26 Feb 2020 John Deere Employees Remain at Risk of Discrimination
Shareholders Reject Proposal Seeking Ideological Balance on Board of Directors, Imperiling Workplace Openness and Equality
Moline, IL/Washington, D.C. – John Deere shareholders today rejected a shareholder proposal calling on the company to consider viewpoint diversity when it seeks new board candidates. Shareholder activists with the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project (FEP), which submitted the proposal, warn that this move threatens shareholders’ return on investment and leaves conservative John Deere employees vulnerable to employment discrimination.
FEP’s proposal noted 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.
The proposal was presented by FEP Coordinator Scott Shepard at John Deere’s annual shareholder meeting in Moline, IL. A full copy of Shepard’s statement in support of the proposal, as prepared for delivery, is available here.
“John Deere is a company that explicitly looks for gender and ethnic diversity on its board,” said Shepard after the meeting. “Perhaps not surprisingly then, it has moved to prohibit discrimination in hiring and promotion on the basis of gender and ethnic diversity. It does not similarly seek out or report viewpoint diversity amongst its board members. Whether as a direct result or otherwise, it has also adamantly refused to add viewpoint protections to its non-discrimination policy.
“We hardly think that John Deere, unlike some of the country’s other biggest corporations, is a hive of McCarthyite discrimination against those with right-of-center worldviews,” continued Shepard. “But that is not relevant to whether it should add this protection against discrimination. It prohibits racial and sex-based discrimination – and we presume it has done this without having in the past indulged in concerted strategies of those sorts of discrimination.
“Everyone should be treated equally at work. No one should feel silenced in their expression of their personal opinions. The same rules should apply to all employees,” Shepard concluded.
Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), the nation’s largest proxy advisor, 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,” notes Shepard. “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. 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.
Today’s John Deere meeting marks the fourth time FEP has participated in a shareholder meeting in 2020.
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.