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Institutional investors call on manufacturers to oppose attacks on shareholders

Institutional investors led by Walden Asset Management and the California State Teachers' Retirement System have written to 45 corporate executives asking them to repudiate what they say are efforts by the National Association of Manufacturers to "discredit shareholder engagement, particularly on climate change," according to a news release by the sponsors of the letters.

Walden and CalSTRS have sent letters to executives whose companies are members of the executive committee and board of NAM. The news release, issued Wednesday, said the letters are endorsed by more than 80 institutional investors, including state and city pension funds, mutual funds, investment firms and foundations.

"The irony is that many of the companies on the NAM board are active business leaders on climate change," Timothy Smith, director of ESG shareowner engagement at Walden Asset management, said in the news release. "Yet their dues to NAM are funding an aggressive attack against the very investors they meet with regularly to address climate change."

The letters from Walden Asset Management and CalSTRS took issue with a May report, commissioned by NAM, called, "Political, Social and Environmental Shareholder Resolutions: Do They Create or Destroy Value?"

This report and other recent NAM actions demonstrate that "NAM appears to be part of a concerted effort to curtail the ability of shareholders to file proposals linked to material business issues impacting the sustainability of the company," said a letter sent in July to Kirsten Lund-Jurgensen, executive vice president of Pfizer Inc. The letter's content was the same or similar to those sent to other corporations, including Exxon Mobil and Johnson & Johnson.

"We are deeply concerned about the negative message that the NAM report conveys about investor engagement and shareholder resolutions in general, and climate change in particular," the letter said.

The letters to the corporations were signed by Mr. Smith; Aeisha Mastagni, a portfolio manager in corporate governance at the $228 billion CalSTRS, West Sacramento; and Elizabeth Gordon, executive director of corporate governance for the $209.2 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, Albany.