The week in GRC: Engine No 1 invests in GM and Carl Icahn takes a stake in Southwest Gas

Oct 08, 2021
This week’s governance, compliance and risk-management stories from around the web

CNBC reported that activist investor Engine No 1, which rose to prominence after waging a successful campaign to gain board seats at ExxonMobil, on Monday announced an investment in General Motors, signaling support for the automaker as it transitions to electric vehicles. GM, unlike ExxonMobil, is taking actionable steps in what the firm believes is an imperative for long-term success: linking ESG criteria to economic outcomes.

‘GM, with the support of a really strong management team and a great board, has decided that [it’s] going to embrace the future. [It’s] going to make the investments necessary in order to be successful during this transition,’ said Engine No 1 founder Chris James. In January, GM announced plans to exclusively offer electric vehicles by 2035, which is part of a broader plan to become carbon-neutral by 2040.

 

The Wall Street Journal reported that a federal jury found that Tesla subjected a black former worker to a racially hostile work environment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent him from being racially harassed. The jury awarded more than $130 mn in damages to Owen Diaz, who worked as an elevator operator at Tesla’s Fremont, California factory in 2015 and 2016. He was regularly called racial epithets at work, where he saw racist images and language written in the bathroom and elsewhere, said Bernard Alexander, one of his attorneys, during the trial.

An attorney for Tesla said in her closing argument that there was no evidence a Tesla employee harassed Diaz and that the company shouldn’t be held liable for the treatment Diaz alleged. Many workers at Tesla’s factory are contractors employed through staffing agencies. Tesla’s vice president of people, Valerie Capers Workman, said in an email to employees on Monday that when Diaz complained about harassment, the company ensured its staffing agencies took action.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the verdict or any plans to appeal.

 

Reuters reported that Glass Lewis recommended that NextGen Healthcare shareholders elect management’s slate of directors, joining ISS in supporting the board and management over the company’s founder, Sheldon Razin. Razin, who has served on the board since 1974, has nominated four directors and criticized the company’s financial returns. ‘Given the circumstances, we believe shareholders will likely be best served supporting the board’s current slate, one that already reflects a significant refreshment that includes the company’s recently hired CEO and three other brand-new nominees,’ the Glass Lewis report said.

 

– Mars CEO Grant Reid warned that ‘all too often’ corporate commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions fall short and threaten to undermine their credibility and necessary change on climate action, according to The Guardian. Reid’s comments, and those of Mars’ chief sustainability and procurement officer Barry Parkin, come after the climate activist Greta Thunberg condemned many of the climate actions promised by global leaders as so much ‘blah, blah, blah’.

‘We all heard Greta,’ Parkin said. ‘Greta is right. It’s not about the target, it’s about the progress and it’s the actions that matter.’ On Tuesday Mars set out new science-based climate targets to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across its business by 2050, including all those created by its suppliers and emissions from consumers using its brands. Its pledges also include linking executive pay to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

 

CNBC reported that activist investor Carl Icahn announced a sizable stake in Southwest Gas and is pushing the Las Vegas-based utility company to drop its rumored acquisition of natural gas company Questar Pipeline. ‘During the past few years, management of [Southwest Gas] has made a number of egregious errors at the expense of shareholders. [But] the purchase of Questar you are currently being rumored to make at the price you are willing to pay will make all past errors pale in comparison,’ Icahn wrote in a letter to Southwest’s board of directors. ‘The purchase will result in serious diminution of shareholder value.’

Southwest didn’t immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

 

The Guardian said that, according to analysis by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the fossil fuel industry benefits from subsidies of $11 mn every minute. The IMF found the production and burning of coal, oil and gas was subsidized by $5.9 tn in 2020, with not a single country pricing all its fuels sufficiently to reflect their full supply and environmental costs. Experts said the subsidies were ‘adding fuel to the fire’ of the climate crisis.

Setting fossil fuel prices that reflect their true cost would cut global carbon dioxide emissions by more than a third, the IMF analysts said. This would be a big step toward meeting the internationally agreed 1.5°C target. Keeping this target within reach is a key goal of the UN Cop26 climate summit in November.

More than 600 companies in the We Mean Business Coalition, including Unilever, Ikea, Aviva, Siemens and Volvo Cars, recently urged G20 leaders to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.

 

– Mars CEO Grant Reid warned that ‘all too often’ corporate commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions fall short and threaten to undermine their credibility and necessary change on climate action, according to The Guardian. Reid’s comments, and those of Mars’ chief sustainability and procurement officer Barry Parkin, come after the climate activist Greta Thunberg condemned many of the climate actions promised by global leaders as so much ‘blah, blah, blah’.

 

– Standard Chartered is set to face a vote next year on whether the bank is adapting enough to meet its net-zero commitments, reported Bloomberg. Non-profits Market Forces and Friends Provident Foundation have co-filed a resolution with the bank, calling for it to ‘match its net-zero rhetoric with action’. The filing requests that the bank manage exposure to fossil fuels in line with a scenario of net-zero global emissions by the middle of the century, set up short, medium and long-term targets for fossil fuel exposure and stop financing of new or growing fossil-fuel projects, said Bloomberg.

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