Shareholders are asking corporate management to take action on social justice and environmental issues through resolutions that have been filed for consideration during the upcoming proxy season.

Fewer resolutions were filed this year than in some years, but new emphasis is being placed on social justice issues, according to the Proxy Preview 2021, which was released today by the advocacy organizations As You Sow, the Sustainable Investment Institute and Proxy Impact.

“Facing a sea change in Washington, the 2021 proxy season will give companies the chance to hear from investors on how to address a calamitous mix of threats to our democracy, social justice and the environment,” Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute and co-author of Proxy Preview 2021, said in a statement. “With the pendulum swinging to more regulation, early signs suggest more companies will try to show they are on board with the new administration, but the shareholder proposals aim to put meat on the bones of pledges for transparency and action.”

So far, 435 resolutions have been filed, down from the high of 500 that were filed in 2017, but only about 200 of those will actually be put to a vote, Welsh said in an interview yesterday. Shareholders file resolutions with public companies in the hope of influencing corporate behavior. The resolutions are voted on during corporate meetings in the spring. Resolutions are frequently considered several years in a row if they fail to pass at first.

This year showcases how companies could act on racial justice and equal opportunity, with a surge of new proposals inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the report said.

At the same time, the resolutions raise fresh ideas for corporate climate change accountability, and continue to demand transparency on election activity and lobbying activities of the corporations, according to the report. New proposals address worker safety and affordable treatments to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“2020 showed us that ‘business as usual’ no longer exists. Shareholder proponents expect escalated action and not just words,” Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow and publisher of the report, said in a statement. “The 2021 proposals offer ideas for transforming the deep-rooted challenges that threaten businesses and the entire global economy, including climate change and systemic racism.”

“There are more new resolutions, as opposed to ones that are being resubmitted this year than we have seen in the past,” Welsh said. “You would think most new ones would deal with issues raised by the pandemic, but, in fact, there are more that concern racial justice and diversity. Many companies have issued statements that they support issues raised by Black Lives Matter, but shareholders want more than just statements. They want to see action.”

Some progress seems to have been made by corporations on diversity on boards of directors and resolutions are down in that area. But shareholders want to see more progress on diversity in top level offices, she said.

“Another major theme that has seen heightened importance this year is political spending by corporations where shareholders want more transparency. They want to know how much ‘dark money’ corporations are funneling through their trade associations for lobbying,” Welsh said. More lobbying activity takes place when there is a change in administrations in Washington, she said.

Shareholders also are concerned about regulations passed by the Securities and Exchange Commission last year that will make it more difficult for shareholders with small holdings to offer resolutions and more difficult for shareholders to resubmit resolutions if they do not pass in the first or subsequent years. These changes will take effect next year if they are not overridden by Congress, Welsh said.