June 23--Critics of FedEx ties to the Washington Redskins took the company to task Monday for trying to sidestep a shareholder proposal on the team name controversy.
A group representing Native Americans and allied investment firms accused the company of attempting to censor activist shareholders.
FedEx leader Frederick W. Smith owns about 10 percent of the team, and the Memphis-based company has naming rights for the stadium in Landover, Maryland through 2026.
Native Americans and their backers have been campaigning for years to rid the Redskins of a name they consider a racial slur.
Last Sept. 23 during a FedEx Corp. annual meeting in Memphis, shareholders torpedoed a floor proposal by a representative of Wisconsin'sOneida Tribe to revisit company ties to FedExField and the team.
The proposal lost by a vote of 253 million to 221. It wasn't one of the shareholder proposals listed in the 2013 proxy statement, but the proxy advised investors that a floor proposal on the topic was anticipated.
Shareholders led by the Oneida Trust submitted a request April 10 to have the matter put in the proxy for FedEx's Sept. 29 annual meeting in Memphis. A proxy statement gives advance notice of business that will be considered at a company's annual meeting, such as executive compensation and board elections.
Backers of the proposal in the investment industry include Bethesda, Maryland-based Calvert Investments, with about 65,000 FedEx shares held in mutual funds.
"We're essentially asking the company to respond to reputational damage," said Reed Montague, sustainability analyst at Calvert. "We just think it's a dehumanizing label. There's a certain segment of the community that is offended."
The company has asked for regulatory approval, as it did in 2009, to exclude the shareholder proposal from the proxy statement. The company contends it relates to an ordinary business matter, advertising, that shouldn't be subject to stockholder oversight.
FedEx spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald said Monday the company had no comment on the censorship claim. The claim was made in a news release from the Oneidas and supporters, which said in part:
"Currently, FedEx is seeking to censor its shareholders by asking the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to exclude the shareholder proposal from its 2014 proxy statement. FedEx wrongly argues that this is not a significant issue for investors to consider at the company's annual meeting in September 2014."
This follows last week's ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to remove the Redskins' federal trademark protection because the name is disparaging to Native Americans. The team is expected to appeal.
The commission allowed a similar shareholder proposal to be left off the 2009 proxy. At that meeting, a Native American advocate raised the issue during a question-and-answer session.
Smith, the company's president, chairman and chief executive officer, said then that he and the company have little influence over the team name.
"We have no legal standing to renege on our contract or demand that the Washington Redskins be renamed," Smith said in 2009. "I own a small portion of the Washington Redskins. I can tell you this issue has been discussed there."
The Oneida proposal asks the board to prepare a report by Feb. 1, 2015 "addressing how FedEx can better respond to reputational damage from its association with the Washington, D.C., NFL franchise team name controversy, including a discussion of how it is overseeing senior management's handling of the controversy and FedEx's efforts to distance or disassociate itself from the franchise and/or team name."
(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)
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