SAN MATEO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, shareholders at Franklin Resources, known as Franklin Templeton Investments, will have an opportunity to vote on a shareholder proposal on genocide-free investing at the annual meeting on March 13, 2013. The proposal, which is the first shareholder proposal to appear on the company’s proxy ballot in nineteen years and possibly the first ever, requests “that the Board institute transparent procedures to avoid holding or recommending investments in companies that, in management's judgment, substantially contribute to genocide or crimes against humanity, the most egregious violations of human rights.” Franklin Resources is opposing the proposal.
Shareholders approved a similar genocide-free investing proposal at the ING Emerging Countries Fund in June 2012 by a wide margin with 59.2% of votes in favor of the proposal and only 10.8% opposed. According to a market research study conducted by KRC Research in 2010, 88% of Americans would like their mutual funds to be genocide-free. Further, a new US SIF report, “2012 Report on Sustainable and Responsible Investing Trends in the United States,” supports the importance of Sudan-related investment policies as a key shareholder concern. Most strikingly, the report found that Sudan is the top ESG consideration for institutional investors.
Also, 35 local and national human rights and religious groups joined by genocide and corporate governance scholars sent an open letter to Charles Johnson, Rupert Johnson and Gregory Johnson, senior executives of the company who collectively own 32% of outstanding shares. The letter was signed by local groups such as the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition, as well as national groups such as American Jewish World Service, the Enough Project, the Armenian National Committee of America, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Jewish Council of Public Affairs. It was also signed by notable genocide and corporate governance scholars.
The letter asks the company to voluntarily adopt the proposed genocide-free investing policy. It states, “We are concerned that management’s opposition to the proposal, combined with the many institutional shareholders that will follow your recommendation, will dramatically skew the vote against the wishes of average investors. This concern is magnified by the fact that insider investors, particularly the Johnson family, hold very large percentages of the outstanding shares. Therefore we are appealing to you directly, in advance of the proxy vote, to institute transparent procedures to avoid holding investments in companies that, in management’s judgment, substantially contribute to genocide or crimes against humanity.”
The proposal was submitted to Franklin Resources as part of an ongoing shareholder action led by Investors Against Genocide, a citizen-led initiative, dedicated to convincing mutual funds and other investment firms to make a commitment to genocide-free investing. Franklin Resources (NYSE:BEN) owned 1,479,642,253 shares of PetroChina, as of December 2011. That holding amounted to 7% of the shares outstanding of PetroChina, a company widely recognized, according to Investors Against Genocide, as contributing to the genocide in Sudan. Currently, half a million people in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions of Sudan are facing relentless aerial attacks, violent displacement, and starvation due to the Sudanese government’s ongoing military assaults. Ongoing government-sponsored genocide in Sudan has spanned more than two decades and resulted in the death of over 2.5 million innocent civilians.