A new study has found that diversity on corporate boards of directors leads to statistically significant increases in the representation of under-represented groups at the manager and staff level.  The study – “Do Diverse Directors Influence DEI Outcomes?” by Wei Cai (Columbia Graduate School of Business), Aiyesha Dey (Harvard Business School), Jillian Grennan (Santa Clara University and UC-Berkeley), Joseph Pacelli (Harvard Business School), and Lin Qiu (Purdue University) – adds to the growing literature on board diversity and human capital management, two significant ESG considerations for many corporations and investors.  While proponents of ESG sometimes focus on advancing each of those goals individually, the study links the two considerations and shows that one of them (board diversity) can promote at least some aspects of the other (diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce).

In a new skirmish in the volatile ESG and culture wars, a Florida federal court preliminarily enjoined enforcement of portions of Florida’s “anti-woke” law, which prohibits employers from requiring employees to attend training sessions or other activities that “espouse” or “promote” eight “concepts” relating to race, color, sex, or national origin.  U.S. District Judge Mark Walker held in Honeyfund.com, Inc. v. DeSantis (N.D. Fla. Aug. 18, 2022), that the statute is a “naked viewpoint-based regulation on speech,” in violation of the First Amendment, and also is unconstitutionally vague.

A California court invalidated a state law requiring that boards of directors of public companies based in California include members from under-represented groups, including persons of several races and ethnic groups and those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.  The April 1, 2022 decision in Crest v. Padilla, No. 20ST-CV-37513, by Judge Terry Green of the Los Angeles Superior Court, was issued in one of several cases attacking California laws designed to increase diversity on corporate boards of directors, a significant goal of the ESG movement.

Last week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a set of sweeping new rules requiring public companies to disclose climate-related risks in their registration statements and periodic reports.  Under the proposed rules, public companies would have to disclose the actual and potential impacts of climate change on their business,

Corporate boards are subject to a duty of oversight, as part of their duty of loyalty to their company. As outlined by Delaware’s famously stringent Caremark standard, pleading a violation of that duty is often difficult. However, the Delaware Court of Chancery has issued several recent opinions addressing duty of

The acronym “ESG” is shorthand for environmental, social, and governance concerns.  In recent years, companies have used “ESG” to refer to initiatives involving climate change, responding to racial injustice, and supporting workers’ rights.  The “S” in ESG can be a bit nebulous, however, as “social” may refer to any number of issues affecting a corporation, its stakeholders, and the community at large. For example, children’s privacy has always been a hot button social issue, but it has only gained traction during the COVID-19 pandemic as children have transitioned to remote learning and socializing online more than ever before. And a derivative lawsuit suggests that companies may want to ensure they are responding to child privacy concerns as part of their regular ESG practices and policies.

The SEC’s Climate and ESG Task Force has been criticized by Republican commissioners who believe enforcement in the area would be premature. But Kelly L. Gibson, acting deputy director of the enforcement and head of the agency-wide ESG Task Force, stated that the task force is necessary to recognize evolving investor priorities and that it will continue to operate. And new SEC Chairman Gary Gensler has echoed her sentiments, telling Congress that investors “measured in the trillions of dollars” seek to better understand climate risk issues.

While the SEC staff tends to be of the broad view that ESG warrants serious consideration, there are a breadth of different opinions regarding what ultimate disclosure requirements should look like.  This discord came to a head during a virtual SEC panel last Friday.

The panelists included both SEC staff and industry leaders.  One-by-one, the panelists provided their views on the SEC’s ESG subcommittee’s December recommendation of new standards for issuers to disclose “material ESG risks.”  In particular, the ESG subcommittee recommended that material ESG risks be disclosed pursuant to “standard setters’ frameworks,” and “in a manner consistent with the presentation of other financial disclosures.”