In Brief: CLO Edition
2018 Jan 18
Today's Top Story
Canada Creates Office to Investigate Human Rights Abuses Linked to Companies Operating Abroad
Ottawa has announced a new office, the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprisse (CORE), which will be an independent officer who will investigate allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporations operating abroad. Unlike its predecessor, the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counselor, the new position will not require the permission of a company to investigate. Nor will the ombudsman need a complaint, as they will have the power to launch their own investigations and publicly report their findings, reports The Star (17 January, Oved). The ombudsman will deal with mining companies, but will also cover the oil and gas as well as garment sectors. The ombudsman is also expected to later expand to all other business sectors where Canadian companies operate internationally.
Broadcom Probed for Antitrust Practices
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating whether chipmaker Broadcom Ltd. engaged in anticompetitive tactics in negotiations with customers, the company said on 17 January. The investigation comes as Broadcom pursues a hostile takeover of Qualcomm in a US$103 billion deal. Since the FTC would likely review any merger for anticompetitive practices, the current probe could make regulatory approval more challenging, reports Reuters (17 January, Baker). The focus of the concern has been that Broadcom has changed some contracts to require customers to buy a percentage of its production of items rather than a certain number.
All CFPB Operations Put Under Review
Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), said Wednesday that he is launching a review of all the federal consumer watchdog agency's policies and priorities. The review is the clearest sign yet that the future direction of the CFPB will be dramatically different than it was under the Obama administration, reports CBS News (17 January). Mulvaney said in a statement that he is putting out formal requests for information for all "activities" of the bureau. Requests for information are a first step by federal agencies such as the CFPB to make changes to any rules they may have already put into place.
Mergers and Acquisitions
First Chinese Takeover of U.S. Group Under Trump Gets Approval
After a series of Chinese acquisitions of U.S. assets were torpedoed by the U.S. government in 2017 over national security concerns, Washington cleared its first Beijing-backed takeover of an American company since Donald Trump became president a year ago. Naura, a Chinese state-controlled semiconductor company, received U.S. regulatory approval for the purchase of Akrion Systems, a Pennsylvania-based rival, in December, a law firm representing the buyer said. "Despite a heightened U.S. government review of Chinese investments, the parties obtained the CFIUS approval in less than three months," said a spokesperson for Gibson Dunn, which represents Naura. The decision by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to approve the deal could weaken widespread fears among business leaders that the Trump administration is using the inter-agency vetting of deals that pose national security risks as a new tool against China and its growing appetite for American technology, reports the Financial Times (17 January, Fontanella-Khan, Donnan).
Panasonic Set to Become First Major Industrial Company to Adopt Japan Governance Code
Panasonic's employee pension fund is poised to become Japan's first major industrial company to sign up to the stewardship code — a landmark decision that analysts believe could trigger an "avalanche" of similar corporate moves. The decision, which Panasonic said it was "considering" but which people close to the situation say will be formalized soon, breaks what had become for the administration of Shinzo Abe an embarrassing three-year drought of sign-ups since Japan introduced the stewardship code in 2014. Analysts who have closely tracked Japan's progress on corporate governance reform — and its recently waning momentum — said that a move by a company as influential as Panasonic was what was needed to resuscitate the program, reports the Financial Times (17 January, Lewis, Inagaki). The stewardship code, which demands transparency on voting records and pushes institutional investors to hold to higher standards the management of companies in which they hold stock, was seen as a critical strut in Japan's push for better corporate governance and a key ingredient of the "Abenomics" economic revival program.
Labor and Employment
With Workplace Suicides Rising, Companies Plan for the Unthinkable
As suicide rates have climbed in recent years, so have instances of employees ending their lives at the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, suicides at workplaces totaled 291 in 2016, the most recent year of data and the highest number since the government began tallying such events 25 years ago. Sudden and traumatic for colleagues, the incidents can prompt ripples of anger and guilt across an organization, potentially damaging productivity, reports the Wall Street Journal (17 January, Feintzeig). Corporate managers are increasingly preparing for the possibility. Employers are bringing in counselors to teach managers to spot some of the potential warning signs: Someone planning suicide might exhibit a sharp decline in personal hygiene or a significant change in personality, for example.
