But the interests of Tesla’s shareholders extend beyond financial targets, and they recognise the need for companies to prioritise environmental, social, and governance policies and practices to sustainably achieve long-term goals while avoiding exposure to regulatory, legal, and reputational risks.
This is why Tulipshare is demanding that Tesla enact mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence policies that are linked to Elon Musk’s compensation package to incentivise timely and systemic improvements regarding human rights and climate change.
Elon Musk is Tesla’s CEO, chairman, and largest shareholder. During a time of social unrest, environmental crisis, and financial instability in the wake of the pandemic, Musk’s ~$56 billion executive compensation plan has “helped lift the ceiling on CEO pay” and widened the gap between workers and top executives’ pay packages, according to The New York Times.
Shareholders have sued Musk and Tesla's board of directors, accusing them of breaching their fiduciary duties to the company and its shareholders by granting unjust enrichment to Musk and wasting corporate assets. A U.S. court already ruled that Tesla’s CEO compensation award should be reviewed under “heightened judicial suspicion” due to the conflict of interest between the approval of the pay package and Musk’s status as a controlling shareholder.
Musk’s compensation award is so massive, that the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) had to exclude his pay from their most recent report because including his $23.5 billion worth of stock options exercised in 2021 in the sample “would have resulted in an increase of CEO pay in 2021 relative to 2020 of over 300% (the ‘average’ for the sample would have been just under $100 million).”
EPI equated Musk’s realised compensation to roughly 1,000 times the average pay of other large-company CEOs. Though the report acknowledged that “it may make some sense to provide stock options to a CEO to incentivize the CEO to take measures that will boost shareholder returns,” EPI inquired “is it really necessary to give a CEO options on 16 million shares of stock (which is how many shares Musk exercised options on in 2021) to achieve this goal?” Considering Musk is Tesla’s largest shareholder, he is already incentivized to increase the company’s financial returns.
It may come as a shock for some, but despite Tesla’s self-declared goal of “Accelerating the World’s Transition to Sustainable Energy,” the company actually lacks a low carbon strategy and codes of business conduct – two crucial items on the list of why the company was removed from the S&P 500 ESG Index entirely in 2022 (causing a 6% drop in stock price). Tesla was also removed from the ethical index due to future risks associated with employee discrimination claims and “multiple deaths and injuries related to its autopilot vehicles,” according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. Given that inflows into sustainable funds rose from $5 billion in 2018 to more than $50 billion in 2020—and then to nearly $70 billion in 2021, even Musk’s criticism of ESG does not negate the fact that Tesla needs to increase transparency and accountability on ESG performance to ensure shareholder value.
Tesla’s 2021 Impact Report states that “Tesla customers helped accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy by avoiding 8.4 million metric tons of CO2e emissions.” However, the Transition Pathway Initiative currently ranks Tesla’s management quality as a one out of six, stating that the company does not recognise climate change as a relevant risk. Moreover, a 2022 report from As You Sow found that, out of 55 companies assessed, Tesla is actually making the slowest progress to reach net zero emissions - ranking dead last.
Since the pandemic has highlighted that human rights-related risks are endemic in global value chains, a growing number of investors are increasingly pressuring companies and their boards to adopt mandatory corporate human rights and environmental due diligence (mHREDD). The adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) has led to legislative and regulatory developments in various jurisdictions seeking to drive stronger business engagement with human rights risks. And as of March 2021, more than half of S&P 500 companies (57%) implemented at least one ESG metric in their compensation plans. These businesses acknowledge a bevy of “potential benefits flowing from mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence (mHREDD), including greater certainty, clarity and coherence – and a more level playing field.”
In February 2022 – the month before Tesla opened its first Giga Factory in Europe – the European Commission published a proposal for a directive on corporate sustainability due diligence. This proposal creates several new obligations for corporate supply chains, including the need to prevent adverse impacts of corporate activities on human rights, such as child labor and exploitation of workers, and on the environment. Now, in response to outcries in the United States for a mandatory corporate liability scheme in line with the EU directive, a proposal is gaining support that would adopt the equivalent requirements of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for human rights and would require companies to document efforts to prevent abuse through due diligence. Additionally, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is considering new rules that would require more detailed disclosure of climate-related risks and greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions.
