Get out the (proxy) vote!
With the 2016 elections still months away, the wall-to-wall media coverage may leave you itching to cast your vote early. Consider putting that energy to good use by making your voice heard on corporate issues.
Today, corporations make most decisions of consequence in our society. As the owner or shareholder of a stock or shares of a mutual fund, you are part owner of a corporation. That means you have both rights and responsibilities. You have the right to sit with management, be an insider, and work for change through constructive activism. Part of that activism means understanding how your mutual fund company votes on matters pertaining to the individual companies they invest in.
During corporate America’s “proxy season,” which is between April 15 and June 30 each year, most of America’s largest publicly traded corporations hold their annual meetings to vote on company business as well as various proposals introduced by shareholders, which appear on proxy ballots. Resolutions are voted on during a company’s annual meeting and often deal with issues of importance to values-conscious investors–like human rights issues. And it’s not necessary to be present to vote. Mutual fund companies vote proxy ballots in absentia on behalf of their investors.
Unmarked proxy ballots are voted in accordance with management’s recommendations, which are often opposed to shareholder resolutions on social responsibility. So, it’s critical for investors to make sure their proxy ballots are voted according to their values.
For example, do you want to know who makes your clothes and how those workers are treated? One resolution the Azzad Funds recently voted for on behalf of shareholders asked the retailer Urban Outfitters, Inc. to collect and report information about human rights violations in its supplier chain–a small, but important, step toward transparency in the sometimes exploitative apparel industry.
Shareholder advocacy is essential for any socially responsible investor. And just like voting in a general election, it’s essential to know the issues and determine where you stand. Make sure you know how your proxy ballots are being voted. Your mutual fund company is required make its proxy procedures and votes public, so start your research by perusing their website. Make sure their policies align with your values. If not, let them know.
So, get involved. Your elected representatives are not the only ones voting in your name.
For more information on proxy voting, see Azzad’s proxy voting guidelines document.
Joshua Brockwell is Investment Communications Director at Azzad Asset Management, a socially responsible registered investment advisor located in Falls Church, Virginia.