by NEI ESG Services Team.

Alphabet’s independent shareholders agree on need for more human rights action.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in our Active Ownership Report from Q2, 2022 

Objective: Influence Alphabet via shareholder resolution to conduct a human rights impact assessment.

In 2022 we put forward our second shareholder resolution regarding human rights oversight at Alphabet. We were a co-lead filer along with Robeco and The Sustainability Group at Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge Trust, LLC. Due to the dual class share structure that gives company insiders majority control over any vote, the resolution did not pass; however, we are happy to report the majority of independent shareholders voted ‘yes.’ This sends a strong message to the company that investors want change.

The resolution asked Alphabet to engage a third party to conduct a human rights impact assessment regarding how effectively the company is managing the issues of misinformation and disinformation. We want to see external validation that the company’s policies and procedures in these areas are indeed working. We were not asking the company to create a new policy, we were asking them to show us what the implementation of its existing human rights due diligence looks like.

We feel this is a logical next step given the partial success of our 2020 resolution (co-lead filer among four), where we asked the company to establish a human rights risk oversight committee at the board level. That resolution also did not pass despite strong support from shareholders, though we do believe it contributed to the company’s later decision to make human rights oversight a responsibility of the audit committee.

Despite Alphabet’s continuing reluctance to meet directly with shareholders, we do credit the company for notable improvements. For example, they filled a role in January for a new position called Senior Vice President of Technology and Society. We believe Alphabet does take its human rights challenges seriously, and we see evidence the company is putting more resources toward solving those challenges. What we are missing is transparency around their processes and thoughtful acknowledgement of where they are falling short and what they are doing about it.

Next steps: We continue to reach out to Alphabet with the goal of eventually talking to management directly about these crucial considerations.


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