November 12, 2014 — A group of U.S. investors has written to some of the nation's largest publicly traded corporations urging them to extend their LGBT nondiscrimination policies and equal benefits policies abroad. The investors expressed concern about the highly varied and often harsh legal and cultural environments faced by LGBT communities in many parts of the globe, and the related risks posed to companies that operate in these environments. The letter also seeks clarity on corporate preparedness to deal with threats or persecution faced by such employees. The investor group collectively owns or manages $210 billion in assets.
"Today, most leading U.S. corporations now have equitable policies on their books for their American LGBT employees. But there's a dearth of information on how many extend them outside of the U.S. In starting this dialogue, we hope to identify best practices and start to encourage all companies to adopt them," said Shelley Alpern, Director of Social Research & Shareholder Advocacy at Clean Yield Asset Management.
The investor group wrote to around 70 companies in the S&P 100 that have strong policies to protect LGBT employees in the U.S., according to the 2014 Corporate Equality Index, a national benchmarking tool developed by the Human Rights Campaign. In many jurisdictions in the U.S., legal protections for LGBT citizens are insufficient. In order to protect their employees and reduce business risks, many companies go beyond what is required by national and state law and adopt policies that ensure equal treatment for all employees.
"While we are pleased that so many companies have adopted nondiscrimination policies in the U.S. which incorporate equal protections for LGBT employees, the next phase of implementation is upon us — we must ensure that international employees, particularly those stationed in regions hostile to LGBT individuals, are receiving equal benefits and are adequately protected," said Mari Schwartzer, Coordinator of Shareholder Advocacy at NorthStar Asset Management.
"In today's global marketplace, nondiscrimination policies should not stop at U.S. borders," agreed Wendy Holding, Partner at the Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge. "Corporations must take the extra step to ensure consistent application of LGBT-inclusive workplace policies throughout their operations regardless of location."
The outrage expressed over Russia's draconian anti-LGBT policies, along with the passage of oppressive laws in Uganda and Nigeria criminalizing homosexuality, drew unprecedented attention to the harsh and often dangerous circumstances faced by millions of LGBT people around the world.
In 79 countries, same-sex relationships are considered illegal or the law is unclear, and in a few, homosexuality or gender role non-conformance can be punishable by death. Only 66 countries provide some protection for LGBT persons in the workplace, and fewer recognize same-sex marriage. "Talented LGBT employees need assurance that their companies have put in place procedures to ensure their safety in places where homosexuality is illegal, and where it may even be punishable by death," said Schwartzer.
LGBT rights have been a concern of shareholders since the early 1990s, spurred by the lack of U.S. federal protections prohibiting most private employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Following investor dialogue and shareholder proposals, over 175 companies have changed policies to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to Alpern.
Carly Greenberg, ESG Analyst at Walden Asset Management, said, "In an increasingly global market where countries have differing levels of protection for members of the LGBT community, we believe a strong equal employment record contributes to long-term shareholder value. An inclusive corporate culture bolsters a company's reputation as a fair employer, attracts a broader pool of well-qualified candidates, boosts employee morale and productivity, and reduces the risks associated with discrimination or harassment. Essentially, we are talking about good business sense here."
The following companies received letters in early November from the investors: Aetna, AIG, Allstate, Altria, Amazon, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Baxter, Best Buy, Boeing, Cardinal Health, Caterpillar, Chevron, Cisco, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Costco, CVS Health, Delta, Dow Chemical, DuPont, EMC, FedEx, Ford Motor, General Electric, General Dynamics, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Hewlett Packard, Home Depot, Honeywell, Humana, IBM, Ingram Micro, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, McDonalds, McKesson, Merck, MetLife, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, Pepsi, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Prudential, Sears, Sprint, Starbucks, Target, Texas Instruments, United Contintental, United HealthGroup, United Technologies, United Parcel Service, Verizon, Visa, Walgreen, Walt Disney, Walmart, Wellpoint and Wells Fargo.
Signatories of the letter include the Arcus Foundation, Arjuna Capital; Calvert Investments; Clean Yield Asset Management; First Affirmative Financial Network; Goodfunds Wealth Management; Harrington Investments; Horizons Sustainable Financial Services; Jantz Management; Krull & Company; Miller/Howard Investments; NorthStar Asset Management; the Office of the Comptroller of New York State; Pax World Management; Pride Foundation of Seattle, Washington; the Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge; Trillium Asset Management; Unitarian Universalist Association; Walden Asset Management; and Zevin Asset Management.