There is no doubt that, as I have previously noted on this site, the conversation about ESG has changed over time, particularly as ESG has faced a political backlash. These changes not only concern ESG itself but each of its three constituent pillars – and while ESG discussions frequently focus on the “E” pillar, and in particular on climate change, the changes in the ESG conversation also concern the “S” pillar as well. Of the recent changes surrounding the Social component of ESG, arguably none is more important that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023 decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College, in which the Court ruled that race-based policies should not be used in university admissions. In a May 23, 2024, Law360 article entitled “The State of Play in DEI and ESG One Year After Harvard Ruling” (here), attorneys from the Crowell & Moring law firm review the ways that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Harvard case have changed the dialog surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and ESG.Continue Reading ESG, DEI, and the Supreme Court’s College Admissions Decision

As I have noted in prior posts, due to a political “backlash” against ESG, many companies have found it expedient to avoid talking about ESG altogether – a developing that has been referred to as “greenhushing.” Indeed, some academics have even suggested that it may be time to say “RIP” to ESG. But if the expression “ESG” is now verboten, how are we going to talk collectively about the various topics encompassed by the term “ESG”?

According to a January 10, 2024, front-page Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Latest Dirty Word in Corporate America: ESG” (here), as “ESG” has become the three letters that corporate officials dare not utter, they have found other ways to talk about “responsible business.” Meanwhile, corporate environmental and social responsibility efforts continue despite the apparent banishment of “ESG” as an expression. Moreover, as also discussed below, due to regulatory changes, the likelihood is that discussion of the concepts underlying what was referred to in past as “ESG” are only going to increase, regardless whether or not the term “ESG” is used.Continue Reading Goodbye ESG, Hello “Responsible Business”

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

Planet Earth

Many readers may have seen that earlier this week, President Biden made his first use of his Presidential veto powers to block a Congressional measure that would have reinstated Trump-era Labor Department ban on retirement plans considering factors such as climate change, social impacts or pending lawsuits when making investment choices. However, readers may not have seen that last week, in apparent anticipation of the Presidential veto, a group of governors of 19 states announced that they had formed an alliance, led by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, to “push back against President Biden’s environmental, social, and corporate governance agenda that is destabilizing the American economy and the global financial system.”

The 19 state governors issued a joint statement that further explained their reasoning for forming the alliance. The March 16, 2023, press release from Governor DeSantis’s office about the alliance can be found here. The March 16, 2023, joint statement of the governors can be found here. A March 21, 2023 memo from the Cadwalader law firm about the governors’ alliance can be found here. The details of the Department of Labor guidelines, the Congressional measure, and President Biden’s veto are discussed in a March 20, 2023 post on The Nickel Blog, here.Continue Reading Governors Form Alliance to Fight ESG

As I have previously noted (most recently here), something of an anti-ESG backlash has started to take shape, at least in certain quarters. Legislatures in several states have passed legislation prohibiting state pension funds from investing in ESG- focused investments or prohibiting the state from doing business with companies that boycott certain industries. The backlash has also taken the form of litigation, as, for example, with respect to the lawsuit recently filed against Starbucks board pertaining to the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative (DEI).

As Alison Frankel discusses in an October 26, 2022 post on her On the Case blog (here), and in the latest manifestation of this kind of anti-ESG litigation, a nonprofit group has filed an action against the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer based on the company’s sponsorship of a foundation offering fellowships aimed at Black, Latino, Native American and other minority candidates. This latest lawsuit is yet another indication that the companies that get caught up in ESG litigation may the companies taking ESG initiatives, perhaps more so that ESG laggards.
Continue Reading Suits Targeting Firms Seeking to Boost Minorities Highlight ESG Risks

In prior posts on this site (for example here), I have expressed my concern that the current hot topic of ESG has a fundamental underlying flaw in that the term lacks definition and that this lack of precision has led to a great deal of sloppy thinking. A recent post on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance provides a good examination of these ESG-related concerns. In an October 14, 2022 post (here), Douglas Chia of Soundboard Governance LLC, shows, using cybersecurity as an example, that one of the “biggest flaws” of ESG is “the subjective open-endedness of what counts as E, S, or G.”
Continue Reading ESG’s “Biggest Risk”?

In my recently published survey of the top topics in the world of directors’ and officers’ liability and insurance, and in connection with my discussion of ESG issues, I briefly mentioned the lawsuit that was filed last week against directors and officers of Starbucks in connection with the company’s “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) policies. Because there are a number of notable aspects of this lawsuit, it is worth taking a closer look at the suit. As discussed below, the lawsuit represents yet another instance of anti-ESG backlash and illustrates how companies taking the initiative on ESG issues could incur scrutiny and litigation risk. A copy of the recent complaint can be found here and a copy of the plaintiff’s August 31, 2022 press release can be found here.
Continue Reading Starbucks Execs Hit With Suit Alleging the Company’s DEI Policies Violate Civil Rights Laws

In a recent post, I noted that while companies may face investor and regulator pressure to address ESG-related issues, ESG-related actions can also entail operational and financial risks — and litigation risks, as well. In the latest example of a company whose ESG-motivated actions went awry, leading to securities litigation, Wells Fargo has been sued in a securities class action lawsuit after media reports that its efforts to diversify its work force led to fake job interviews, allegedly contrary to the company’s disclosures concerning its diversity efforts. A copy of the June 28, 2022 complaint against Wells Fargo can be found here.
Continue Reading Another Example of ESG-Related Actions Leading to a Securities Lawsuit

As readers of this blog know, the various board diversity lawsuits that the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed in late 2020 and early 2021 have uniformly fared poorly in the courts. In the latest dismissal motion ruling in one of these suits, the court in the board diversity suit filed against the directors of Cisco Systems has granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, albeit without prejudice. The court’s ruling in the Cisco Systems board diversity suit is noteworthy because the court addressed the merits of the plaintiff’s Section 14(a) claims. A copy of the court’s March 1, 2022 dismissal order can be found here.
Continue Reading Board Diversity Suit Against Cisco Systems’ Directors Dismissed