ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE INVESTING
2009-2010 AGENDA
February 23, 2010

 

INTRODUCTION

At the recommendation of the President, and with the approval of the University Trustees, the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing was established in March 2000 to address issues of corporate social responsibility confronting the University as an investor. The Committee was asked to “set out a specific agenda” for each academic year, and to provide it to the Columbia community during the spring semester. The Committee has developed the following agenda for the 2009-2010 academic year, which builds on the Committee’s first nine years of experience generally, and which specifically reflects discussion of the shareholder proposals reviewed last year, input from the Committee’s Annual Town Hall on November 17, 2009, ongoing initiatives from last year and new issues that have arisen this year, implementation of formal policies, consideration of external sources and materials, and careful discussion and deliberation.

 

AGENDA

During the 2009-2010 academic year, the Committee will continue to review selected shareholder proposals made to public corporations in which the University has invested its endowment. The Committee will recommend to the University Trustees how to vote on shareholder proposals from several broad social issue categories, namely: animal welfare; banking issues; charitable / political contributions; environment and energy; equal employment; executive pay; global labor standards / human rights; health and safety issues; and military and security. In addition, the Committee will act as an interface with the Columbia Community to help direct their interests to appropriate sources.  In keeping with its precedent of recent years, the Committee anticipates excluding shareholder proposals relating to the election of Board members, determination of individual management compensation, and the appointment of auditors from its review, but may decide to review and formulate recommendations in a select number of cases where it believes it can add some value to the discussion.  The Committee will apply the Proxy Voting Guidelines developed last year, which may be further refined after the 2010 proxy season. 

At the Annual Town Hall in the fall of 2009, the Committee heard proposals on the issues of non-investment in cluster munitions, community investing, positive investments, and community consensus.  The proposal for divestment from arms manufacturers was introduced a few years ago and has been a work-in-progress.  The Committee is reviewing the latest draft of the proposal, which focuses on cluster munitions, and developing a process for which the proposal can be carried forward to the Trustees.  The issue of community investing does not fall directly under the Committee’s purview, as such investments are made outside of the endowment.  The University makes an effort to invest in the local community through a number of vehicles, and the Committee will link the students to the Office of Government and Community Affairs to give them a better understanding of such efforts.  The Committee will continue to work closely with this Office as related questions and proposals arise.  On the issue of positive investing, which includes proactive investing in companies deemed to be socially responsible, the Committee will attempt to align the students behind the proposal with a committee or organization within the University who can better address their concerns.  The issue of defining community consensus has been ongoing since last year, and the robust Town Hall proposal will help the Committee further define what community consensus entails.

Additionally, the Committee will review suggestions from the Town Hall participants on how communication and engagement with the Columbia community can be enhanced.  The Committee established a Communications / Outreach Subcommittee in the fall of 2009 in response to feedback from last year’s presentation to the University Senate.

In the spring of 2008, the Committee wrote letters to management at Chevron and Dow Chemical addressing Chevron’s operation of a pipeline in Burma and Dow Chemical’s responsibility for legacy operations in Bhopal, India.  Due to a lack of response, the Committee has been considering alternative methods of engagement.  The Committee intends to work with the Responsible Endowments Coalition over the spring and summer to develop ways that Columbia can participate in collective engagement strategies with peer institutions.

In accordance with the Committee’s April 2006 Statement of Position and Recommendation on Divestment from Sudan, the Committee will monitor company activity in Sudan and, with guidance from the Sudan Divestment Subcommittee, make a recommendation to the Trustees to maintain the current divestment/disinvestment list, or to add companies to and/or remove companies from the current list.  The Committee formalized its Sudan Divestment Monitoring Process in the fall of 2009.

In accordance with the Committee’s January 2008 Statement of Position and Recommendation on Tobacco Screening, the Committee will screen for domestic and foreign companies engaged in the manufacture of tobacco and tobacco products, and alert the Investment Management Company, who will refrain from investing in those companies.

Over the course of the academic year, the Committee may advise the Trustees on other compelling issues involving socially responsible investing and adjust its agenda, if and when relevant matters arise. The Committee will explore other ways to communicate its concerns about issues of corporate social responsibility through methods other than proxy review, such as an improved SRI website and a sponsored case study competition in the Columbia Business School.

 

PROCESSES

With respect to proxy review for 2009-2010, the Committee approved the use of the Proxy Voting Guidelines developed last year, however it will continue to address shareholder proposals on a case-by-case basis when necessary.  The Proxy Voting Guidelines are based on the Committee’s past precedent and voting record on issues that surface each year.  Where there is lack of consensus or a new issue to discuss, shareholder proposals will be reviewed in more detail.  The Committee will continue to review shareholder proposals and company responses, as well as other supporting and opposing statements and independent reports and opinions for each proposal.

During the fall and early spring semester, the Committee invited speakers from the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, Columbia Center for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia Investment Management Company, and Columbia Business School to speak about their work and related issues covered by this agenda.

The Committee may continue to form subcommittees, where appropriate, to consider select issues.

The Committee will keep a record of all matters that are put to formal vote, including all recommendations that are submitted to the University Trustees. The Committee will work with the Trustees’ Subcommittee on Shareholder Responsibility to make possible the timely and accurate submission of proxy ballots.

The Committee understands that its efforts may not result in the intended effect, therefore the Committee will continue to re-examine and re-visit its policies and procedures as needed.

An interim annual report of the activities of the Committee will be released at the conclusion of the academic year, and a final report will be released the following fall along with other reports, as appropriate. The Committee will communicate this agenda to the President, the University Trustees, and the University Senate, and will post it on its website.