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Cisco Shareholders Asked to Vote on Human Rights Resolution, Again

Cisco Systems LogoAt the Cisco Systems shareholder meeting to be held in November, a shareholder named John C. Harrington will introduce a proposal to establish a Board Committee on Human Rights at the company. The proposal says:

  • Our company's products are key components of the "Great Firewall of China," which is used by the Chinese government to monitor and restrict the flow of information within the country. Our brand has been tarnished by lingering allegations that human rights are violated by repressive regimes with the assistance of Sun Microsystems hardware.
  • Our company's existing governance process does not sufficiently elevate these issues within the company or serve the interests of shareholders. The proposed Bylaw would rectify this failure of corporate governance by establishing a Board Committee on Human Rights. This committee would review and make policy recommendations regarding human rights issues raised by the company's activities and policies.
  • We believe the proposed Board committee on Human Rights would be an effective mechanism for addressing the human rights implications of the company's activities and policies as they emerge anywhere in the world. In defining "human rights," proponents suggest that the committee could use the US Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as nonbinding benchmarks or reference documents.
The board of directors counters that creating such a dedicated committee is unnecessary, because the company already has established practices and policies in place, including a formal Human Rights Policy adopted in May and is a signatory to other corporate social conduct initiatives.

No doubt the resolution has the support of Boston Common Asset Management, an investment firm dedicated to the pursuit of corporate social responsibility, which previously tried -- and failed -- to garner enough votes at the last three shareholder meetings that would require networking equipment maker to establish such a board.

The global economic environment does little to help Harrington, Boston Common, et al. with their lobbying efforts. Financial-industry technology outlays will sink 20 percent to $17.6 billion next year as the credit crisis forces financial companies to cut spending to the lowest level since 2000, said Larry Tabb, founder of Tabb Group in New York, which tracks securities firm budgets, in an interview with the Business Standard. It is doubtful, given profitability concerns facing Cisco shareholders that the resolution will pass when voted on at the annual meeting to be held in Santa Clara, California, on November 13.

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