- Shareholders including members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) at Google parent company Alphabet Inc. filed what ICCR described as a record 13 proposed resolutions, ranging from concerns over human rights risks due to inadequate oversight of its platform's content to election interference, cyber breaches, sexual harassment allegations and gender pay inequities. The resolutions will be voted on Wednesday at the company's annual meeting. Notably, Alphabet's board of directors advised voters to reject most all of the proxy proposals, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents.
- Investors contend that without sufficient risk management and governance systems in place to address these issues proactively, Alphabet will always be on the defense when crises occur, creating a negative impact on the business and jeopardizing shareholder value for the long term, ICCR said in a statement. The proposals call for more oversight and stronger policies to deter the company's risks. Another group of proposals calls for governance changes that will increase the ability of shareholders, including employees, to inform the company about decision-making and governance issues.
- "There is a business imperative for tech giants to recruit and retain women, and they can't do that with lip service," said Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, one of the activist investment firms filing proposals. "Obfuscating that men make less than women is disturbing to smart investors, and that's why we're back at the annual meeting for the 4th year in a row asking for more."
Alphabet shareholders are part of a growing number of corporate governing bodies whose members are responding to social, political, security and climate issues via resolutions. Changes in policies and practices may be spurred by pressure from outside activism, such as the #MeToo movement, climate-change advocates or consumers angered over security breaches of personal data and, internally, from employees speaking out against pay inequality, transparency, corporate misconduct or retaliation. Google employees' global walkout in November over these issues likely inspired the company to make some changes to its policies.
Earlier this year, Arjuna Capital pressured Google, along with 10 other companies, to disclose its gender pay gaps to help end gender-based pay disparities and create greater transparency. Arjuna, which has made a name for itself regarding pay transparency activism, filed a proposal, as well.
Activist investors have been filing proposals like this for some time, however. A research report by Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC) found that corporate boards worldwide are stepping up to address dysfunctional behaviors within companies.
Most agree that the workplace can expect more corporate activism and that employees will likely continue pushing back on company practices they view as unfair, unethical or illegal. HR must be ready to meet governance demands for change, while making the cultural changes necessary to attract and retain talent and keep their organizations competitive.