2014 Shareholder Season Sets Record!

2014ProxyPreviewThe current proxy season has set a record with the filing of 417 social and environmental shareholder resolutions urging US companies to improve their policies and practices across a wide range of issues. The majority of resolutions this year focus on climate change issues and on corporate political spending. Other key issues being addressed at shareholder meetings nationally in the months ahead include human rights, toxic chemicals, GMOs, responsible banking, deforestation, and recycling. Green America’s Shareholder Resolution Focus List provides a snapshot of a number of the resolutions investors should support this proxy season. And whether you own direct company stock or not – as consumers there are many Green America actions you can take all year long to improve corporate conduct across all of these issues and more.

The Proxy Preview, published today by As You Sow, provides a detailed review of the resolutions filed this season with updates on their status and information on the broader context in which the resolutions were filed. The Proxy Preview is available free of charge and is an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to understand the present shareholder resolution landscape.

Investor action on climate change fits in perfectly with Green America’s long-standing focus on addressing the climate crisis. Investors are filing increasing numbers of resolutions that call for: company goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; reports on climate risks; reports on natural gas fracking impacts; and even a resolution at PepsiCo on the elimination from its trucking fleet of fuel from the Canadian tar sands via the Keystone XL pipeline if the pipeline is constructed.

Investors are also taking an interesting approach on GMOs – another major Green America issue campaign. Resolutions at Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Mills, and Kraft Food Groups have been filed to ban the companies from making political contributions – these companies were selected because of their significant financial support for efforts to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives at the state level.

As Andy Behar, CEO of As You Sow, stated: Shareholders today are looking  not at these issues in isolation. Instead, they articulate a systemic critique, pointing out the connections between excessive political spending, inadequate energy policy, the dangers of our changing climate and its damaging impact on water and agriculture, toxic hazards, and how these are related to human rights.”

So vote your proxies when they come in! If you need help deciphering the ballot, Green America can help. We need more shareowners asserting their power to help make crucial changes in corporate America.

The 21-Day Financial Fast Begins!

Could you go 21 days without buying ANYTHING? (Other than food and other true necessities, of course.) Could you that long go without using your credit cards at all?

That’s the question that Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary posed in her book The Power to Prosper: 21 Days to Financial Freedom.

As we noted in our interview with Singletary in the January/February 2012 issue of the Green American, there are multiple benefits to taking what she calls “the 21-day Financial Fast”:

  • You’ll shift spending patterns that have become automatic—like buying an expensive latte every morning—for the better
  • You’ll save more, because you’ll be spending far less!
  • You’ll focus more on the things that are important to you, like family time, artistic pursuits, etc.
  • You’ll be able to take a closer look at whether you’re really putting your money where your values are.
  • You’ll have the chance to examine whether you’re being generous with your money, and using it to do good in the world—whether by helping out a friend in need or donating to a charity you care about.

When Green America senior writer Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist and I first talked about doing the fast with our readers, we both felt like we’d be starting the fast in a good place, since we feel we’re pretty good with our money. (I hope that doesn’t sound smug, but we do research and write about using our money mindfully on a daily basis, so it’d be sick and wrong if we didn’t walk our talk!) We have retirement accounts and college savings accounts for our children, invested in socially responsible vehicles. We have emergency funds and socially responsible credit cards. We both try to be mindful about our spending, buying used and bartering for what we need whenever possible.

But when I gave my spending habits some more thought, I realized that I do have some weaknesses: I could be putting more money into savings. I also hate cooking with the white-hot fiery passion of a thousand suns, so I have a tendency to opt for restaurant meals more often than I should. And I love books; having an iPad—and several writer friends who depend on royalties from new book sales to make a living—has made it all too easy to download an interesting novel or nonfiction tome from the Internet.

Here’s another confession: I don’t have a current budget. (I’m sure all you Green American members are mentally pelting me with copies of our Guide to Socially Responsible Investing right now….) I have a set amount I put into my various savings accounts, but I tend to guesstimate how much I can spend, rather than setting hard limits, which would likely help me in my goal to save more.

So here I go … I’m going to go 21 days without buying things–even electronic things. If if I can bump up my savings accounts a bit—and get my husband and myself cooking healthy meals at home more often, I’ll consider it all worth it. And yes, perhaps I’ll actually do that pesky budget.

If you’d like to join me, there are two rules:

1) Do not buy anything you don’t absolutely need, like toothpaste or healthy food.