The United Nations has outlined the key elements of effective and equitable human rights and environmental due diligence, which Tulipshare believes Tesla should implement in anticipation of proposed legislation to avoid greater regulatory and legal risk.
There is great shareholder risk in Musk’s current compensation plan that is heavily dependent on share price and market cap, and arguably a company based heavily on buzz rather than meeting production targets. Also, Tesla's shares have fallen about 16% so far this year amid a selloff in high-growth stocks due to worries over aggressive interest rate hikes and geopolitical uncertainties. There are many arguments as to why Tesla’s underlying fundamental value does not justify its stock price, and EPI found that if it does not achieve a 100% market share and an extraordinarily high level of profitability, its stock price will eventually drop significantly – meaning that Musk will have been able to personally claim $23.5 billion in purchasing power in 2021 alone, even though that was never matched by actual economic activity nor the financial benefit of Tesla shareholders whose wealth was diluted to make room for Musk’s stock options.
It’s also worth noting the difficulty in differentiating share price growth that is company-specific versus that driven by overall market trends, and as EPI points out, “stock-related compensation of CEOs does a very poor job (by design) of drawing such distinctions and preventing CEOs from being rewarded simply by luck.”
There is some truth to the notion that stock-related executive compensation creates a strong link between CEO performance and CEO pay; however a company’s revenue and share price are not the only indicators of success, sustainability, or shareholder value. This is why support for ESG measures in executive compensation plans has continuously increased year-over-year, and, in 2022, more than nine out of ten directors (92%) agree that some type of non-financial metrics should be factored in.
Ultimately, while tying CEO compensation to financial performance has achieved significant growth for the company in the past, this growth is neither sustainable and, in many cases, nor is it ethical. In a world increasingly focused on long-term ESG goals, this could hurt investor sentiment toward the company in the long run. Corporate disclosure of carbon emissions and human rights data allows shareholders and climate activists alike to hold company executives accountable.
As noted by B. Riley’s Chief Market Strategist, "Retail investors are a very important cohort for Tesla” and the company’s most recent stock split is “an acknowledgment of that fact." Which is why now is the time for investors to put the pressure on Tesla to live up to its own sustainability-centric ethos.
In 2022, 69,241,120 votes supported a proposal requesting that Tesla’s Board of Directors commission an independent, third-party report assessing the extent to which Tesla is effectively fulfilling its responsibility to respect human rights and engage in responsible sourcing practices, including an analysis of how Tesla’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, Supplier Code of Conduct, and Human Rights and Conflict Minerals Policy are implemented to address adverse human rights impacts occurring within its direct operations and across the value chain. This signals that shareholders are wising up to Tesla’s ESG-related shortcomings.
Tesla's 2023 AGM was on May 16th at 3pm CT (8pm GMT). Make sure to check out Tesla's 2023 proxy statement.
The record date pertains to the date by which investors must hold their shares in a company in order to participate in the company’s AGM. The Tesla board fixed the close of business on March 20, 2023 as the record date for determining stockholders of the Company who are entitled to vote at the 2023 Annual Meeting.
Voting at the AGM
If you hold Tesla stock before the next AGM record date, you will be eligible to vote at the next Tesla AGM and receive an email from us closer to the deadline.
What is shareholder activism?
Shareholder activism is when shareholders use their influence as owners of a company to effectuate change within the organisation.
What is Tulipshare?
Tulipshare is an sustainable investment fund and shareholder advocacy group on a mission to help investors push for stronger environmental and social commitments, using corporate governance to create a positive impact and ensure the companies we invest our money in are being responsibly managed by accountable leadership.
How does Tulipshare improve sustainability through investing?
Tulipshare addresses issues pertaining to climate change, human rights, racial and gender equity, political spending and operational transparency within some of America’s biggest publicly traded companies - issues that if left unaddressed could expose a company and its investors to significant legal, reputational and financial risks.