INVESTORS URGE AT&T TO REDUCE HEALTH HAZARDS FROM LEAD BATTERIES USED IN CELL PHONE TOWERS AND DATA CENTERS
Leading investors bring a shareholder proposal to a vote tomorrow urging AT&T to address health hazards in communities where batteries are manufactured and recycled.
BOSTON///April 25, 2013///AT&T shareholders vote tomorrow on a proposal at the company’s annual meeting calling for the adoption of a comprehensive policy to address the environmental and health impacts from manufacturing and recycling lead batteries. AT&T uses large numbers of lead batteries in the company's data centers, cell phone towers, and in other operations.
Leading investors including Boston Common Asset Management, Dignity Health, and First Affirmative Financial Network are asking AT&T to enact a policy to address the tons of lead batteries used in the company's supply chain. Given the serious environmental and health impacts over the life-cycle of lead batteries, similar shareholder proposals were brought to five additional companies including Amazon, AT&T, Google, IBM, and Verizon since November 2012.
Steven Heim, Managing Director at Boston Common Asset Management states “Battery recycling operations, especially outside the U.S., pose serious long-term health problems along with substantial legal risks for the company. We call on AT&T to assess where and how its lead acid batteries are acquired and recycled, and how environmental and safety standards compliance is being assured throughout their supply chain.”
Batteries account for more than 80 percent of global lead consumption and the health effects of lead exposure are well known. Lead emissions around plants in Mexico are generally 20 times higher than comparable U.S. facilities.
Susan Vickers, RSM, VP Community Health of Dignity Health concludes “As a healthcare system, we are extremely concerned about the long term health impacts of lead exposure from battery recycling in countries without robust environmental and safety standards in place.”
This month the Commission on Environmental Cooperation released a report documenting the exponential growth in exports of hazardous waste batteries from the U.S. to Mexico. Their report highlights the weaker regulations in Mexico stating that they “do not provide equivalent levels of environmental and health protection.” The report is available at this web site:
Perry Gottesfeld, Executive Director of Occupational Knowledge International said “We are just asking AT&T to take some simple steps to ensure that used lead batteries from cell phone towers and other operations don’t end up contaminating the environment and poisoning children in Mexico and other countries with weaker environmental regulations.”
For the last six months, Boston Common and other investors engaged AT&T to try to come to an agreement on how AT&T will address its lead battery risks but to no avail. AT&T petitioned the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) to avoid a shareholder vote. AT&T argued, in essence, that once the batteries left the company they were "ordinary business" of no concern to shareholders. “The SEC made it clear that it is appropriate for shareholders to raise this important issue and forced the company to place this proposal on the proxy,” said Sanford Lewis, an attorney who specializes in representing shareholders before the SEC.
The global proxy advisor, ISS, has recommended that its institutional investor clients vote in favor of the proposal after a careful review of the facts,
It should be noted that Sprint has already acted to address this hazard by agreeing to formulate a comprehensive policy on the procurement and recycling of lead batteries. They recently released a statement on their web site stating that they will work with their vendors to stop exporting used lead batteries abroad until “recycling plants outside the United States are operating under equivalent or substantially similar environmental and occupational standards. (see http://www.sprint.com/responsibility/ouroperations/resource/e-waste.html)
Steven Heim concludes, “AT&T should follow the best practice example provided by Sprint to assess and mitigate the health hazards posed by their operations.”
For inquires please contact Steven Heim, Boston Common Asset Management at firstname.lastname@example.org (or 617-785-9527 mobile phone) or Lauren Compere at email@example.com.
Boston Common Asset Management, LLC is an investment manager and a leader in global sustainability initiatives, specializing in long-only International equity, US equity, and US balanced strategies. Boston Common seeks sustainable, long-term capital appreciation by investing in diversified portfolios of what it believes are high-quality companies through rigorous analysis of financial, and environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. As shareowners, Boston Common urges companies to improve transparency, accountability, and attention to ESG issues.