2) Pay for everything in cash, since it’s much easier to picture your hard-earned money going away with every purchase, instead of using the “magic money” of credit cards.

C’mon–it’ll be fun! Okay, maybe not fun, but I do think it’ll be rewarding in the end!

If you went 21 days without buying anything, what would be your biggest challenges? What spending habits do you think a 21-day financial fast would help you improve? And if anyone has any kid-friendly, quick-and-easy meal ideas they’d love to share, I’m all ears!

Tomorrow, I’ll post some questions for reflection for this week from Singletary’s book. Remember: You don’t have to have the book to participate in the fast.

P.S. Singletary’s book is written from a Christian perspective, which makes it a great choice for a church book club. Out of respect for all of our members, who come from a wide variety of spiritual traditions or may choose not to have one, we’ll be keeping the faith element optional and to a minimum in our challenge here on the Green America blog.

Mega-Bank Hall of Shame: First Inductee Citigroup

We have many Halls of Fame in the US: every sport has one and there’s one for rock and roll. However, sometimes we need to “honor” those who are the worst of the worst, to call attention to their abuses and hopefully get them to change course while getting people to consider alternative.  In those cases, we need a Hall of Shame.  Based on its proven capacity to do harm to the United States and the world, we think no industry deserves a Hall of Shame more than banking.

As part of Green America’s Break Up With Your Mega-Bank Campaign, we’re now launching the Mega-Bank Hall of Shame.  We’ll be periodically adding financial institutions to the list and taking nominees from readers.  We’re launching the Hall of Shame with Citigroup, one of the largest banks in the world.

What qualifies Citigroup for the Hall of Shame?  Here’s a partial list of their actions that we think merits their inclusion.

Predatory Lending Practices.  For the past decade, there have been multiple allegations of predatory lending practices by Citigroup.  Predatory lending is financing that saddles borrowers with exorbitant interest rates and fees and unfair terms.  The result is the stripping of wealth from low-income communities.  In 2001, Green America and the Social Investment Forum called attention to Citigroup’s predatory lending practices a decade ago and an outcry from thousands of consumers got Citigroup to clean up some of its worse practices.  In addition, the Federal Trade Commission sued Citigroup for predatory lending practices and settled with the banking giant in 2002 for $215 million. However, as late as 2009, data analyzed by Fair Finance Watch found that Citi, and three other major lenders (JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America) were still saddling minority borrowers with higher cost loans, while also turning them down for loans more frequently.

High Fees.  Citigroup and other major banks keep coming up with new fees for many of its account holders.  Most recently, in December 2011, Citigroup raised its fees on a basic checking account.

Illegitimate Foreclosures.  Citigroup is one of the banks that is being sued by Massachusetts and other states for engaging in improper foreclosures against homeowners.  A key claim of the lawsuit is that Citigroup and other banks used “robo-signers” in foreclosing on homeowners and failed to perform due diligence.  In addition, Citigroup and other banks are alleged to be improperly foreclosing on US Service Members.

Abusing Investors.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued Citigroup for lying to investors about the soundness of its investment products.  Citigroup was allegedly telling investors that the investments were sound, while betting against the same investments.  According to the filed complaint, Citigroup made $160 million, while investors lost $700 million.  The SEC recently tried to settle this case, but the presiding judge refused to sign off on the settlement, essentially saying that the SEC was letting Citigroup off too easily.  The Federal Housing Financing Agency is also suing Citigroup and 16 other lenders for misleading Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac about the safety and soundness of mortgages the entities purchased from Citigroup.

Gender Discrimination.  A group of woman plaintiffs is suing Citigroup for allegedly laying off female employees disproportionately, retaining men with lower performance evaluations, and/or treating women to a hostile environment.

Fostering Climate Change.  As I wrote in a previous post, Citigroup is one of our major banks that claims to screen its lending for climate change issues, but continues to be a major supporter of sources of  climate change.

The bottom line:  if you are a person of color, a woman, a moderate-income account holder, an investor, or someone who cares about people and the planet, then Citigroup is not the bank for you.  If you bank with Citigroup, check out Green America’s Guide to Community Investing to find financial institutions that build communities and treat their customers well.  If you need help in breaking up with Citigroup, you can download our free kit.

If you break up with Citigroup, please share your experience on our blog.  And, if you have more to say about Citigroup than what you see above, please share it.