After failing to get the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to kill a shareholder resolution filed by investment management firm Arjuna Capital and supported by UltraViolet, a leading national women’s organization, Comcast/NBCUniversal now faces a painful public vote Wednesday on a call for an independent investigation into its failures to prevent workplace sexual harassment, and the resulting financial risks to shareholders. Proposal 8 will be up this Wednesday morning during the virtual annual meeting of Comcast/NBCUniversal.
Advocates from Arjuna Capital and UltraViolet have argued that Comcast/NBCUniversal is sending “absolutely the wrong signal” by opposing legitimate shareholder concerns about workplace harassment stemming from numerous allegations against NBC on-air talent like Matt Lauer, Simon Cowell, and Chris Mathews, as well as managers at Comcast call centers who have been hit with harassment complaints.
In early May, Comcast/NBCUniversal took the encouraging step of ousting NBC news head Andy Lack and sidelining his lieutenant Noah Oppenheim. At that time, UltraViolet’s Shaunna Thomas noted: “While no single decision or individual can eliminate the pervasiveness of sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace, these are positive developments. Still, NBC has a long way to go before it takes the steps necessary to address their toxic workplace culture, which has been cultivated by men like Andy Lack for decades.”
The Comcast action against Lack and Oppenheim took place shortly after it lost its bid to get the SEC to kill the Arjuna Capital/Ultraviolet shareholder resolution, which cites Comcast/NBC Universal for “an alleged failure to protect employees from sexual harassment in the workplace, failing to hold those culpable accountable, and lacking transparency.”
Natasha Lamb, managing partner, Arjuna Capital, said: “Just getting rid of a few high-profile problem cases does not let Comcast/NBCUniversal off the hook. We need to be sure that this pervasive corporate-culture problem is analyzed and then remedied. In the case of workplace sexual harassment, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and continued attempts to sweep concerns under the rug sends absolutely the wrong signal to shareholders. Investors are legitimately concerned about their long-term wealth and the kind of regulatory fines and court-imposed judgments that could lie just ahead.”
“Whether it’s Matt Lauer, Simon Cowell, or issues at Comcast’s call-centers, Comcast has fostered a a corporate culture that empowers men to abuse women in the workforce, all while executives look the other way, or worse, protect the abuser and silence those who speak up,” explained Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of UltraViolet. “Denying the problem and silently getting rid of some of the worst defenders (Chris Matthews) and enablers (Andy Lack) does not fix the problem. Make no mistake, Comcast’s culture of abuse still poses a significant risk to the NBC Universal brand and shareholder value. It’s time for real action - and that starts with learning the full extent of the problem.”
The Arjuna Capital resolution notes that the risk of inaction on workplace harassment is considerable for shareholders: “...Workplace harassment can harm shareholder value. The market capitalization of Wynn Resorts dropped by 3 billion dollars over two days following harassment allegations against CEO Steve Wynn. 21st Century Fox agreed to a $90-million settlement with shareholders who alleged that directors failed to hold accountable senior executives who perpetuated sexual harassment... To avoid legal and reputational risk, as the employer of 184,000 workers, Comcast must create a culture of accountability and transparency, and protect employees from harassment and discrimination.”
In recent months, UltraViolet has called for Comcast/NBCUniversal to address its toxic workplace culture. In November, UltraViolet organized a letter to the DNC, signed by Presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Julian Castro, and Tom Steyer, calling on the DNC to demand Comcast/NBCUniversal take action to address the toxic culture that exists across their newsrooms and boardrooms. In October, members of UltraViolet rallied outside of NBC’s headquarters in New York City to deliver more than 20,000 signatures demanding changes across Comcast.
Arjuna Capital is a champion of workplace concerns for women and minorities. In 2018, Arjuna persuaded Citibank, J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, American Express, Mastercard, Reinsurance Group and Progressive to publish their gender and racial pay gaps on an equal pay for equal work basis. Since 2016, Arjuna Capital has compelled similar disclosures from 22 companies, including leading U.S. tech and retail firms Apple, Amazon, Intel, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, eBay, Adobe, Expedia, and Starbucks.
SOURCE: Arjuna Capital