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Note: Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc., referred to in the article below, was one of the companies that provided invited leadership support of the Shareholder Forum's "E-Meetings" public interest program to develop standards for electronic communications relating to shareholder meetings.

As previously reported, the Forum initiated a continuing special project as part of the E-Meetings program to provide independent, open access to the required communication tools, and welcomes advice to guide that development process.


IR Web Report, March 15, 2011 article


At Coca-Cola, investors get less say than Facebook fans

FOR its annual meeting this year, the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) is inviting investors to visit its first-ever online “shareowner forum” on a special password-protected website.

In a video message posted on the site, CEO Muhtar Kent explains the significance of the forum: “As an investor in our company, your voice is absolutely critical to our future. This website was designed to allow you to more easily share your voice and also vote your shares.”

But there’s a small problem with the CEO’s lofty sentiments about giving voice to shareowners.  His words ring hollow when you realize that there’s actually no mechanism on the site for shareowners to share their “absolutely critical” viewpoints with one another.

Shareholders can submit questions to management ahead of the meeting, fill in a shareowner survey that goes to management, read management’s proxy materials, vote their shares on a site that is tilted to management’s recommendations, and watch a webcast of the meeting.

But talk to each other they can’t.

23 million Facebook fans and anyone can post

Now here’s the really confounding thing. Coke already has one of the most active and lively discussion forums on the web by way of its popular Facebook page, which at last count has more than 23 million fans.


Discussion boards on Coca-Cola's Facebook page

On that page, the “house rules” state that the company wants to “encourage you to leave comments, photos, videos, and links” and that its staff “review all comments and will remove any that are inappropriate or offensive.”

Company representatives regularly patrol and participate in the Facebook page’s discussion board, where anyone can start a new discussion topic and engage with other page users and the company. Even shareholders are showing up to ask questions, although no one from the company seems to want to talk to them.

It seems that if you want to complain about the lack of cane sugar in US Coke, or want them to bring back a discontinued flavor, the company is happy to let you to do so.

But if you’re a shareholder and want to discuss the company’s pay practices or director qualifications or their use of BPA in soda cans, you can’t.

Shareowner forum poorly conceived by Broadridge

How Coke’s shareholder website qualifies as a forum by any definition escapes me. It seems like little more than a PR stunt.

It’s noteworthy, too, that the forum cannot be observed by anyone who does not have a 15-digit control number to log in, which means that prospective investors (or the SEC) have no ability to see what is — or in this case, is not — discussed in the forum.

Coke is using a poorly conceived shareholder forum product developed by Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc. (NYSE: BR), whose CEO has been lobbying SEC chair Mary Shapiro to make it mandatory for companies to offer his company’s brand of forum. We should all hope he fails.

Here’s a grainy screenshot of Coke’s forum that was filed with the SEC:


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This Forum program is open, free of charge, to anyone concerned with investor interests in the development of standards for conducting shareholder meetings with electronic participation. As stated in the posted Conditions of Participation, the Forum's purpose is to provide decision-makers with access to information and a free exchange of views on the issues presented in the program's Forum Summary. Each participant is expected to make independent use of information obtained through the Forum, subject to the privacy rights of other participants.  It is a Forum rule that participants will not be identified or quoted without their explicit permission.

The organization of this Forum program was encouraged by Walden Asset Management, and is proceeding with the invited leadership support of Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc. and Intel Corporation to address issues relevant to broad public interests in marketplace practices, rather than investor decisions relating to only a single company. The Forum may therefore invite program support of several companies that can provide both expertise and examples of leadership relating to the issues being addressed.

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Shareholder Forum™ is a trademark owned by The Shareholder Forum, Inc., for the programs conducted since 1999 to support investor access to decision-making information. It should be noted that we have no responsibility for the services that Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc., introduced for review in the Forum's 2010 "E-Meetings" program and has since been offering with the “Shareholder Forum” name, and we have asked Broadridge to use a different name that does not suggest our support or endorsement.