ISS Releases Preliminary FAQs on U.S. Compensation Policies and the COVID-19 Pandemic

On October 15, 2020, ISS released a series of preliminary FAQs on its approach to analyzing pay decisions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. These FAQs provide general guidance on how ISS Research may approach COVID-related pay decisions in the context of ISS’ pay-for-performance qualitative evaluation. ISS makes clear that the responses to the FAQs should not be construed as a guarantee as to how ISS will consider any particular situation.

This post describes each topic covered by ISS’ preliminary FAQs and summarizes ISS’ related guidance. ISS typically releases its final FAQs in December of each year after it releases its updated benchmark voting policies, typically in November of each year.
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ISS Proposes 2021 Benchmark Voting Policy Changes

On October 14, 2020, ISS released its proposed voting policy changes for 2021. The changes for the United States focus mainly in these three areas: (1) racial and ethnic board diversity, (2) board oversight of environmental, climate and social risks and (3) exclusive forum provisions.

ISS requests feedback on the proposed changes. Market participants can submit comments via email to policy@issgovernance.com through 5:00 PM ET on Monday, October 26, 2020. ISS expects to release its final voting policies in the first half of November 2020.

Over the summer, ISS administered its annual benchmarking voting policy survey to market participants. It plans to use the survey results, which we discussed here, to inform its benchmarking policies.
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Glass Lewis Shares Recommendation Rates for 2020 Proposals

On October 8, 2020, Glass Lewis (GL) released reports providing its overview of the 2020 proxy season. These reports cover selected shareholder vote results and trends, market and regulatory developments, and whether GL was supportive of proposals on various topics submitted to shareholder votes during the 2020 proxy season. On a selected basis, the reports also provide GL’s rationale for its 2020 voting recommendations on company-specific proposals. Companies may find these new reports, particularly the information specific to GL’s practices and recommendations made, worth considering as they prepare for the upcoming 2021 proxy season.

Two reports cover shareholder meetings at U.S.
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World Economic Forum Releases ESG Reporting Metrics and Disclosure Standards

On September 22, 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF), through its International Business Council (IBC), recommended common standards to aid all companies around the globe, regardless of industry, in their sustainable value creation. The IBC invites all its members, which includes numerous large corporations, to declare their intention to report on these common standards, and encourages the wider corporate community to join them. The IBC standards have been highly anticipated by some market participants because they offer a company-led, universal and consistent approach to reporting environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related information in a standards landscape that is highly fractured.

The Report Describing the Project and Standards.
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SEC Asset Management Advisory Committee Provides Updates on Diversity and Inclusion Research and Recommendations

On September 16, 2020, the SEC’s Asset Management Advisory Committee, or AMAC, hosted a webcast to further discuss diversity and inclusion issues in the asset management industry initially addressed at its last meeting on July 16, 2020.  AMAC has held these meetings to provide incremental updates on its efforts to prepare and deliver to the SEC final recommendations on improving D&I in the asset management industry.  In his opening remarks, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton indicated a hope that these continued discussions would help the SEC and the asset management industry find solutions toward a “shared goal” of expanding the opportunities available to diverse asset managers.
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ISS Releases 2020 Benchmark Policy Survey Results

On September 25, 2020, ISS announced the results of its annual Global Benchmark Policy Survey.  ISS, as in prior years, based its results on the survey responses of investors, public company executives, and company advisors. ISS will use these results to inform its policies for shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2021. ISS plans to request comments on its draft policies scheduled for release in October 2020, and publish its final policies in mid-November 2020.

While ISS’s 2020 survey included questions targeting both global and designated geographic markets, the key questions affecting the U.S. markets related to (1) ISS’s COVID-19-adjusted policies, including annual meeting formats and compensation; (2) racial and ethnic diversity; (3) climate change risk oversight and disclosure; (4) sustainability reporting; (5) independent board chairs; and (6) auditors and audit committees.
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CFTC Identifies Climate-Related Financial Risks and Urges Action from Financial Regulators and Legislators

On September 9, 2020, the Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission published a report, Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System, describing the links between climate change and the U.S. financial system.  The Report was largely the product of efforts from its sponsor, CFTC Commissioner Rostin Benham, but was prepared with input from the Subcommittee, comprised of over 30 stakeholders, including banks; investment firms and advisors; oil and gas companies; and public interest and non-profit organizations.

The Report makes two key arguments. First, climate change poses major risks to the stability of the U.S.
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BlackRock’s 2020 Investment Stewardship Report: Hits Record Level for Firm in Engagements and Director Accountability

BlackRock released its Investment Stewardship 2020 Annual Report. The report provides an overview of the asset manager’s engagements, views and voting statistics related to the 12-month period ended June 30, 2020. The report, which is double the length of last year’s, describes how the asset manager prioritized engagements with its portfolio companies, reaching the firm’s highest levels. In addition, the report indicates that the firm held more directors accountable this proxy season than it has in any other.

Key Takeaways.

Adaptation/Resilience. BlackRock predicts more engagements and voting proposals will center on corporate risks, such as climate change, social and racial equity, and demographic and technological changes.
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Vanguard Spotlights Climate Change and Diversity as Priorities in its Latest Stewardship Report

Vanguard announced the publishing of its Investment Stewardship 2020 Annual Report.  The report shares the highlights of the asset manager’s engagements with its portfolio companies, observations and voting statistics relating to the 12-month period ended June 30, 2020. The firm’s key focus areas are primarily climate change and diversity.

Vanguard believes environmental, social and governmental (ESG) matters came into sharper focus during the 2020 proxy season because of certain events and circumstances, including the COVID-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty, escalating climate risks and historic social justice movements. Vanguard wants to know how boards plan to preserve long-term relevance.

Engagement Data.
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Long-Term Stock Exchange Launches

The Long-Term Stock Exchange (LTSE) announced its launch last week for trading stocks on its platform and listing companies on the exchange. As the name suggests, the exchange aims to list companies that desire to create value over time.

The LTSE’s listing requirements take a “principles-based approach” to long-termism (in contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach) requiring listed companies to pledge to operate consistently with five principles:

  • Stakeholders. Long-term focused companies should consider a broader group of stakeholders and the critical role they play in one another’s success.
  • Strategy. Long-term focused companies should measure success in years and decades and prioritize long-term decision-making.

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