends of the
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..........• Amnesty International
..........• The financial report
Chemical: Risks for Investors
and fact sheets about Bhopal
Media Advisory/Press Release
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