Progressive Insurance CEO Tricia Griffith seems very proud of her company’s work with an obscure organization called “As You Sow.” She shouldn’t be. While the group’s name is an ode to biblical language, As You Sow is no religious faction.
As You Sow (AYS) is a decidedly left-leaning umbrella organization of investor groups working to bend corporate America to its political will. And it has been wildly successful.
This year, AYS decided to use corporate America as a weapon in its war on babies.
In advance of the 2020 corporate shareholder meeting season, the AYS network filed shareholder proposals on the topic of “reproductive rights” with five companies, including Progressive Insurance.
The proposal to Progressive noted, “in the first six months of 2019, states enacted 58 abortion restrictions, 26 of which would ban all, some or most abortions.” The ostensible request of the proposal was for Progressive to detail in a report the “risks” of company operations in such states.
AYS was kind enough to provide the insurance carrier with some hints as to what it perceives those risks to be. It cited a “study” suggesting that lack of access to unfettered abortion would lead to more pregnant employees, and thus increased costs for employers in the form of maternity leave.
Just think about the retrograde thinking behind this outlandish argument. Companies might have to shell out a few more dollars if their female employees decide to have babies. Isn’t that exactly the sort of backward thinking that the feminist movement spent decades opposing?
AYS doesn’t actually care about a report from Progressive, or any other company for that matter, on the supposed risks of working in pro-life states. AYS is seeking corporate muscle for the culture wars.
A representative for AYS member Trillium Asset Management made this point very clearly. He told a reporter for Roll Call: “They risk losing one way or another — you’re going to risk losing customers, you’re going to risk losing employees. So it’s kind of like companies almost have to take a stance, and just trying to be neutral is something that you can’t really do.”
Progressive doesn’t need to take a public stance on abortion, perhaps the most divisive topic in American discourse. If it picks one side or the other, the company will offend half of its investors, customers and — perhaps more important — its own employees.
And AYS won’t stop with just the culture wars. A representative for AYS coalition member Rhia Ventures acknowledged that AYS uses such campaigns to pressure companies about political donations. She said, “Lobbying and political contributions that ultimately fund candidates or groups backing abortion restrictions do implicate companies.”
In summation: AYS is fervently anti-life. It wants American businesses to lend corporate muscle to anti-life causes. And it threatens companies that donate to pro-life politicians.
Interestingly, AYS withdrew its Progressive proposal before it went to a shareholder vote. The Wall Street Journal has noted that “such proposals are often withdrawn after a company accedes to at least some of the shareholder demands.”
As the head of conservative movement’s largest shareholder advocacy organization, I can attest that we never withdraw a shareholder proposal unless we come to a negotiated policy agreement with a company.
Armed with all of this information, I asked Progressive CEO Tricia Griffith during the annual shareholder meeting what, if any, concessions she had made to AYS in order to persuade it to drop the proposal. She abruptly denied making a specific concession, but then went on to declare that the company would continue to dialogue with AYS.
Why a CEO would continue discussions with a partisan anti-life organization is a question that Progressive board members may want to ask Griffith.
Furthermore, the company’s employees who support life should rise up and demand that their voices be heard. If there are further discussions with AYS, pro-life employees deserve a seat at the table.
As the CEO of Progressive, Griffith should be a steward for her investors instead of abusing her role to engage in partisan cultural battles.