A unit of Deutsche Bank has agreed to the entry of a cease-and-desist order and to the payment of a $19 million penalty in connection with an SEC enforcement action in which the agency alleged that the unit had made materially misleading statements about its use of ESG factors into its research and investment recommendations. The ESG-related enforcement action was accompanied by a separate anti-money laundering (AML) enforcement action against the unit, Deutsche Bank’s New York-based investment advisor subsidiary, DWS Investment Management Americas (DWS), in which DWS agreed to pay a separate $6 million penalty. The ESG-related action, which apparently involved the SEC’s Climate and ESG Task Force, highlights the ways in which companies seeking to be proactive on ESG-related issues can attract claims. The action also underscores the fact that the SEC is scrutinizing ESG-related disclosures.Continue Reading Deutsche Bank Unit Hit with SEC Penalties Over ESG Claims

As the phenomenon of ESG-related litigation has developed and evolved in recent months, it has unfolded that the lawsuits are not, as was expected, being filed against ESG laggards, but instead are being filed against companies that were proactive on ESG-related issues. One of the cases illustrating this development is the securities lawsuit filed against the consumer products company Unilever, based on allegations that the company had failed to disclose a resolution passed by the independent board of its Ben and Jerry’s subsidiary to end ice cream sales in occupied Israeli territories. On August 29, 2023, In a ruling that suggests that these kinds of ESG-related cases could face challenges, Southern District of New York Judge Lorna Schofield granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that the plaintiff had failed to sufficiently plead scienter. A copy of the August 29 opinion and order can be found here.Continue Reading ESG-Related Suit Against Unilever Based on Ben & Jerry’s Board’s Resolution Dismissed

The SEC has not yet adopted the long-anticipated final version of its proposed climate change disclosure guidelines, although there is some speculation that the final guidelines will be adopted in the Fall. In the meantime, however, sustainability reporting standards are going into effect elsewhere, with important ramifications for all companies.

On July 31, 2023, the European Commission adopted the first set of European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS), which require EU and non-EU companies with specified levels of EU activity to file annual sustainability reports with their financial statements. The standards will soon become law and apply in all 27 EU Member states, with compliance requirements effective as early as 2025 for the 2024 reporting period. The ESRS as adopted on July 31, 2023, by the European Commission can be found here. The European Commission’s adoption of the first set of ESRS and the reporting standard’s requirements are described in detail in an August 11, 2023, memo from the Cooley law firm, here.Continue Reading EU Adopts Mandatory ESG Reporting Requirements

As I have noted in recent posts on this site, the developing trend toward anti-ESG litigation has targeted, among other corporate initiatives, company adoption of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. These and other developments have encouraged some companies to soft-pedal their initiatives in this and other areas, a phenomenon that has been described as “greenhushing.” But as noted in a recent memo from attorneys at the Wachtel Lipton law firm, while scrutiny for DEI initiatives may continue, companies and their boards properly may pursue DEI strategies as part of their companies’ overall missions. The August 19, 2023, memo in the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance can be found here.Continue Reading DEI Initiatives Face Increased Scrutiny

I have noted for some time now in posts on this site the development of an ESG backlash, which has taken a variety of forms, including through both political action and litigation. For example, I recently noted two ESG backlash lawsuits that had been filed against major U.S. airlines. Now in the latest example of an ESG backlash lawsuit, a plaintiff shareholder has filed a securities suit against the retailing giant Target Corporation and certain of its directors and officers based on allegations that the defendants “betrayed both Target’s core customer base … and its investors by making false and misleading statements concerning Target’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) mandates that let to its disastrous children-and-family themed LGBT-Pride campaign.” A copy of the complaint in the new Target lawsuit can be found here.Continue Reading Target Hit with ESG-Backlash Securities Suit

In numerous recent posts, I have detailed how activist investors have been trying to use the courts to advance their ESG-related agenda, whether the groups’ goals are to advance or oppose ESG initiatives. For example, earlier this week I discussed the recent Delaware case in which activist investors sought to hold the Disney board liable for the company’s actions regarding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. A high-profile example of litigation from the other direction, in which activists seek to hold board accountable for the company’s alleged insufficient actions on ESG issues, is the claim brought in English courts earlier this year against the Board of Shell, alleging that the company’s actions to address climate change were insufficient.

As detailed in an excellent June 1, 2023, memo from the Shearman & Sterling law firm (here), earlier this year the High Court ruled that the plaintiff in the case against the Shell board had failed to state a prima facie case. Just like the Disney case I discussed earlier this week, the Court’s reasoning has significant implications for those who would seek to use the courts to advance ESG-related agendas.Continue Reading English Court Rejects Climate Change Case Against Shell Board

Readers of this blog know that one of the more significant recent developments in the ESG arena has been the rise of the ESG backlash – that is, moves by state legislators and others to try to push back against a supposed ESG agenda. These developments have put company executives squarely in the crossfire, as they struggle, on the one hand, to address continued efforts by activist stakeholders to push companies toward expanded ESG commitments, and conflicting efforts by conservative politicians to punish companies for supposedly pursuing a “woke” agenda. How are companies to respond to these competing forces? Evidence suggests that increasingly companies are responding by “greenhushing” – that is, by keeping quiet about their ESG initiatives.Continue Reading Next Up on the ESG Front: Greenhushing?

In prior posts, I have noted the growing phenomenon of an anti-ESG backlash. The ESG backlash has taken the form of both legislation and litigation. In the latest examples of ESG backlash litigation, plaintiffs recently have filed two lawsuits against U.S.-based airlines based on the companies’ alleged actions supporting ESG-related initiatives. As discussed below, these latest lawsuits reconfirm that it is not the ESG laggards that are getting hit with ESG-related litigation; rather, the lawsuits are coming against companies that are taking ESG-supportive initiatives.Continue Reading Airlines Hit with ESG-Backlash Lawsuits

ESG has for some time now been a hot button issue for companies. More recently, an anti-ESG backlash has emerged, further complicating the ESG environment for companies and sometimes putting them in a “damned-if-you-do-and damned-if-you-don’t” dilemma. How are companies to navigate these complicated conditions? In a May 23, 2023 post on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance entitled “Navigating the Current ESG Landscape: Recommendations for the Board and Management” (here), veteran and respected corporate attorney Martin Lipton of the Wachtell, Lipton law firm provides guidance for companies as they navigate these difficult circumstances and describes the principles companies should follow in trying to make their way on these issues.Continue Reading Navigating the Challenging ESG Landscape

ESG is of course one of the current hot button topics, in the corporate, legal, and financial world. One of the many issues surrounding ESG is the question of how ESG initiatives fit with traditional notions surrounding corporate purposes. In the following guest post, Greg Markel, Giovanna Ferrari, and Sarah Fedner of the Seyfarth Shaw law firm take a comprehensive look at the ways in which ESG fits within the basic principles of corporate governance and corporate purpose . I would like to thank the authors for allowing me to publish their article as a guest post on this site. I welcome guest post submissions from responsible authors on topics to the readers of this blog. Please contact me directly if you would like to submit a guest post. Here is the authors’ article.Continue Reading Guest Post: ESG and Corporate Purpose:  Their Current Status and How They Relate