Lawmakers Grill Social Media Companies over Terrorist Posts
U.S. legislators grilled executives from Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter on Wednesday about the steps the three companies have been taking to prevent terrorists from using their platforms to spread propaganda and recruit new followers, according to the Associated Press (17 January). The hearing came after November's exhaustive congressional hearings on what the companies knew and did about Russia's efforts to meddle with the 2016 U.S. elections using their platforms. The companies told lawmakers they have made progress. During the first half of 2017, for instance, Twitter suspended just under 300,000 accounts that promoted terrorism. YouTube says since June, it has gotten rid of 160,000 videos and 30,000 channels that promote violent extremism. Facebook claims 99 percent of al Qaeda and ISIS-related terror content is removed before anyone reports it.
Trump Considers Major Fine for China Intellectual Property Theft
U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States was considering a big "fine" as part of a probe into China's alleged theft of intellectual property, the clearest indication yet that his administration will take retaliatory trade action against China. Trump and his economic adviser Gary Cohn said China had forced U.S. companies to transfer their intellectual property to China as a cost of doing business there. The United States has started a trade investigation into the issue, and Cohn said the United States Trade Representative would be making recommendations about it soon, reports Reuters (17 January, Mason). While Trump did not specify what he meant by a "fine" against China, the 1974 trade law that authorized an investigation into China's alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property allows him to impose retaliatory tariffs on Chinese goods or other trade sanctions until China changes its policies.
Apple to Return Overseas Cash, Taking Advantage of New U.S. Tax Law
Apple said it will bring hundreds of billions of overseas dollars back to the United States; pay about US$38 billion in taxes on the money; and spend tens of billions on domestic jobs, manufacturing, and data centers in the coming years, reports Bloomberg (17 January, Webb, Gurman). The technology giant is planning capital expenditures of US$30 billion in the United States over five years. Apple will create approximately 20,000 new jobs at existing sites and plans to open a new corporate campus. "We are focusing our investments in areas where we can have a direct impact on job creation and job preparedness," Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in an official statement. In addition, Apple told employees that it is issuing stock-based bonuses worth US$2,500 each following the new U.S. tax law.
Food and Beverage
Police Search Lactalis Sites over Baby Milk Scare
French police are searching several sites run by dairy group Lactalis as part of an ongoing investigation into a baby milk scare. More than 12 million boxes of powdered baby milk have already been recalled in 83 countries following a salmonella outbreak. Lawsuits have been filed by parents who say their children became unwell after drinking the formula, reports BBC News (17 January). Sites raided include a factory in Craon, which was closed last month after it was thought the contamination started in one of its drying towers. At least 37 babies are so far reported to have been affected in France, with one case reported in Spain and a further unconfirmed case in Greece.
Judith McKenna Named President and CEO of Walmart International
Wal-Mart Stores COO Judith McKenna has been named President and Chief Executive of its international unit, effective 1 February, reports CNBC News (17 January). The role is seen by many as a stepping stone to the top job at the world's largest retailer. David Cheesewright, the current International CEO, has agreed to remain with the retailer for a limited time to work on unspecified projects.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Paint Companies Could Hand Taxpayers the Bill for Lead Paint Cleanup
A proposed November statewide ballot measure could allow three of the biggest paint companies in the United States to hand California taxpayers a bill for the cost of cleaning up health hazards caused by lead paint, reports the Los Angeles Times (17 January, Dillon). The measure would place a US$2 billion bond on the ballot to fund the remediation of lead paint, asbestos, and other environmental hazards in houses, schools, and senior living centers. Also, the initiative would reverse an earlier state appeals court decision requiring ConAgra, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for lead paint abatement. Finally, it aims to block future legal actions against the paint companies for similar claims. Last week, the three companies donated a combined US$6 million to a campaign supporting the bond measure, indicating the companies were gearing up for a signature-gathering effort to qualify the initiative.
2018 ACC Foundation Cybersecurity Summit