Business Ethics and Corporate Culture

Companies Gearing up to Meet New Diversity Guidelines
Asia Pacific

The Age reports that Australia’s biggest companies have published figures on the proportion of women in their staff and senior positions, in a bid to comply with the Australian Securities Exchange’s (ASX) new corporate governance guidelines, which are to come into effect in 2012. According to The Age, the guidelines require companies to “adopt and disclose diversity policies, set ‘measurable objectives’ on gender diversity, and publish breakdowns on the proportion of women on staff, in senior management and on the board”, and under the new “if not, why not” rule, non-complying companies will be required to provide an adequate explanation for non-compliance.

The development of the guidelines reportedly followed concern about the lack of gender diversity and the under-representation of women at senior-management level. Reportedly, BusinessDay’s analysis of annual reports filed by ASX 100 companies has revealed that so far in 2011, only one company, Ramsay Health Care (Ramsay), has more female than male senior managers. Ramsay reportedly comprises of an 84% female workforce, along with 75% female senior managers. According to The Age, 80% of the 80-plus ASX 100 companies that have already lodged annual reports for the year stated that they have pre-existing or new policies in place, with others confident of instituting one during the next year.
The Age: Crunching the gender numbers (15 October 2011)
(Source: The Age)

SEC Commissioner’s Speech

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has made available Protecting the Financial System and Aligning the Interests of Banks and their Customers (12 October 2011), a speech delivered by SEC commissioner Luis Aguilar.
(Source: SEC)

Diageo Investors Find Executive Remuneration Conditions Hard to Swallow
Europe, Middle East and Africa

The Guardian reports that shareholders in the world’s largest alcoholic drinks corporation, Diageo, have protested over the company’s executive remuneration report, with 20% withholding support for the plan. Co-operative Asset Management spokesperson Phineas Glover stated that “[l]ongstanding concerns [about executive remuneration] remain in abundance”, citing issues such as “the high level of awards vesting under the share schemes for average performance; the lack of disclosure justifying clockwork bonus awards; [and] the consistently underwhelming nature of the earnings per share targets next to market sentiment”. Investors were also reportedly concerned that Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh could resign at any time and receive “bonuses worth millions”, without facing a review period.
The Guardian: Diageo investors protest over bonuses (20 October 2011)
(Source: The Guardian)

AICD Releases Institutional Share Voting and Engagement Report
Asia Pacific

The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) has released Institutional Share Voting and Engagement – Exploring the links between directors, institutional shareholders and proxy advisers (September 2011). The report examines “the current connections between directors and institutional shareholders, the role and influence of proxy advisers, and issues faced by all participants during the corporate [annual general meeting] season”. The report also examines attitudes towards the recently enacted Corporations Amendment (Improving Accountability on Director and Executive Remuneration) Act 2011 No. 42 (Cth), with participants expressing the view that “there had been too much focus on remuneration rather than broader governance and strategic issues”.
AICD’s media release (12 October 2011)
(Source: AICD; Lawlex Legislative Alert & Premium Research)

Lawyer’s Debt Collection Actions Declared Impermissible
Asia Pacific

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced that it has successfully taken legal action against a law firm which engaged in deceptive and misleading conduct. The Federal Court found that debt collection notices issued by Goddard Elliot Lawyers principal and registered owner Pippa Sampson made a number of false claims, including that the consequences of non-compliance were much more serious than they in fact were, that liability for legal costs of enforcement would fall with the debtor, and that a judgment could be made without a formal court order.

The ACCC stated that “[t]he scale and flagrant nature of this conduct” was of “great concern” as the law firm issued almost 250,000 debt collection notices on behalf of video rental stores in the twelve months prior to the commencement of legal proceedings. The Federal Court ordered Ms Sampson to desist from issuing such notices, pay AU$30,000 towards the ACCC’s legal costs, publish corrective notices and ensure that all staff receive appropriate training to prevent similar incidents in the future.
ACCC’s media release (19 October 2011)
(Source: ACCC)