Initial calls for racial audits at Wall Street banks and other corporations were rejected by shareholders, but support was high enough that companies are likely to face increased pressure to agree to future reviews.
Shareholder proposals for independent racial audits filed at Johnson & Johnson and Citigroup Inc. received backing from more than a third of shareholders at annual meetings this month. At Goldman Sachs Group Inc., 29% of shareholders voted for an audit at the company’s annual meeting Thursday. The investors’ recommendations called for a deep-dive analysis into the companies’ business models — from policies to products and services — to determine whether they cause or perpetuate racial inequities.
While the proposals failed to pass, enough shareholders voted for them to send “a warning shot that the companies should take notice,” said Rob Du Boff, an environmental, social and governance analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. The next step would be for proponents to withhold support for directors that oversee the issue, such as those on the corporate responsibility or risk committees, he said.
The racial audits are part of a broader push by shareholders to hold companies accountable for statements of support they made to minority communities last year after the killing of George Floyd by police prompted widespread protests. Shareholders also want companies to provide more transparency about the diversity of their employees and show how their political contributions line up with their social positions.
New York State Common Retirement Fund, CtW Investment Group and Service Employees International Union were the investors that filed proposals calling for racial audits. BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset-management firm, broke ranks with its financial-services peers earlier this month by agreeing to perform one, joining companies including Airbnb Inc. and Facebook Inc. that have conducted audits in recent years.