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Listen: It's proxy season: Investors and companies are facing off over these ESG issues

It's proxy season — the time of year when shareholders use the resolution process to press companies on issues they care about. In 2019, as the environmental, social and governance movement gains steam, companies and investors are squaring off over sustainability issues.

Shareholders filed proposals on nearly 400 environmental, social and sustainability issues at U.S. companies through mid-February. The top topics were climate change, gender diversity and corporate political spending.

In the second episode of ESG Insider, an S&P Global podcast, we talk to the activist shareholders behind some of these proposals. We hear from one of the world's largest banks about how it engaged with an activist investor on the gender pay gap. And some skeptics of the ESG movement weigh in with their misgivings about the corporate focus on sustainability.

"At some point it comes down to: is the company taking the action that shareholders think is necessary? And if not, the resolution process is a way to focus a company's attention on the issue," said Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel of As You Sow, which is at the forefront of efforts to get companies to set targets to lower their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The episode features an exclusive interview with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who shares his views on the ESG movement.

Also in episode 2, Arjuna Capital LLC Managing Partner Natasha Lamb reveals how her wealth management firm convinced Citigroup Inc. to disclose new — and unflattering — gender pay gap data, even as other banks push back. And Citigroup Global Head of Human Resources Sara Wechter explains why the bank is OK with admitting it has some progress to make in that area.

"In order for us to really make a difference, we have to become as comfortable as we possibly can be with the numbers, even if they are uncomfortable," Wechter said.

Other podcast guests include Center for Political Accountability President and Co-founder Bruce Freed, and Tim Doyle of the American Council For Capital Formation, which is a member of the Main Street Investors Coalition that is pushing back on the ESG movement.

To learn more about the implications of the California gender diversity legislation, which is mentioned in the Data Dive segment of the podcast, click here.

To read more of S&P Global's coverage of sustainability issues, you can subscribe here to receive our weekly ESG Insider newsletter.