25 Feb 2020 John Deere Shareholders Urged to Vote for Shareholder Proposal Seeking Ideological Balance on Board of Directors
Free Enterprise Project Blasts Proxy Advisor Institutional Shareholder Services for Opposing Viewpoint Diversity
Moline, Ill./Washington, D.C. – John Deere shareholders are urged to support a shareholder resolution submitted by the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project (FEP) calling on the farm machinery giant to expand its board’s nominating and governance policies to consider viewpoint diversity when it seeks new board candidates.
John Deere’s annual meeting of shareholders is scheduled to take place tomorrow, February 26, 2020, at 10AM local time in Moline, Illinois. FEP Coordinator Scott Shepard will present the resolution for consideration at the meeting.
FEP’s proposal notes that:
boards that incorporate diverse perspectives can think more critically and oversee corporate managers more effectively. By providing a meaningful disclosure about potential Board members, shareholders will be better able to judge how well-suited individual board nominees are for the Company and whether their listed skills, experience and attributes are appropriate in light of the Company’s overall business strategy…
True diversity comes from diversity of thought. There is ample evidence that the many companies operate in ideological hegemony that eschews conservative people, thoughts, and values. This ideological echo chamber can result in groupthink that is the antithesis of diversity. This can be a major risk factor for shareholders.
FEP’s entire proposal, entitled “True Diversity Board Policy,” as well as the opposition statement from John Deere’s board, are available on pages 83-85 of the company’s proxy statement.
“In today’s proxy statement,” said Shepard, “John Deere reports that in selecting candidates for its board of directors, it
assesses the diversity of its members and nominees as part of an annual performance evaluation by considering, among other factors, diversity in expertise, experience, background, ethnicity, and gender. We believe a Board composed of members with complementary skills, qualifications, experiences, and attributes is best equipped to meet its responsibilities effectively.
“The gender composition of the board candidate pool is expressly and graphically noted on the next page of the proxy statement,” continued Shepard. “Perhaps as a result of this careful attention to gender and ethnicity in board composition, the Company has also expressly prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender or ethnicity, a fact rightly and proudly noted on the Company’s website.
“John Deere still has not, however, expanded its non-discrimination policy to prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of political or ideological viewpoint or participation. Our organization sought that reform more than half a decade ago. The Company first refused the request. Then, at this meeting in 2015, CEO Samuel Allen promised to reconsider. As of today, though, nothing has yet been done.
“No one should be discriminated against at work, or in seeking employment or promotion. Not on the basis of sex or race or ethnicity – and not on the basis of political affiliation or personal ideals, either. Our country learned that lesson the hard way during the McCarthy era, but it increasingly forgets it in workplaces and campuses across the country,” concluded Shepard.
Intuitional Shareholder Services (or “ISS”), the nation’s largest proxy advisor, has recommended that shareholders vote against FEP’s proposal.
“For years, ISS has urged its clients to approve any number of liberal shareholder proposals, including liberal board diversity resolutions that essentially call for affirmative action or a quota system. However, they are rejecting our call for viewpoint diversity. This is a clear demonstration that ISS is not a politically neutral force for social good, but a naked proponent of left-wing (and only left-wing) positions,” said Shepard. “Fund managers and large investors should start looking elsewhere for advice on proxy ballots. ISS isn’t looking out for their best interests, but simply pushing a political agenda. And investors should call their fund managers and demand they use a service other than ISS.”
In the last two years, seven major corporations have adopted FEP’s board diversity resolution as policy.
Launched in 2007, the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project focuses on shareholder activism and the confluence of big government and big business. Over the past four years alone, FEP representatives have participated in over 100 shareholder meetings – advancing free-market ideals about health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, food policies, media bias, gun rights, workers’ rights and other important public policy issues. As the leading voice for conservative-minded investors, it annually files more than 90 percent of all right-of-center shareholder resolutions. Dozens of liberal organizations, however, annually file more than 95 percent of all policy-oriented shareholder resolutions and continue to exert undue influence over corporate America.
FEP activity has been covered by media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Variety, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Drudge Report, Business Insider, National Public Radio and SiriusXM. FEP’s work was prominently featured in Wall Street Journal writer Kimberley Strassel’s 2016 book The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech (Hachette Book Group).
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 60,000 active recent contributors. Sign up for email updates here. Follow us on Twitter at @FreeEntProject and @NationalCenter for general announcements. To be alerted to upcoming media appearances by National Center staff, follow our media appearances Twitter account at @NCPPRMedia.