The Teachers Retirement System (TRS) supported the proposal offered at the Lowe’s annual meeting of shareholders by the Educational Foundation of America (EFA), an organization whose mission is to “advance[e] progressive change through support for creative initiatives working toward sustainability, justice, and equity.”
At these corporate meetings, company shareholders who meet certain criteria may present proposals to the voting body. The company board evaluates each proposal and recommends either approval or rejection of the item.
This specific item read:
“RESOLVED: Shareholders request that Lowe’s issue a public report prior to December 31, 2022, omitting confidential and privileged information and at a reasonable expense, detailing any known and any potential risks and costs to the Company caused by enacted or proposed state policies severely restricting reproductive health care, and detailing any strategies beyond litigation and legal compliance that the Company may deploy to minimize or mitigate these risks.”
The item’s proposal came after a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion showed enough support on the body to overturn the legal precedents of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
In supporting its item, EFA wrote, “Should Roe v. Wade be weakened or overturned as is widely anticipated, many Lowe’s employees will face challenges accessing abortion care and other sexual and reproductive health care.”
After naming Texas’ Senate Bill 8, the Texas Heartbeat Act, EFA adds, “In its discretion, the board’s analysis may include any effects on employee hiring, retention, and productivity, and decisions regarding closure or expansion of operations in states proposing or enacting restrictive laws and strategies such as any public policy advocacy by the company, related political contributions policies, and human resources or educational strategies.”
In opposition, the company’s board said it would be too difficult to compile a collection of costs related to the patchwork of abortion laws across the 50 states.
The result of that vote has yet to be disclosed by Lowe’s.
Officials from TRS did not reply to an inquiry about the situation by the time of publishing.
TRS has nearly 1.7 million members across the state and has amassed $50.6 billion in unfunded liabilities — money promised to beneficiaries but unaccounted for at current funding levels.
A similar incident occurred last month with the state’s second-largest pension fund, the Employee Retirement System (ERS), when the organization voted by proxy for four proposals at different banks aimed at prohibiting financing to fossil fuel companies. Each item failed and ERS officials said it stemmed from an error with their proxy advisor, Institutional Shareholder Services — but not before drawing the ire of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and some other state legislators.
Both sets of proposals are part of the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) movement picking up steam in corporate boardrooms across the nation. ESG is a political movement intended to buttress causes like environmentalism and progressive social policies. The Lowe’s proposal falls under the “social” category, which includes other items such as racial- and gender-focused proposals.
Last year, the Texas legislature passed SB 13 which tasked the comptroller with pulling state pension money from companies who push “fossil fuel boycotting” policies. The initial process of narrowing down a list of these SB 13-offending companies is currently underway and expected to be completed by the fall.
There is likely to be a push next session to expand that relatively narrow scope to other issues and political causes, including a potential prohibition on banks refusing to issue loans to fossil fuel companies.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.