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Environment, corporate political spending top proxy season list

Opioid crisis, gender pay and diversity also draw attention

The environment and corporate political spending remain key issue areas for shareholder proposals this proxy season, although a number of proposals have also been filed on the opioid crisis, the gender pay gap, and workplace and corporate board diversity, said a report Thursday from non-profit shareholder advocacy groups As You Sow, Sustainable Investments Institute and Proxy Impact.

Within environment, climate change remains a primary focus this proxy season. The total number of proposals focused on climate change rose to 83 this year, on par with 82 from this time last year, and represents about 20% of the 429 total shareholder proposals filed on environmental, social and sustainability issues as of Feb. 16. It remains to be seen how these proposals will fare among what appear to be increasing investor demand for climate risk disclosure, the report — Proxy Preview 2018 — said.

Last year marked a major development with climate change-related proposals receiving majority support for the first time. Proposals at Exxon Mobil Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp. and PPL Corp., were supported by a majority of shareholders, including money managers BlackRock (BLK), Vanguard Group and State Street Global Advisors, which all voted for at least two of the proposals.

Proposals about corporate political activity totaled about 80 as of Feb. 16, down from 90 in 2017, the report said. For the sixth straight year, lobbying disclosure proposals have surpassed proposals on election spending (47 vs. 27, respectively).

Meanwhile, members of the Investors for Opioid Accountability — a coalition of 44 institutional investors — filed 21 shareholder proposals asking opioid manufacturers and distributors about their responses to opioid-related business risk.

Additionally, there are three dozen proposals that focus on gender pay equity, about half of which are resubmissions and many of which target financial companies. There are also 34 proposals that focus on workplace diversity, half of which are also resubmissions and many of which target financial companies. An additional 28 proposals focus on board diversity.

This time last year, 430 proposals were filed on environmental, social and sustainability issues, which eventually rose to 494 by year's end; 237 went to votes, 173 were withdrawn and 77 were omitted by companies, the highest number since 2010.

So far this year, 27 proposals have been successfully omitted by companies, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has yet to decide on another 65 that companies have requested to omit. Sixty-proposals have so far been withdrawn this year.