Harvard Law School
Shareholders exert significant influence on the social and environmental behavior of U.S. corporations through their votes on social responsibility resolutions. However, the outcomes of many social responsibility resolutions are distorted, because the largest shareholders – institutional investors, such as mutual funds and pension funds – often do not follow the interests or the preferences of their own investors. This paper presents evidence that institutions with similar investors and identical fiduciary duties vote very differently on social responsibility resolutions, suggesting that some institutional votes distort the interests of their investors. Other evidence presented suggests that institutional votes on social responsibility resolutions vary significantly from the preferences of their own investors. Whether such distortion of preferences is a problem is an open question. If such distortion is considered to be a problem, it could be addressed by institutions changing their voting policies on social responsibility resolutions to better approximate the preferences of their investors. The stakes are high: eliminating distortion could significantly influence the behavior of corporations on social and environmental matters in a way that investors, and society, would prefer.
Social Responsibility Resolutions,
The Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance Discussion Paper
Available at: https://scholarship.law.bu.edu/faculty_scholarship/342