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SEC Committee Discusses ESG Disclosure Requirements and D&I

On March 19, 2021, the SEC’s Asset Management Advisory Committee (AMAC) held a meeting to discuss the December 2020 potential recommendations that its ESG Subcommittee provided to the SEC on ESG disclosure requirements. During the meeting, the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Subcommittee of AMAC also made potential recommendations to improve D&I in the asset management industry.
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SEC Signals Support for Single Global ESG Disclosure Framework

Today, the SEC released a statement by Division of Corporation Finance Acting Director John Coates on ESG disclosure. In this post, we provide our observations on what his statement may indicate about the direction of globally coordinated efforts on ESG disclosure.

Acting Director Coates is interested in developing global ESG disclosure standards, stating that the SEC “should help lead the creation of an effective ESG disclosure system.”
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Davis Polk Client Memo: SEC Establishes Enforcement Division Climate and ESG Task Force

Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced a newly created Climate and ESG Task Force in the Division of Enforcement. The announcement is a reminder for public companies, investment advisers and funds to prepare for increased enforcement scrutiny regarding ESG disclosures, plans, and investment products. The new task force also is the latest signal of an effort to portray an SEC enforcement program that is both more aggressive and increasingly focused on specific policy objectives.
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SEC Chair Nominee Gensler and SEC’s 2021 Examination Priorities Highlight ESG and Climate Risk

SEC Chair Hearing.  Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a nomination hearing to consider Gary Gensler’s candidacy for Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC. Throughout the hearing, Gensler fielded numerous questions on environmental, social and corporate governance and disclosure matters. This post synthesizes the most salient points from his testimony.
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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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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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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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Glass Lewis Makes Key Changes to Proxy Voting and ESG Proposal Guidelines – Full Summary

On November 24, 2020, Glass Lewis (GL) released its 2021 Proxy Voting Policy Guidelines for the United States and its 2021 “Environmental, Social and Governance (‘ESG’) Initiatives,” which outlines the firm’s approach to ESG shareholder proposals.  The policies are effective for shareholder meetings held after January 1, 2021.  Feedback on GL’s policies may be submitted using the link at the top of GL’s voting policy guidelines page.
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Glass Lewis Releases 2021 Proxy Voting Guidelines

Glass Lewis (GL) announced yesterday that its 2021 Proxy Voting Policy Guidelines for the United States are now available. In addition, the proxy advisor announced the release of its 2021 “Environmental, Social and Governance (‘ESG’) Initiatives,” which includes the firm’s approach to shareholder proposals.

We are preparing a more fulsome Briefing: Governance blogpost summary.  In the meantime, the following are a few key changes:

  • BOARD GENDER DIVERSITY.   

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ISS Releases 2021 Benchmark Policies Updates

On November 12, 2020, ISS announced the release of its 2021 benchmark policy updates that will apply to shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2021. The updated policies substantially adopt the policies as ISS proposed in October 2020 relating to (1) racial and ethnic diversity, (2) board oversight of environmental and social risks, including climate risks and (3) exclusive forum provisions, which we previously discussed here.
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World Economic Forum’s Climate Governance Initiative – Climate Governance on Corporate Boards

As market players begin to pay greater attention to the impacts of climate change on businesses, many international organizations are publishing an array of frameworks, principles and guidelines to help companies and boards who wish to incorporate climate risk into their decision-making.

Among the most prominent, the World Economic Forum has established a Climate Governance Initiative and published a related set of eight guiding principles (Climate Governance Principles) to help foster effective climate governance on corporate boards.
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Davis Polk Client Memo: Financial Services Regulatory Reform in the Biden Administration – Key Areas of Focus

This deck describes our view of the road ahead for financial regulatory reform under a Biden Presidency and a Republican Senate.  We see most of the action coming from the regulators, not Congress.  If the Senate ultimately turns Democratic, that view may change and we will update this deck.

Read the full memo here.
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TCFD Releases Third Status Report on the Adoption of Its Climate-Related Disclosure Recommendations

Yesterday, the FSB’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, commonly referred to as the TCFD, issued its third status report describing companies’ progress in aligning with the TCFD recommendations. While the TCFD has observed great momentum in the global adoption and support of its recommendations since its last status report in June 2019, it states progress is still needed.
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G&A Finds Sustainability Reporting Increases for Russell 1000 Companies

On October 26, 2020, the Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc., or G&A, released a report on the sustainability reporting trends by Russell 1000 companies. The G&A report presents the Russell 1000 companies’ rate of (1) non-reporting on a sector basis; (2) utilizing, referencing or aligning selected standards or sustainability goals; (3) responding to a selected climate-related questionnaire; and (4) utilizing external assurances.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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