Davis Polk Client Alert: SEC to Review Climate-Related Disclosure

Yesterday, the SEC released a statement on climate change disclosures. The statement directs the SEC staff to review company disclosures against its 2010 climate change disclosure guidance. In light of these events, this client alert provides our prior comprehensive summary of the SEC’s 2010 guidance and identifies what issuers should do in the short and long term to be prepared for future regulatory action.
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ISS Issues 2021 Governance QualityScore Methodology Updates

On February 8, 2021, ISS announced the updated methodology guide the firm uses to determine a company’s Governance QualityScore (GQS), its proprietary rating system designed to help institutional investors assess companies for governance quality and risk. Seventeen new factors have been added, which ISS states is the largest GQS methodology release in recent years.

What GQS Measures

GQS is a decile-based score meant to indicate the corporate governance risk relative to other companies in a respective index or region.
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BlackRock’s 2021 CEO Letter – What It Means for Public Companies, Issuers of Public Debt, Large Private Companies, and Their Boards

Yesterday, BlackRock released its annual Letter to CEOs, which is also commonly referred to as the “Fink Letter.” With the firm managing approximately $9 trillion in assets, this open letter is widely read by public companies, market participants and other stakeholders to better understand the mega investor’s outlook. This post boils down BlackRock’s 2021 letter to what we think is its essence.
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SEC Extends Review Period for Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Proposal

On the heels of our post of our summary deck yesterday on Nasdaq’s December 2020 Board Diversity Proposal, the SEC announced last night that it needs more time to consider Nasdaq’s proposal and associated comment letters.  With the extension, the SEC has until March 11, 2021 to either approve or disapprove the proposal, or institute proceedings to aid its determination.  
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Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Proposal

The SEC continues to consider and take public comment on Nasdaq’s December 2020 Board Diversity Proposal. That proposal, if approved as written, would require Nasdaq-listed issuers to disclose their board diversity composition annually and eventually have two “diverse” directors on their boards, or explain why not. Limited exceptions would also apply.

There’s been much speculation as to whether the SEC will approve these proposed amendments to Nasdaq’s listing requirements, decline to do so, or propose, at some point in time, its own board diversity disclosure requirements.
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State Street’s 2021 Proxy Voting Agenda

State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) released its eagerly awaited 2021 proxy voting agenda earlier this week and, unsurprisingly, climate change risk and the lack of racial and ethnic diversity are among the investor’s top priorities. In the annual letter from the President and CEO Cyrus Taraporevala (CEO’s Letter), companies are urged to increase their transparency around racial and ethnic diversity.
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ISS Releases Its Compensation-Related Policy FAQs for 2021

On December 21, 2020, ISS released its updated compensation-related FAQs for 2021.  For U.S. companies, this set of guidance consists of ISS’ Compensation Policies FAQ, Equity Compensation Plans FAQ, Pay-for-Performance Mechanics and Peer Group FAQ. As we previously discussed, ISS released its 2021 U.S. Proxy Voting Benchmark Policy Recommendations in November. The updated policies and FAQs are effective for shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2021.
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DOL Finalizes Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights Rule

The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a final rule on December 11, 2020 to clarify how and when the ERISA fiduciary duties apply to the exercise of shareholder rights, including proxy voting, proxy voting guidelines and the use of proxy advisory firms. The final rule requires fiduciaries to put the economic interest of plan participants and beneficiaries first and to ensure that voting decisions advance these interests.
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SEC Proposes Amendments to Modernize Rule 701 and Form S-8 and Temporary Rules to Allow for “Platform Worker” Participation

On November 24, 2020, the SEC released proposed amendments and proposed temporary rules relating to the federal securities laws that govern the issuance of equity securities to service providers pursuant to compensatory arrangements. Each proposal will be subject to a 60-day public comment period following publication in the Federal Register.

  • First, the SEC proposed amendments to modernize the framework for securities offerings and sales to workers under Rule 701 of the Securities Act of 1933 and registration statements on Form S-8.

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The Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets – An Introduction

In September 2020, the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the global financial services industry association, convened the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets. The Taskforce is working to scale a voluntary carbon market which would allow companies to meet their carbon reduction or net-zero commitments. In November 2020, the Taskforce released for public comment its Consultation Document, which includes a draft blueprint for a voluntary carbon market and a companion roadmap to implementation.
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