Student Action on Climate Change Shifts to Engagement

Yale's Dwight Hall Provides a Leading Example of Shareholder Engagement

Yale's Dwight Hall

Students on college campuses around the world continue to focus on climate change as an area of focus and concern.

Yale's Dwight Hall

One university, in particular, has moved their efforts one step forward, with Dwight Hall at Yale University in New Haven, CT recently filing a shareholder resolution with ExxonMobil (XOM - a company whose stock is down over 20% the last two years, as oil becomes cheaper).

 

Shareholder resolutions reached record levels in 2015 on social and environmental issues, per As You Sow.

A just-issued press release from Dwight Hall goes into further detail on this new shareholder resolution as follows:

"On behalf of Dwight Hall at Yale, the Dwight Hall Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Fund has filed a shareholder resolution with ExxonMobil, the largest publicly traded international oil & gas company in the world. The Dwight Hall SRI Fund is the oldest undergraduate-run SRI fund in the United States and is assumed to now be the first undergraduate-run investment fund to file a shareholder resolution.

The resolution is the first to be filed by Dwight Hall. The shareholder resolution, filed for inclusion in the 2016 proxy statement, calls for comprehensive reporting of Exxon’s currently undisclosed lobbying expenditures and of company policy governing lobbying. The resolution is co-filed with shareholders including Walden Asset Management, the oldest institutional investment manager in the SRI industry, AP7, the Seventh Swedish National Pension Fund, and the lead filer, United Steelworkers (USW), the largest industrial labor union in North America.

USW represents around 5,000 ExxonMobil workers.

ExxonMobil acknowledges that climate change represents “risks of serious harm to humanity and ecosystems,” and the company publicly supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Despite this, however, Exxon makes undisclosed payments to lobbying organizations that obstruct climate policy and reject climate science.

As well as being a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization known to promote climate denial, Exxon is a member of the American Petroleum Institute, Business Roundtable and National Association of Manufacturers, organizations known to obstruct climate policy efforts.

In recent months, Exxon has been the subject of major public scrutiny, sparked by investigative reporting from InsideClimate News, the LA Times, and the Columbia School of Journalism. The reporting explains how Exxon obstructed governmental policy efforts on climate change despite its early recognition of the severe consequences and anthropogenic nature of climate change As a result, many have called on the Department of Justice to launch an investigation, including prominent presidential candidates. Exxon is now under investigation by the State Attorneys of New York and California for possibly having lied to the public and to shareholders.

Gabe Rissman, a senior member of the Dwight Hall SRI Fund, said 'Although these investigations focus on past actions, Exxon’s lobbying continues to endanger its reputation as well as policy efforts to combat climate change.'

In August 2014, the Yale Corporation established a directive that 'Yale will generally support reasonable and well-constructed resolutions seeking … company support of sound and effective governmental policies on climate change.'

Jonathan Macey, the chair of Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, made the following statement: 'As an ethical investor, Yale supports well-constructed shareholder resolutions that call for company disclosures that address climate change issues. The ACIR is committed to voting proxies to demonstrate Yale’s support of company behaviors that are consistent with the reality of climate change and the need for a multi-faceted coordinated response from all sectors of the government and economy. The Dwight Hall resolution seeks to achieve transparency in Exxon’s lobbying activities. I believe that corporate lobbying activities should be directed at encouraging government activities that restrict fossil fuel emissions and deter climate change. As such I support, and I would encourage the ACIR to support Dwight Hall’s shareholder proposal if it is included in Exxon’s 2016 proxy statement, as I hope it will be.'

Yale’s policy on ethical investing, adopted in 1972, favors the exercise of shareholder voice as a pathway to reducing corporate social injury; it calls for divestment when shareholder engagement appears unlikely to be effective." 

A brief followup on the Dwight Hall effort shows that they did manage to address ExxonMobil during their recent annual meeting, and although the resolution did not receive a majority of votes, it did get significant support as well as the backing of Yale as an institution.

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About the Dwight Hall SRI Fund

Dwight Hall at Yale is a student-led Center for Public Service and Social Justice affiliated with Yale University. Founded by students in 1886, Dwight Hall is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit umbrella organization comprised of 90 member groups. The Dwight Hall Socially Responsible Investment Fund, run by Yale undergraduates, directs a portion of Dwight Hall’s endowment and manages engagement with companies on issues of social responsibility.