Walmart’s shareholders recently voted on a proposal designed to draw the company into the abortion debate against state-level protections for the unborn. The proposal was defeated overwhelmingly, receiving fewer than 13% of votes cast. The measure was placed on the ballot by a left-of-centre pro-abortion group called Clean Yield Asset Management, which placed similar measures on the ballot at FedEx and Cigna, where they were also defeated. The proposal called upon Walmart to “publish a report on the potential risks and costs to the company of state policies that restrict abortion. The call for a study of risks is a standard form used by activists to influence companies in their preferred direction. There is a precedent of the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) upholding proposals of this format as appropriate topics for shareholder votes.
Another standard tactic is to call upon companies to study the “risk” of whatever social policy the activist opposes, without also calling for a study of the benefits of that policy. For example: abortion kills future customers. Pro-choice groups which have proposed ballot items like this do not propose that the companies study the negative business effects of abortion-on-demand, which are considerable and increasingly obvious during a time when the population is rapidly aging, social security and pension plans are strained, and there is a labour shortage. Also left out of the equation is any reference to the risk of backlash from the public or from workers for injecting itself into a highly contentious political debate. Public backlash is clearly growing against CEOs swerving out of their lane and into politics, with strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans opposing such incursions into hot-button issues.
The proposal suggested that Walmart might have trouble recruiting workers in Arkansas should abortion be outlawed, though no argument was offered regarding the alleged connection between pro-life policies and a worker shortage in the bargain retail sector. The proposal calls upon the company to speak to the issues of “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.” This amounts to a suggestion that the company threaten to punish states by closing business in those states, a tactic which has been used effectively against states which passed religious freedom laws at odds with the desire of the LGBTQ lobby.
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