SPRINGFIELD — Shareholders in Smith & Wesson parent American Outdoor Brands Corp. recently voted down a proposal that the company adopt a human rights policy.
But the coalition of nuns and Catholic health care organizations that put forth the referendum — and last year successfully forced Smith & Wesson to write a report on gun violence and its response to the issue — are heartened to get yes votes representing about a third of the voting shares. There were 19.5 million votes against the proposal and 11 million votes for it, according to papers posted Monday on the federal Securities and Exchange Commission website.
“For a human rights resolution, it’s a good vote,” said Sister Judy Byron, member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investments in Seattle. “We are encouraged.”
Byron said it is a challenge to get major investors to support environmental, human rights and gun safety causes.
“We feel they and any manufacturer of firearms or ammunition need to do more due diligence about looking at any potential human rights risks in their operations and their products etc.,” Byron said.
Her group buys stock in public companies in order to gain leverage as a voting part-owner and to put questions on ballots at annual shareholders meetings. The American Outdoor Brand annual meeting was last week in Springfield.
In the materials it prepared for AOBC shareholders to consider, the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investments wrote:
“The environment in which gun manufacturers operate is becoming riskier. As of September 1, 283 mass shootings had occurred in the U.S. in 2019, more than one per day. In an early August Politico poll, 73% of voters, including a majority of Republicans, said they supported stricter gun laws, an increase from 67% in spring 2018. Over a quarter of likely 2020 voters polled in July 2019 reported that their views on guns have changed in the past five years, with over three quarters of those moving toward favoring stronger gun laws.”
Shareholders also voted against, by a ratio of 22.1 million votes to 13 million votes, AOBC executive compensation packages. The executive pay vote, called “say-on-pay,” was an advisory vote, also according to Securities and Exchange Commission records.
“There must be some dissatisfaction with the way the company is being run,” Byron said, adding that “no” votes on pay packages are rare.
American Outdoor Brands had no comment this week for questions related either to the human rights ballot question or to the lack of shareholder approval for the compensation package.
According to the most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, American Outdoor Brands CEO P. James Debney has a total compensation package for 2019 of $3.76 million.
Byron and the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investments won their vote in 2018 to force American Outdoor Brands Management to write the gun safety report. The nuns worded that question to point out that mass shootings using Smith & Wesson products can hurt AOBC’s reputation and the bottom line.
A gunman used a Smith & Wesson rifle to kill 17 students and staff at high school in Parkland, Florida in February 2018. Gun control advocates want to see high-capacity firearms like the one the gunman wielded pulled from the market, and have protested at the factory gates.
But American Outdoor Brands wrote a report that was at times defiant, and never addressed the issue.
“The Company’s reputation as a strong defender of the Second Amendment is not worth risking for a vague goal of improving the company’s reputation among non-customers or special interest groups with an anti-Second Amendment agenda,” AOBC wrote in its report.
Byron said she and her group have been meeting with success lately. In March, Dick’s Sporting Goods pulled guns and ammunition at 125 stores where firearm sales struggled.
Walmart stopped selling some types of ammunition this summer following a shooting rampage inside its store in El Paso, Texas.
Walmart also asked its customers not to open carry firearms in its stores and it stopped selling handguns in Alaska, the only state where Walmart sold them.
American Outdoor Brands has nearly 2,000 employees including 1,500 in manufacturing, mostly at its headquarters and factory on Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield.
Both the local Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and a national Episcopalian investment fund also bought stock in American Outdoor brands last year with a plan to do its own shareholder activism. But new shareholders must wait at least a year before putting forth a shareholder resolution, Bishop Douglas J. Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts said.
In a written statement, Fisher said the Episcopalians voted for the resolution brought forth by Byron and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility.