EX-99.US.CORP.GOV 6 d228325dex99uscorpgov.htm CORPORATE GOVERNANCE AND PROXY VOTING GUIDELINES FOR U.S. SECURITIES Corporate Governance and Proxy Voting Guidelines for U.S. Securities

    

BlackRock

Investment

Stewardship

Proxy voting guidelines for U.S. securities

Effective as of January 2021

 

 

 

LOGO

 

 


Contents   

Introduction

     3  

Voting guidelines

     3  

Boards and directors

     3  

Auditors and audit-related issues

     9  

Capital structure proposals

     9  

Mergers, acquisitions, asset sales, and other special transactions

     10  

Executive compensation

     11  

Environmental and social issues

     13  

General corporate governance matters

     15  

Shareholder protections

     16  

If you would like additional information, please contact:

ContactStewardship@blackrock.com

 

BlackRock


These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the BlackRock Investment Stewardship Global Principles.

Introduction

We believe BlackRock has a responsibility to monitor and provide feedback to companies, in our role as stewards of our clients’ investments. BlackRock Investment Stewardship (“BIS”) does this through engagement with management teams and/or board members on material business issues, including environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) matters and, for those clients who have given us authority, through voting proxies in the best long-term economic interests of our clients.

The following issue-specific proxy voting guidelines (the “Guidelines”) are intended to summarize BIS’ general philosophy and approach to ESG factors, as well as our expectations of directors, that most commonly arise in proxy voting for U.S. securities. These Guidelines are not intended to limit the analysis of individual issues at specific companies or provide a guide to how BlackRock will vote in every instance. They are applied with discretion, taking into consideration the range of issues and facts specific to the company, as well as individual ballot items.

Voting guidelines

These guidelines are divided into eight key themes, which group together the issues that frequently appear on the agenda of annual and extraordinary meetings of shareholders:

 

 

Boards and directors

 

 

Auditors and audit-related issues

 

 

Capital structure

 

 

Mergers, acquisitions, asset sales, and other special transactions

 

 

Executive compensation

 

 

Environmental and social issues

 

 

General corporate governance matters

 

 

Shareholder protections

Boards and directors

The effective performance of the board is critical to the economic success of the company and the protection of shareholders’ interests. As part of their responsibilities, board members owe fiduciary duties to shareholders in overseeing the strategic direction and operation of the company. For this reason, BlackRock focuses on directors in many of our engagements and sees the election of directors as one of our most critical responsibilities.

Disclosure of material issues that affect the company’s long-term strategy and value creation, including material ESG factors, is essential for shareholders to be able to appropriately understand and assess how effectively the board is identifying, managing, and mitigating risks.    

Where we conclude that a board has failed to address or disclose one or more material issues within a specified timeframe, we may hold directors accountable or take other appropriate action in the context of our voting decisions.

Director elections

Where a board has not adequately demonstrated, through company disclosures and actions, how material issues are appropriately identified, managed, and overseen, we will consider withholding our support for the re-election of directors whom we hold accountable.

 

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In addition, we may withhold votes from directors or members of particular board committees in certain situations, as indicated below.

Independence

We expect a majority of the directors on the board to be independent. In addition, all members of key committees, including audit, compensation, and nominating/ governance committees, should be independent. Our view of independence may vary from listing standards.

Common impediments to independence may include:

 

 

Employment as a senior executive by the company or a subsidiary within the past five years

 

 

An equity ownership in the company in excess of 20%

 

 

Having any other interest, business, or relationship (professional or personal) which could, or could reasonably be perceived to, materially interfere with the director’s ability to act in the best interests of the company

 

 

When evaluating controlled companies, as defined by the U.S. stock exchanges, we may vote against insiders or affiliates who sit on the audit committee, but not other key committees

We may vote against directors serving on key committees who we do not consider to be independent.

Oversight

We expect the board to exercise appropriate oversight over management and business activities of the company. We will consider voting against committee members and/or individual directors in the following circumstances:

 

 

Where the board has failed to exercise sufficient oversight with regard to material ESG risk factors, or the company has failed to provide shareholders with adequate disclosure to conclude appropriate strategic consideration is given to these factors by the board

 

 

Where the board has failed to exercise oversight with regard to accounting practices or audit oversight, we will consider voting against the current audit committee, and any other members of the board who may be responsible. For example, we may vote against members of the audit committee during a period when the board failed to facilitate quality, independent auditing if substantial accounting irregularities suggest insufficient oversight by that committee

 

 

Members of the compensation committee during a period in which executive compensation appears excessive relative to performance and peers, and where we believe the compensation committee has not already substantially addressed this issue

 

 

The chair of the nominating/ governance committee, or where no chair exists, the nominating/governance committee member with the longest tenure, where the board is not comprised of a majority of independent directors. This may not apply in the case of a controlled company

 

 

Where it appears the director has acted (at the company or at other companies) in a manner that compromises his/ her ability to represent the best long-term economic interests of shareholders

 

 

Where a director has a multi-year pattern of poor attendance at combined board and applicable committee meetings, or a director has poor attendance in a single year with no disclosed rationale. Excluding exigent circumstances, BlackRock generally considers attendance at less than 75% of the combined board and applicable committee meetings to be poor attendance

 

 

Where a director serves on an excessive number of boards, which may limit his/ her capacity to focus on each board’s requirements. The following identifies the maximum number of boards on which a director may serve, before he/ she is considered to be over-committed:

 

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Public Company

Executive or Fund

Manager1

   # Outside Public Boards2    Total # of Public Boards
       
Director A       1    2
       
Director B         3    4

Responsiveness to shareholders

We expect a board to be engaged and responsive to its shareholders, including acknowledging voting outcomes for shareholder proposals, director elections, compensation, and other ballot items. Where we believe a board has not substantially addressed shareholder concerns, we may vote against the responsible committees and/or individual directors. The following illustrates common circumstances:

 

 

The independent chair or lead independent director, members of the nominating/governance committee, and/or the longest tenured director(s), where we observe a lack of board responsiveness to shareholders, evidence of board entrenchment, and/or failure to plan for adequate board member succession

 

 

The chair of the nominating/governance committee, or where no chair exists, the nominating/governance committee member with the longest tenure, where board member(s) at the most recent election of directors have received against votes from more than 25% of shares voted, and the board has not taken appropriate action to respond to shareholder concerns. This may not apply in cases where BlackRock did not support the initial against vote

 

 

The independent chair or lead independent director and/ or members of the nominating/governance committee, where a board fails to consider shareholder proposals that receive substantial support, and the proposals, in our view, have a material impact on the business, shareholder rights, or the potential for long-term value creation

Shareholder rights

We expect a board to act with integrity and to uphold governance best practices. Where we believe a board has not acted in the best interests of its shareholders, we may vote against the appropriate committees and/or individual directors. The following illustrates common circumstances:

 

 

The independent chair or lead independent director and members of the nominating/governance committee, where a board implements or renews a poison pill without shareholder approval

 

 

The independent chair or lead independent director and members of the nominating/governance committee, where a board amends the charter/articles/bylaws such that the effect may be to entrench directors or to significantly reduce shareholder rights

 

 

Members of the compensation committee where the company has repriced options without shareholder approval

 

 

If a board maintains a classified structure, it is possible that the director(s) with whom we have a particular concern may not be subject to election in the year that the concern arises. In such situations, if we have a concern regarding the actions of a committee and the responsible member(s) or committee chair are not up for re-election, we will generally register our concern by voting against all available members of the relevant committee

 

 

1 In this instance, “fund manager” refers to individuals whose full-time employment involves responsibility for the investment and oversight of fund vehicles, and those who have employment as professional investors and provide oversight for those holdings.

2 In addition to the company under review

 

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Board composition and effectiveness

We encourage boards to periodically renew their membership to ensure relevant skills and experience within the boardroom. To this end, regular performance reviews and skills assessments should be conducted by the nominating/ governance committee or the lead independent director.

Furthermore, we expect boards to be comprised of a diverse selection of individuals who bring their personal and professional experiences to bear in order to create a constructive debate of a variety of views and opinions in the boardroom. We recognize that diversity has multiple dimensions. In identifying potential candidates, boards should take into consideration the full breadth of diversity, including personal factors, such as gender, ethnicity, race, and age, as well as professional characteristics, such as a director’s industry, area of expertise, and geographic location. In addition to other elements of diversity, we encourage companies to have at least two women directors on their board. Our publicly available commentary explains our approach to engaging on board diversity.

We encourage boards to disclose:

 

 

The mix of competencies, experience, and other qualities required to effectively oversee and guide management in light of the stated long-term strategy of the company

 

 

The process by which candidates are identified and selected, including whether professional firms or other sources outside of incumbent directors’ networks have been engaged to identify and/or assess candidates

 

 

The process by which boards evaluate themselves and any significant outcomes of the evaluation process, without divulging inappropriate and/ or sensitive details

 

 

Demographics related to board diversity, including, but not limited to, gender, ethnicity, race, age, and geographic location, in addition to measurable milestones to achieve a boardroom reflective of multi-faceted racial, ethnic, and gender representation

Our primary concern is that board members are able to contribute effectively as corporate strategy evolves and business conditions change. We acknowledge that no single person can be expected to bring all relevant skill sets to a board; at the same time, we generally do not believe it is necessary or appropriate to have any particular director on the board solely by virtue of a singular background or specific area of expertise.

Where boards find that age limits or term limits are the most efficient and objective mechanism for ensuring periodic board refreshment, we generally defer to the board’s determination in setting such limits. BlackRock will also consider the average board tenure to evaluate processes for board renewal. We may oppose boards that appear to have an insufficient mix of short-, medium-, and long-tenured directors.

To the extent that a company has not adequately accounted for diversity in its board composition within a reasonable timeframe, based on our assessment, we may vote against members of the nominating/governance committee for an apparent lack of commitment to board effectiveness.

Board size

We typically defer to the board in setting the appropriate size and believe directors are generally in the best position to assess the optimal board size to ensure effectiveness. However, we may oppose boards that appear too small to allow for the necessary range of skills and experience or too large to function efficiently.

CEO and management succession planning

There should be a robust CEO and senior management succession plan in place at the board level that is reviewed and updated on a regular basis. We expect succession planning to cover both long-term planning consistent with the strategic direction of the company and identified leadership needs over time, as well as short-term planning in the event of an unanticipated executive departure. We encourage the company to explain its executive succession planning process,

 

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including where accountability lies within the boardroom for this task, without prematurely divulging sensitive information commonly associated with this exercise.

Classified board of directors/staggered terms

We believe that directors should be re-elected annually; classification of the board generally limits shareholders’ rights to regularly evaluate a board’s performance and select directors. While we will typically support proposals requesting board de-classification, we may make exceptions, should the board articulate an appropriate strategic rationale for a classified board structure, such as when a company needs consistency and stability during a time of transition, e.g. newly public companies or companies undergoing a strategic restructuring. A classified board structure may also be justified at non-operating companies, e.g. closed-end funds or business development companies (BDC),3 in certain circumstances. We would, however, expect boards with a classified structure to periodically review the rationale for such structure and consider when annual elections might be more appropriate.

Without a voting mechanism to immediately address concerns about a specific director, we may choose to vote against the available slate of directors (see “Shareholder rights” for additional detail).

Contested director elections

The details of contested elections, or proxy contests, are assessed on a case-by-case basis. We evaluate a number of factors, which may include: the qualifications of the dissident and management candidates; the validity of the concerns identified by the dissident; the viability of both the dissident’s and management’s plans; the ownership stake and holding period of the dissident; the likelihood that the dissident’s solutions will produce the desired change; and whether the dissident represents the best option for enhancing long-term shareholder value.

Cumulative voting

We believe that a majority vote standard is in the best long-term interests of shareholders. It ensures director accountability through the requirement to be elected by more than half of the votes cast. As such, we will generally oppose proposals requesting the adoption of cumulative voting, which may disproportionately aggregate votes on certain issues or director candidates.

Director compensation and equity programs

We believe that compensation for directors should be structured to attract and retain directors, while also aligning their interests with those of shareholders. We believe director compensation packages that are based on the company’s long-term value creation and include some form of long-term equity compensation are more likely to meet this goal. In addition, we expect directors to build meaningful share ownership over time.

Majority vote requirements

BlackRock believes that directors should generally be elected by a majority of the shares voted and will normally support proposals seeking to introduce bylaws requiring a majority vote standard for director elections. Majority vote standards assist in ensuring that directors who are not broadly supported by shareholders are not elected to serve as their representatives. Some companies with a plurality voting standard have adopted a resignation policy for directors who do not receive support from at least a majority of votes cast. Where we believe that the company already has a sufficiently robust majority voting process in place, we may not support a shareholder proposal seeking an alternative mechanism.

We note that majority voting may not be appropriate in all circumstances, for example, in the context of a contested election, or for majority-controlled companies.

 

 

3 A BDC is a special investment vehicle under the Investment Company Act of 1940 that is designed to facilitate capital formation for small and middle-market companies.

 

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Risk oversight

Companies should have an established process for identifying, monitoring, and managing business and material ESG risks. Independent directors should have access to relevant management information and outside advice, as appropriate, to ensure they can properly oversee risk. We encourage companies to provide transparency around risk management, mitigation, and reporting to the board. We are particularly interested in understanding how risk oversight processes evolve in response to changes in corporate strategy and/or shifts in the business and related risk environment. Comprehensive disclosure provides investors with a sense of the company’s long-term operational risk management practices and, more broadly, the quality of the board’s oversight. In the absence of robust disclosures, we may reasonably conclude that companies are not adequately managing risk.

Separation of chairman and CEO

We believe that independent leadership is important in the boardroom. There are two commonly accepted structures for independent board leadership: 1) an independent chairman; or 2) a lead independent director when the roles of chairman and CEO are combined.    

In the absence of a significant governance concern, we defer to boards to designate the most appropriate leadership structure to ensure adequate balance and independence.

In the event that the board chooses a combined chair/CEO model, we generally support the designation of a lead independent director if they have the power to: 1) provide formal input into board meeting agendas; 2) call meetings of the independent directors; and 3) preside at meetings of independent directors. Furthermore, while we anticipate that most directors will be elected annually, we believe an element of continuity is important for this role to provide appropriate leadership balance to the chair/CEO.

The following table illustrates examples of responsibilities under each board leadership model:

 

   
     Combined Chair/ CEO Model    Separate Chair Model
     
   Chair/ CEO    Lead Independent Director    Chair
       
Board Meetings    Authority to call full meetings of the board of directors   

Attends full meetings of the board of directors

 

Authority to call meetings of independent directors

 

Briefs CEO on issues arising from executive sessions

   Authority to call full meetings of the board of directors
       
Agenda    Primary responsibility for shaping board agendas, consulting with the lead independent director   

Collaborates with chair/ CEO to set board agenda and board information

   Primary responsibility for shaping board agendas, in conjunction with CEO
       
Board Communications        Communicates with all directors on key issues and concerns outside of full board meetings    Facilitates discussion among independent directors on key issues and concerns outside of full board meetings, including contributing to the oversight of CEO and management succession planning    Facilitates discussion among independent directors on key issues and concerns outside of full board meetings, including contributing to the oversight of CEO and management succession planning

 

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Auditors and audit-related issues

BlackRock recognizes the critical importance of financial statements to provide a complete and accurate portrayal of a company’s financial condition. Consistent with our approach to voting on boards of directors, we seek to hold the audit committee of the board responsible for overseeing the management of the audit function at a company, and may vote against the audit committee members where the board has failed to facilitate quality, independent auditing. We look to the audit committee report for insight into the scope of the audit committee responsibilities, including an overview of audit committee processes, issues on the audit committee agenda, and key decisions taken by the audit committee. We take particular note of cases involving significant financial restatements or material weakness disclosures, and we expect timely disclosure and remediation of accounting irregularities.

The integrity of financial statements depends on the auditor effectively fulfilling its role. To that end, we favor an independent auditor. In addition, to the extent that an auditor fails to reasonably identify and address issues that eventually lead to a significant financial restatement, or the audit firm has violated standards of practice that protect the interests of shareholders, we may also vote against ratification.

From time to time, shareholder proposals may be presented to promote auditor independence or the rotation of audit firms. We may support these proposals when they are consistent with our views as described above.

Capital structure proposals

Equal voting rights

BlackRock believes that shareholders should be entitled to voting rights in proportion to their economic interests. We believe that companies that look to add or already have dual or multiple class share structures should review these structures on a regular basis, or as company circumstances change. Companies with multiple share classes should receive shareholder approval of their capital structure on a periodic basis via a management proposal on the company’s proxy. The proposal should give unaffiliated shareholders the opportunity to affirm the current structure or establish mechanisms to end or phase out controlling structures at the appropriate time, while minimizing costs to shareholders.    

Blank check preferred stock

We frequently oppose proposals requesting authorization of a class of preferred stock with unspecified voting, conversion, dividend distribution, and other rights (“blank check” preferred stock) because they may serve as a transfer of authority from shareholders to the board and as a possible entrenchment device. We generally view the board’s discretion to establish voting rights on a when-issued basis as a potential anti-takeover device, as it affords the board the ability to place a block of stock with an investor sympathetic to management, thereby foiling a takeover bid without a shareholder vote.    

Nonetheless, we may support the proposal where the company:

 

 

Appears to have a legitimate financing motive for requesting blank check authority

 

 

Has committed publicly that blank check preferred shares will not be used for anti-takeover purposes

 

 

Has a history of using blank check preferred stock for financings

 

 

Has blank check preferred stock previously outstanding such that an increase would not necessarily provide further anti-takeover protection but may provide greater financing flexibility

Increase in authorized common shares

BlackRock will evaluate requests to increase authorized shares on a case-by-case basis, in conjunction with industry-specific norms and potential dilution, as well as a company’s history with respect to the use of its common shares.

 

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Increase or issuance of preferred stock

We generally support proposals to increase or issue preferred stock in cases where the company specifies the voting, dividend, conversion, and other rights of such stock and where the terms of the preferred stock appear reasonable.

Stock splits

We generally support stock splits that are not likely to negatively affect the ability to trade shares or the economic value of a share. We generally support reverse stock splits that are designed to avoid delisting or to facilitate trading in the stock, where the reverse split will not have a negative impact on share value (e.g. one class is reduced while others remain at pre-split levels). In the event of a proposal for a reverse split that would not proportionately reduce the company’s authorized stock, we apply the same analysis we would use for a proposal to increase authorized stock.

Mergers, acquisitions, asset sales, and other special transactions

In assessing mergers, acquisitions, asset sales, or other special transactions, BlackRock’s primary consideration is the long-term economic interests of our clients as shareholders. Boards proposing a transaction need to clearly explain the economic and strategic rationale behind it. We will review a proposed transaction to determine the degree to which it enhances long-term shareholder value. While mergers, acquisitions, asset sales, and other special transaction proposals vary widely in scope and substance, we closely examine certain salient features in our analyses, such as:

 

 

The degree to which the proposed transaction represents a premium to the company’s trading price. We consider the share price over multiple time periods prior to the date of the merger announcement. We may consider comparable transaction analyses provided by the parties’ financial advisors and our own valuation assessments. For companies facing insolvency or bankruptcy, a premium may not apply

 

 

There should be clear strategic, operational, and/ or financial rationale for the combination

 

 

Unanimous board approval and arm’s-length negotiations are preferred. We will consider whether the transaction involves a dissenting board or does not appear to be the result of an arm’s-length bidding process. We may also consider whether executive and/ or board members’ financial interests appear likely to affect their ability to place shareholders’ interests before their own

 

 

We prefer transaction proposals that include the fairness opinion of a reputable financial advisor assessing the value of the transaction to shareholders in comparison to recent similar transactions

Poison pill plans

Where a poison pill is put to a shareholder vote by management, our policy is to examine these plans individually. Although we oppose most plans, we may support plans that include a reasonable “qualifying offer clause.” Such clauses typically require shareholder ratification of the pill and stipulate a sunset provision whereby the pill expires unless it is renewed. These clauses also tend to specify that an all-cash bid for all shares that includes a fairness opinion and evidence of financing does not trigger the pill, but forces either a special meeting at which the offer is put to a shareholder vote, or requires the board to seek the written consent of shareholders, where shareholders could rescind the pill at their discretion. We may also support a pill where it is the only effective method for protecting tax or other economic benefits that may be associated with limiting the ownership changes of individual shareholders.

We generally vote in favor of shareholder proposals to rescind poison pills.

Reimbursement of expenses for successful shareholder campaigns

We generally do not support shareholder proposals seeking the reimbursement of proxy contest expenses, even in situations where we support the shareholder campaign. We believe that introducing the possibility of such reimbursement may incentivize disruptive and unnecessary shareholder campaigns.

 

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Executive compensation

BlackRock expects a company’s board of directors to put in place a compensation structure that incentivizes and rewards executives appropriately and is aligned with shareholder interests, particularly the generation of sustainable long-term value.

We expect the compensation committee to carefully consider the specific circumstances of the company and the key individuals the board is focused on incentivizing. We encourage companies to ensure that their compensation plans incorporate appropriate and rigorous performance metrics consistent with corporate strategy and market practice. We use third party research, in addition to our own analysis, to evaluate existing and proposed compensation structures. We hold members of the compensation committee, or equivalent board members, accountable for poor compensation practices or structures.

BlackRock believes that there should be a clear link between variable pay and company performance that drives value creation. We are generally not supportive of one-off or special bonuses unrelated to company or individual performance. Where discretion has been used by the compensation committee, we expect disclosure relating to how and why the discretion was used and further, how the adjusted outcome is aligned with the interests of shareholders.

We acknowledge that the use of peer group evaluation by compensation committees can help calibrate competitive pay; however, we are concerned when the rationale for increases in total compensation is solely based on peer benchmarking, rather than absolute outperformance.

We support incentive plans that foster the sustainable achievement of results consistent with the company’s long-term strategic initiatives. The vesting timeframes associated with incentive plans should facilitate a focus on long-term value creation. Compensation committees should guard against contractual arrangements that would entitle executives to material compensation for early termination of their contract. Finally, pension contributions and other deferred compensation arrangements should be reasonable in light of market practice.

“Say on Pay” advisory resolutions

In cases where there is a “Say on Pay” vote, BlackRock will respond to the proposal as informed by our evaluation of compensation practices at that particular company and in a manner that appropriately addresses the specific question posed to shareholders. In a commentary on our website, entitled “BlackRock Investment Stewardship’s approach to executive compensation,” we explain our expectations related to executive compensation practices, our “Say on Pay” analysis framework, and our typical approach to engagement and voting on “Say on Pay.”

Where we conclude that a company has failed to align pay with performance, we will vote against the management compensation proposal and consider voting against the compensation committee members.

Frequency of “Say on Pay” advisory resolutions

BlackRock will generally support annual advisory votes on executive compensation, and will consider biennial and triennial timeframes, absent compensation concerns. In evaluating pay, we believe that the compensation committee is responsible for constructing a plan that appropriately incentivizes executives for long-term value creation, utilizing relevant metrics and structure to promote overall pay and performance alignment.

Clawback proposals

We generally favor recoupment from any senior executive whose compensation was based on faulty financial reporting or deceptive business practices. We also favor recoupment from any senior executive whose behavior caused material financial harm to shareholders, material reputational risk to the company, or resulted in a criminal proceeding, even if such actions did not ultimately result in a material restatement of past results. This includes, but is not limited to, settlement agreements arising from such behavior and paid for directly by the company. We typically support shareholder proposals on these matters unless the company already has a robust claw back policy that sufficiently addresses our concerns.

 

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Employee stock purchase plans

We believe employee stock purchase plans (“ESPP”) are an important part of a company’s overall human capital management strategy and can provide performance incentives to help align employees’ interests with those of shareholders. The most common form of ESPP qualifies for favorable tax treatment under Section 423 of the Internal Revenue Code. We will typically support qualified ESPP proposals.

Equity compensation plans

BlackRock supports equity plans that align the economic interests of directors, managers, and other employees with those of shareholders. We believe that boards should establish policies prohibiting the use of equity awards in a manner that could disrupt the intended alignment with shareholder interests (e.g. the use of stock as collateral for a loan; the use of stock in a margin account; the use of stock in hedging or derivative transactions). We may support shareholder proposals requesting the establishment of such policies.

Our evaluation of equity compensation plans is based on a company’s executive pay and performance relative to peers and whether the plan plays a significant role in a pay-for-performance disconnect. We generally oppose plans that contain “evergreen” provisions, which allow for the unlimited increase of shares reserved without requiring further shareholder approval after a reasonable time period. We also generally oppose plans that allow for repricing without shareholder approval. We may also oppose plans that provide for the acceleration of vesting of equity awards even in situations where an actual change of control may not occur. We encourage companies to structure their change of control provisions to require the termination of the covered employee before acceleration or special payments are triggered (commonly referred to as “double trigger” change of control provisions).

Golden parachutes

We generally view golden parachutes as encouragement to management to consider transactions that might be beneficial to shareholders. However, a large potential pay-out under a golden parachute arrangement also presents the risk of motivating a management team to support a sub-optimal sale price for a company.    

When determining whether to support or oppose an advisory vote on a golden parachute plan, BlackRock may consider several factors, including:

 

 

Whether we believe that the triggering event is in the best interests of shareholders

 

 

Whether management attempted to maximize shareholder value in the triggering event

 

 

The percentage of total premium or transaction value that will be transferred to the management team, rather than shareholders, as a result of the golden parachute payment

 

 

Whether excessively large excise tax gross-up payments are part of the pay-out

 

 

Whether the pay package that serves as the basis for calculating the golden parachute payment was reasonable in light of performance and peers

 

 

Whether the golden parachute payment will have the effect of rewarding a management team that has failed to effectively manage the company

It may be difficult to anticipate the results of a plan until after it has been triggered; as a result, BlackRock may vote against a golden parachute proposal even if the golden parachute plan under review was approved by shareholders when it was implemented.

We may support shareholder proposals requesting that implementation of such arrangements require shareholder approval. We generally support proposals requiring shareholder approval of plans that exceed 2.99 times an executive’s current salary and bonus, including equity compensation.

Option exchanges

 

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We believe that there may be legitimate instances where underwater options create an overhang on a company’s capital structure and a repricing or option exchange may be warranted. We will evaluate these instances on a case-by-case basis. BlackRock may support a request to reprice or exchange underwater options under the following circumstances:

 

 

The company has experienced significant stock price decline as a result of macroeconomic trends, not individual company performance

 

 

Directors and executive officers are excluded; the exchange is value neutral or value creative to shareholders; tax, accounting, and other technical considerations have been fully contemplated

 

 

There is clear evidence that absent repricing, the company will suffer serious employee incentive or retention and recruiting problems

BlackRock may also support a request to exchange underwater options in other circumstances, if we determine that the exchange is in the best interests of shareholders.

Supplemental executive retirement plans

BlackRock may support shareholder proposals requesting to put extraordinary benefits contained in supplemental executive retirement plans (“SERP”) to a shareholder vote unless the company’s executive pension plans do not contain excessive benefits beyond what is offered under employee-wide plans.

Environmental and social issues

We believe that well-managed companies deal effectively with material ESG factors relevant to their businesses. As stated throughout this document, governance is the core structure by which boards can oversee the creation of sustainable long-term value—appropriate risk oversight of environmental and social (“E&S”) considerations stems from this construct.

Robust disclosure is essential for investors to effectively gauge companies’ business practices and strategic planning related to E&S risks and opportunities. When a company’s reporting is inadequate, investors, including BlackRock, will increasingly conclude that the company is not adequately managing risk. Given the increased understanding of material sustainability risks and opportunities, and the need for better information to assess them, BlackRock will advocate for continued improvement in companies’ reporting and will hold management and/ or directors accountable where disclosures or the business practices underlying them are inadequate.    

BlackRock views the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and the standards put forth by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) as appropriate and complementary frameworks for companies to disclose financially material sustainability information. While the TCFD framework was crafted with the aim of climate-related risk disclosure, the four pillars of the TCFD—Governance, Strategy, Risk Management, and Metrics and Targets—are a useful way for companies to disclose how they identify, assess, manage, and oversee a variety of sustainability-related risks and opportunities. SASB’s industry-specific guidance (as identified in its materiality map) is beneficial in helping companies identify key performance indicators (KPIs) across various dimensions of sustainability that are considered to be financially material and decision-useful within their industry.

Accordingly, we ask companies to:

 

   

Disclose the identification, assessment, management, and oversight of sustainability-related risks in accordance with the four pillars of TCFD

 

   

Publish SASB-aligned reporting with industry-specific, material metrics and rigorous targets

See our commentary on our approach to engagement on TCFD- and SASB-aligned reporting for greater detail of our expectations.

 

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Climate risk

BlackRock believes that climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. We expect every company to help their investors understand how the company may be impacted by climate-related risks and opportunities, and how they are considered within the company’s strategy.    

Specifically, we expect companies to articulate how they are aligned to a scenario in which global warming is limited to well below 2° C and is consistent with a global aspiration to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2050.4 In order to assess companies’ progress, BIS expects carbon-intensive companies to disclose explicit GHG emissions reduction targets.

The public and private sectors have roles to play in aligning greenhouse gas reduction efforts with targets based on science, where available to curb the worst effects of climate change and reach the global goal of carbon neutrality by mid-century. Companies have an opportunity to utilize and contribute to the development of current and future low-carbon transition technologies, which are an important consideration for the rate at which emissions can be reduced. We expect companies to disclose how they are considering these challenges, alongside opportunities for innovation, within their strategy and emissions reduction efforts.

We may support shareholder proposals that ask companies to disclose climate plans aligned with our expectations.

Key stakeholder interests

As a long-term investor, we believe that in order to deliver value for shareholders, companies should also consider their stakeholders. While stakeholder groups may vary across industries, they are likely to include employees; business partners (such as suppliers and distributors); clients and consumers; government and regulators; and the communities in which companies operate. Companies that build strong relationships with their stakeholders are more likely to meet their own strategic objectives, while poor relationships may create adverse impacts that expose a company to legal, regulatory, operational, and reputational risks and jeopardize their social license to operate. We expect companies to effectively oversee and mitigate these risks with appropriate due diligence processes and board oversight.

Human capital management

A company’s approach to human capital management is a critical factor in fostering an inclusive, diverse, and engaged workforce, which contributes to business continuity, innovation, and long-term value creation. As an important component of strategy, we expect boards to oversee human capital management.

We believe that clear and consistent reporting on these matters is critical for investors to understand the composition of a company’s workforce. We expect companies to disclose workforce demographics, such as gender, race, and ethnicity in line with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s EEO-1 Survey, alongside the steps they are taking to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. Where we believe a company’s disclosures or practices fall short relative to the market or peers, or we are unable to ascertain the board and management’s effectiveness in overseeing related risks and opportunities, we may vote against members of the appropriate committee or support relevant shareholder proposals. Our commentary on human capital management provides more information on our expectations.

Corporate political activities

Companies may engage in certain political activities, within legal and regulatory limits, in order to influence public policy consistent with the companies’ values and strategies. These activities can also create risks, including: the potential for allegations of corruption; reputational risk associated with a candidate, party, or issue; and risks that arise from the complex legal, regulatory, and compliance considerations associated with corporate political spending and lobbying

 

 

4 The global aspiration is reflective of aggregated efforts; companies in developed and emerging markets are not equally equipped to transition their business and reduce emissions at the same rate—those in developed markets with the largest market capitalization are better positioned to adapt their business models at an accelerated pace. Government policy and regional targets may be reflective of these realities.

 

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activity. Companies that engage in political activities should develop and maintain robust processes to guide these activities and mitigate risks, including board oversight.

When presented with shareholder proposals requesting increased disclosure on corporate political activities, BlackRock will evaluate publicly available information to consider how a company’s lobbying may impact the company. We will also evaluate whether there is alignment between a company’s stated positions on policy matters material to its strategy and the positions taken by industry groups of which it is a member. We may decide to support a shareholder proposal requesting additional disclosure if we identify a material misalignment. Additional detail can be found in our commentary on political contributions and lobbying disclosures.

General corporate governance matters

Adjourn meeting to solicit additional votes

We generally support such proposals unless the agenda contains items that we judge to be detrimental to shareholders’ best long-term economic interests.

Bundled proposals

We believe that shareholders should have the opportunity to review substantial governance changes individually without having to accept bundled proposals. Where several measures are grouped into one proposal, BlackRock may reject certain positive changes when linked with proposals that generally contradict or impede the rights and economic interests of shareholders.

Exclusive forum provisions

BlackRock generally supports proposals to seek exclusive forum for certain shareholder litigation. In cases where a board unilaterally adopts exclusive forum provisions that we consider unfavorable to the interests of shareholders, we will vote against the independent chair or lead independent director and members of the nominating/governance committee.

Multi-jurisdictional companies

Where a company is listed on multiple exchanges or incorporated in a country different from its primary listing, we will seek to apply the most relevant market guideline(s) to our analysis of the company’s governance structure and specific proposals on the shareholder meeting agenda. In doing so, we typically consider the governance standards of the company’s primary listing, the market standards by which the company governs itself, and the market context of each specific proposal on the agenda. If the relevant standards are silent on the issue under consideration, we will use our professional judgment as to what voting outcome would best protect the long-term economic interests of investors. We expect companies to disclose the rationale for their selection of primary listing, country of incorporation, and choice of governance structures, particularly where there is conflict between relevant market governance practices.

Other business

We oppose giving companies our proxy to vote on matters where we are not given the opportunity to review and understand those measures and carry out an appropriate level of shareholder oversight.

Reincorporation

Proposals to reincorporate from one state or country to another are most frequently motivated by considerations of anti-takeover protections, legal advantages, and/or cost savings. We will evaluate, on a case-by-case basis, the economic and strategic rationale behind the company’s proposal to reincorporate. In all instances, we will evaluate the changes to shareholder protections under the new charter/articles/bylaws to assess whether the move increases or decreases shareholder protections. Where we find that shareholder protections are diminished, we may support reincorporation if we determine that the overall benefits outweigh the diminished rights.

 

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IPO governance

We expect boards to consider and disclose how the corporate governance structures adopted upon initial public offering (“IPO”) are in shareholders’ best long-term interests. We also expect boards to conduct a regular review of corporate governance and control structures, such that boards might evolve foundational corporate governance structures as company circumstances change, without undue costs and disruption to shareholders. In our letter on unequal voting structures, we articulate our view that “one vote for one share” is the preferred structure for publicly-traded companies. We also recognize the potential benefits of dual class shares to newly public companies as they establish themselves; however, we believe that these structures should have a specific and limited duration. We will generally engage new companies on topics such as classified boards and supermajority vote provisions to amend bylaws, as we believe that such arrangements may not be in the best interest of shareholders in the long-term.

We will typically apply a one-year grace period for the application of certain director-related guidelines (including, but not limited to, responsibilities on other public company boards and board composition concerns), during which we expect boards to take steps to bring corporate governance standards in line with our expectations.

Further, if a company qualifies as an emerging growth company (an “EGC”) under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012 (the “JOBS Act”), we will give consideration to the NYSE and NASDAQ governance exemptions granted under the

JOBS Act for the duration such a company is categorized as an EGC. We expect an EGC to have a totally independent audit committee by the first anniversary of its IPO, with our standard approach to voting on auditors and audit-related issues applicable in full for an EGC on the first anniversary of its IPO.

Shareholder protections

Amendment to charter/articles/bylaws

We believe that shareholders should have the right to vote on key corporate governance matters, including changes to governance mechanisms and amendments to the charter/articles/bylaws. We may vote against certain directors where changes to governing documents are not put to a shareholder vote within a reasonable period of time, particularly if those changes have the potential to impact shareholder rights (see “Director elections”). In cases where a board’s unilateral adoption of changes to the charter/articles/bylaws promotes cost and operational efficiency benefits for the company and its shareholders, we may support such action if it does not have a negative effect on shareholder rights or the company’s corporate governance structure.

When voting on a management or shareholder proposal to make changes to the charter/articles/bylaws, we will consider in part the company’s and/or proponent’s publicly stated rationale for the changes; the company’s governance profile and history; relevant jurisdictional laws; and situational or contextual circumstances which may have motivated the proposed changes, among other factors. We will typically support amendments to the charter/articles/bylaws where the benefits to shareholders outweigh the costs of failing to make such changes.

Proxy access

We believe that long-term shareholders should have the opportunity, when necessary and under reasonable conditions, to nominate directors on the company’s proxy card.    

In our view, securing the right of shareholders to nominate directors without engaging in a control contest can enhance shareholders’ ability to meaningfully participate in the director election process, encourage board attention to shareholder interests, and provide shareholders an effective means of directing that attention where it is lacking. Proxy access mechanisms should provide shareholders with a reasonable opportunity to use this right without stipulating overly restrictive or onerous parameters for use, and also provide assurances that the mechanism will not be subject to abuse by short-term investors, investors without a substantial investment in the company, or investors seeking to take control of the board.    

In general, we support market-standardized proxy access proposals, which allow a shareholder (or group of up to 20 shareholders) holding three percent of a company’s outstanding shares for at least three years the right to nominate the

 

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greater of up to two directors or 20% of the board. Where a standardized proxy access provision exists, we will generally oppose shareholder proposals requesting outlier thresholds.

Right to act by written consent

In exceptional circumstances and with sufficiently broad support, shareholders should have the opportunity to raise issues of substantial importance without having to wait for management to schedule a meeting. We therefore believe that shareholders should have the right to solicit votes by written consent provided that: 1) there are reasonable requirements to initiate the consent solicitation process (in order to avoid the waste of corporate resources in addressing narrowly supported interests); and 2) shareholders receive a minimum of 50% of outstanding shares to effectuate the action by written consent. We may oppose shareholder proposals requesting the right to act by written consent in cases where the proposal is structured for the benefit of a dominant shareholder to the exclusion of others, or if the proposal is written to discourage the board from incorporating appropriate mechanisms to avoid the waste of corporate resources when establishing a right to act by written consent. Additionally, we may oppose shareholder proposals requesting the right to act by written consent if the company already provides a shareholder right to call a special meeting that we believe offers shareholders a reasonable opportunity to raise issues of substantial importance without having to wait for management to schedule a meeting.

Right to call a special meeting

In exceptional circumstances and with sufficiently broad support, shareholders should have the opportunity to raise issues of substantial importance without having to wait for management to schedule a meeting. Accordingly, shareholders should have the right to call a special meeting in cases where a reasonably high proportion of shareholders (typically a minimum of 15% but no higher than 25%) are required to agree to such a meeting before it is called. However, we may oppose this right in cases where the proposal is structured for the benefit of a dominant shareholder, or where a lower threshold may lead to an ineffective use of corporate resources. We generally believe that a right to act via written consent is not a sufficient alternative to the right to call a special meeting.

Simple majority voting

We generally favor a simple majority voting requirement to pass proposals. Therefore, we will support the reduction or the elimination of supermajority voting requirements to the extent that we determine shareholders’ ability to protect their economic interests is improved. Nonetheless, in situations where there is a substantial or dominant shareholder, supermajority voting may be protective of minority shareholder interests and we may support supermajority voting requirements in those situations.

Virtual meetings

Shareholders should have the opportunity to participate in the annual and special meetings for the companies in which they are invested, as these meetings facilitate an opportunity for shareholders to provide feedback and hear from the board and management. While these meetings have traditionally been conducted in-person, virtual meetings are an increasingly viable way for companies to utilize technology to facilitate shareholder accessibility, inclusiveness, and cost efficiencies. We expect shareholders to have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the meeting and interact with the board and management in these virtual settings; companies should facilitate open dialogue and allow shareholders to voice concerns and provide feedback without undue censorship.

 

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This document is provided for information purposes only and is subject to change. Reliance upon this information is at the sole discretion of the reader.

Prepared by BlackRock, Inc.

© 2020 BlackRock, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

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