Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Shareholder Activism: Woke Capitalism from the Inside

By Robert Stilson, The American Conservative

Conservatives are rightly vexed by “woke capitalism,” exasperated at the ways in which big American corporations are increasingly weighing in on sociopolitical issues—invariably, it seems, in favor of the progressive left. Certainly, many businesses are under pressure to do so.

Sometimes that pressure is open and public. Indeed, it can make national news. But other times it is less so. Many Americans are likely unaware of the coordinated campaigns by shareholder activists—equity owners in a corporation interested in something other than financial gain—to insert their political priorities into those same corporate boardrooms through environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) shareholder proposals.

In his recent and timely bookThe Dictatorship of Woke Capital: How Political Correctness Captured Big Business, Stephen R. Soukup calls shareholder proposals “the primary tool of the corporate activist”—and for good reason. Any shareholder, provided they meet certain requirements, may submit proposals to corporate management to be voted on by other shareholders at the company’s annual meeting. These are typically written in the form of a request or recommendation. Large institutional investors (index funds, public pensions, etc.) hold outsized voting power, and many rely on third-party advisory services for recommendations on how they should vote.

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