Investors Challenge Corporations to Strengthen Policies for Foreign-Based LGBT Workers

In many jurisdictions in the U.S., legal protections for LGBT citizens are insufficient. In order to protect their employees and reduce business risks, many companies go beyond what is required by national and state law and adopt policies that ensure equal treatment for all employees.
“While we are pleased that so many companies have adopted nondiscrimination policies in the U.S. which incorporate equal protections for LGBT employees, the next phase of implementation is upon us – we must ensure that international employees, particularly those stationed in regions hostile to LGBT individuals, are receiving equal benefits and are adequately protected,” said Mari Schwartzer, Coordinator of Shareholder Advocacy at NorthStar Asset Management.
“In today’s global marketplace, nondiscrimination policies should not stop at U.S. borders,” agreed Wendy Holding, Partner at the Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge.  “Corporations must take the extra step to ensure consistent application of LGBT-inclusive workplace policies throughout their operations regardless of location.”
The outrage expressed over Russia’s draconian anti-LGBT policies, along with the passage of oppressive laws in Uganda and Nigeria criminalizing homosexuality, drew unprecedented attention to the harsh and often dangerous circumstances faced by millions of LGBT people around the world.
In 79 countries, same-sex relationships are considered illegal or the law is unclear, and in a few, homosexuality or gender role non-conformance can be punishable by death. Only 66 countries provide some protection for LGBT persons in the workplace, and fewer recognize same-sex marriage.“Talented LGBT employees need assurance that their companies have put in place procedures to ensure their safety in places where homosexuality is illegal, and where it may even be punishable by death,” said Schwartzer.
LGBT rights have been a concern of shareholders since the early 1990s, spurred by the lack of U.S. federal protections prohibiting most private employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.* Following investor dialogue and shareholder proposals, over 175 companies have changed policies to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to Alpern.
Carly Greenberg, ESG Analyst at Walden Asset Management, said, “In an increasingly global market where countries have differing levels of protection for members of the LGBT community, we believe a strong equal employment record contributes to long-term shareholder value.   An inclusive corporate culture bolsters a company’s reputation as a fair employer, attracts a broader pool of well-qualified candidates, boosts employee morale and productivity, and reduces the risks associated with discrimination or harassment. Essentially, we are talking about good business sense here.”
The following companies received letters in early November from the investors: Aetna, AIG, Allstate, Altria, Amazon, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Baxter, Best Buy, Boeing, Cardinal Health, Caterpillar, Chevron, Cisco, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Costco, CVS Health, Delta, Dow Chemical, DuPont, EMC, FedEx, Ford Motor, General Electric, General Dynamics, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Hewlett Packard, Home Depot, Honeywell, Humana, IBM, Ingram Micro, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, McDonalds, McKesson, Merck, MetLife, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, Pepsi, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Prudential, Sears, Sprint, Starbucks, Target, Texas Instruments, United Contintental, United HealthGroup, United Technologies, United Parcel Service, Verizon, Visa, Walgreen, Walt Disney, Walmart, Wellpoint and Wells Fargo.**
Signatories of the letter include the Arcus Foundation, Arjuna Capital; Calvert Investments; Clean Yield Asset Management; First Affirmative Financial Network; Goodfunds Wealth Management;Harrington Investments; Horizons Sustainable Financial Services; Jantz Management;Krull & Company; Miller/Howard Investments; NorthStar Asset Management; the Office of the Comptroller of New York State; Pax World Management; Pride Foundation of Seattle, Washington; the Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge; Trillium Asset Management; Unitarian Universalist Association; Walden Asset Management; and Zevin Asset Management.
The letter can be viewed here.
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Clean Yield Asset Management is an investment advisory firm. Since 1984, we have engaged with progressive investors to generate healthy returns through investments that reflect their values. We build customportfolios that actively channel investment dollars toward developing a more just and environmentally sustainable economy.
NorthStar Asset Management, Inc. is a progressive wealth management firm based in Boston. Founded in 1990, NorthStar uses creative shareholder engagement, investment selection and financial planning to create social change and positive returns for institutions and individuals.
The Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge offers wealthy individuals and families the opportunity to invest their money in a way that can make a positive difference in the lives of people and the sustainability of our planet.  We work with clients to promote human dignity and fully participate in the creation of a sustainable world by choosing investments that best reflect their individual values as well as meet their financial objectives.
Walden Asset Management has been a leader in integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) research and engagement into the investment process since 1975. Walden is a division of Boston Trust & Investment Management Company and provides investment management and fiduciary services to individuals and families, foundations and endowments, retirement plans, and other institutions. On behalf of its clients, Walden’s company engagement and public policy advocacy seek to positively impact sustainable business practices, transparency and accountability.
* With the issuance Executive Order 12672 in July 2014, federal contractors and subcontractors are now prevented from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
** Having previously written to several of these companies on this matter, the New York State Comptroller’s office declined to sign on to the group’s letters to Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, Coca-Cola, Intel, Procter & Gamble, Dow Chemical, Pepsi and IBM.