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Committee on Shareholder Responsibility Voted on Facebook Practices

The Harvard Management Company manages Harvard's endowment and related financial holdings.
The Harvard Management Company manages Harvard's endowment and related financial holdings. By Steve S. Li
By Ellen M. Burstein and Camille G. Caldera, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, which is tasked with handling issues of corporate social responsibility, voted on four resolutions presented to Facebook shareholders during the last fiscal year, according to a Friday report.

Though the Harvard Management Company increasingly turns to external money managers to invest its $40.9 billion endowment, it still retains shares in some publicly traded companies.

Facebook is “one of the few publicly traded companies in which HMC directly held voting shares as of the relevant date in 2019,” per the report.

The Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility — which consists of several members of the Harvard Corporation and is chaired by Senior Fellow William F. Lee ’72 — is responsible for all final decisions on shareholder resolutions.

Two of the resolutions — which the committee opposed — were related to conservative political ideology at Facebook.

Several American conservative politicians have accused Facebook, founded by Harvard dropout Mark E. Zuckerberg, of political bias as the company faces scrutiny for its role in spreading misinformation during the 2016 presidential election.

The first of the two resolutions was based on “concerns that the company’s board lacks ideological diversity and that conservative views cannot safely be expressed in some American boardrooms,” per the report.

The resolution requested that a minimum qualification for board nominees be set, and requested that all nominees’ skills, ideological perspectives, and experience be presented in a chart or matrix form.

The report said that, in voting against the resolution, committee members reflected upon substantive differences between categories such as gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity, which are not a matter of personal choice, and “ideological perspectives,” which are.

The second resolution sought information on “affirmative action and protection for conservatives” at Facebook, asserting that there is a “dominant political ideology” at Facebook that makes it an unwelcome work environment for some employees. It also requested a report on programs to protect and support employees who “do not share all or part of Silicon Valley’s dominant political ideology,” and to recruit employees from “free-market, conservative and libertarian think tanks, political organizations and job banks.”

The committee voted against the resolutions, based on “reservations” about using ideology as a criterion for affirmative action and the existence of discrimination against employees with conservative views at Facebook.

The committee voted in favor of a proposal introduced in 2018 that asked Facebook to publish a report evaluating “content governance,” with regard to the dissemination of hate speech, misinformation, and images or videos of extreme violence and cruelty.

They also voted in favor of a 2019 resolution that requested Facebook report its global median gender pay gap.

The report also contained “subject-specific proxy voting guidelines” drafted throughout the year to match the changing nature of HMC’s investment strategy, which involves less direct investment in individual companies and relies more on outside money managers.

Three of the eight guidelines focused on the environmental impact of businesses that Harvard invests in by proxy. They included support for reporting and reducing methane emissions, reporting on business risks and climate change, and reducing waste of plastic/polystyrene products.

Harvard has faced calls from students and faculty to divest from the fossil fuel industry. University administrators, including University President Lawrence S. Bacow, have resisted calls for divestment.

The proxy guidelines also addressed topics such as lobbying and political spending, anti-genocide policies, and gender-, race-, and ethnicity-based pay disparities.

— Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at camille.caldera@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

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