In recent years, publicly traded retailers have experienced a significant uptick in interest from investors focused on Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) issues. On April 23, 2018, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) released Field Assistance Bulletin 2018-01 (the “FAB”). The FAB applies to certain retirement plan fiduciaries who make investment and proxy voting decisions that derive from ESG concerns, and may impact investor behavior at public retailers.

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Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) allowed Apple Inc. to exclude a shareholder proposal from its proxy statement that requested that Apple “produce a report assessing the climate benefits and feasibility of adopting store-wide requirements for having all retail locations implement a policy on keeping entrance doors closed when climate control (especially air-conditioning during warm months) is in use.”  Continue Reading Environmental Activist Submits Shareholder Proposal on Climate Control

On November 1, 2017, the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I, which provides additional guidance for public companies (including retailers) seeking to exclude certain shareholder proposals from their proxy materials. Under this bulletin, the SEC staff now expects boards of directors to analyze shareholder proposals before companies make no-action requests to exclude such proposals from proxy materials under Rule 14a-8(i)(7) (the ordinary business exception) or Rule 14a-8(i)(5) (the economic relevance exception). Those no-action requests should include a discussion reflecting the board’s analysis and the specific processes it employed to reach a well-informed and well-reasoned conclusion. Additionally, new documentation is required of proponents for submissions of shareholder proposals by proxy, and the staff has provided further guidance on the use of images and graphs by proponents in shareholder proposals. Publicly held retailers regularly receive shareholder proposals involving each of these four issues, and the new bulletin suggests that companies may be more successful in excluding related proposals going forward if they comply with new requirements laid out in the bulletin.

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In 2015, there was a record number of activist shareholder campaigns in the United States. Although activist hedge funds targeted companies across numerous industries, several retail companies found themselves in activists’ crosshairs. These included companies such as fast-food restaurant chains, convenience store operators, auto parts retailers and department store retailers.

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