US investment firm holds corporates to account on inequality figures

A US investment manager is hitting corporates with resolutions to make them publish their gender and ethnicity pay gap data. Will their investors care?

By late 2020, over half of Americans said they expressed “at least some” support for the Black Lives Matter movement, this was out of a population of over 330 million. But does caring about the civil rights of Black people and other minorities have any impact on the businesses Americans buy from or invest in?

Arjuna Capital, an impact-minded investment manager, hopes it will. Their campaign to use shareholders’ resolutions to empower African-Americans, women and other people of colour in the workforce includes a demand to achieve pay equity, diversify board representation, and prevent racist police brutality.

1. Ethnic and gender pay equity

Arjuna Capital’s pay equity mission is justified in the deplorable state of Black workers’ hourly median earnings, which a 2020 Citigroup report found had declined by 3.6% since 2000. Additionally, it found the median income for women working full-time in the United States was only 80% of male workers’ salaries.

In 2020, they submitted 13 shareholder resolutions for “median race and gender pay equity disclosure” and since 2016 have lobbied gender pay gap disclosures at 22 companies, and race pay gap disclosures at 17. The mega-organisations on the receiving end of their resolutions include Apple and Amazon.

This month, Arjuna Capital withdrew their “racial and gender pay equity reporting resolution” at Bank of New York Mellon when it agreed to provide “a detailed level of median pay transparency.” This follows another successful repeal of a resolution at software firm Adobe in December 2020 which agreed to Arjuna’s terms including “providing gender pay disclosures and racial pay gap data” by the end of 2021.

Other multinationals that have heeded Arjuna’s resolution demands are Mastercard and Starbucks, who disclosed their median race and gender pay equity details last year. Investment bank Citigroup was the first company to agree to their gender and race pay equity resolutions back in 2019.

Whether the publication of these companies’ wage gaps will affect shareholder sentiment or put off future investors remains to be seen. While BNY Mellon’s acceptance of Arjuna’s racial pay equity resolution was a progressive step, they still have several active racial pay equity resolutions lodged with other companies, including Amazon and tech company, Intel Corp.

With these companies yet to acknowledge the demands, only time will tell if they will ever disclose their data. Investor pressure or lack of it could well play a part in their decision.

2. Ethnic diversity at board level

Another resolution Arjuna Capital is pursuing is board representation. It is lobbying Facebook, Google, and Twitter to include “diverse leadership voices” to stem the rise of hate space and racism across their platforms. Arjuna Capital believes the domination of white male board members has hindered understanding of these issues and wants these companies to hire “experienced human civil rights voices” as additions.

3. Police brutality

Arjuna’s third major resolution is against the world’s largest property and casualty insurer, Chubb. The resolution asks the company to ensure its insurance provisions to clients, namely municipalities facing related civilian litigation, reduce the risk of racially motivated police brutality.

In a recent statement, a representative for Arjuna Capital said another insurer could be presented with the resolution later this year.

Commenting on their plans for this year, Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital said: “Across multiple issues, shareholders in 2021 will have the opportunity to show whether or not they believe Black Lives Matter. The push for median race and gender pay equity will be a major issue in the 2021 shareholder season. We need more companies to follow the lead of Bank of New York Mellon and Adobe by prioritising diversity in a meaningful way and stepping forward with an honest accounting of pay equity.”

Ethnicity and gender pay gaps – UK

In the UK, the government released its latest ethnicity pay gap report in October 2020. While Black workers are experiencing a decline in earning power in the US, the UK’s ethnicity pay gap has narrowed to its smallest level since 2012. However, white British workers still earn more than BAME workers, with London having the widest ethnicity pay gap in the UK. On the gender front, men continue to earn more than women across most ethnic groups. But more positively, the ethnicity pay gap for younger workers (16-29) is smaller than for the over 30s, which suggests that things are going in the right direction for the younger generation.

With the UK having a significantly smaller population than the US, perhaps it’s unfair to fully compare both countries in terms of gender and ethnicity pay gaps and any related progress made. However, what we can say is that the UK, like the US, still has a lot of work to do to remedy these inequality issues.

If Arjuna Capital were to look at boardroom diversity in the UK, they would be similarly concerned as they are in the US where encouraging FTSE 100 firms to diversify their boards remains a slow process. But is there enough frustration among the public and would-be investors to protest non-diverse corporates in the UK? While Extinction Rebellion protested city firms’ environmental investment policies in 2019, will UK organisations, especially after a prominent year for the Black Lives Matter movement, globally hold corporates to account on their ethnicity gaps in 2021? Only time will tell.
Rate This: