More Companies Bow to Investors With a Social Cause

Shareholders are driving changes in corporate policies and disclosures unthinkable a decade ago, on issues ranging from protecting rain forests to human rights. So far this year, environmental and social issues have accounted for 56% of shareholder proposals, representing a majority for the first time, according to accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP. That is up from about 40% in the previous two years, and means shareholders are increasingly voting on things like greenhouse-gas emissions, political spending and labor rights. 53% of companies in the S&P 500 index now publish sustainability reports, according to the Governance and Accountability Institute, addressing such matters as their energy efficiency and labor standards.

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