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Treasurer Goldberg seeks to toughen proxy-voting guidelines

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg (left) swore in Ruth Ellen Fitch to the state pension board.
State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg (left) swore in Ruth Ellen Fitch to the state pension board. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg on Thursday proposed a series of activist proxy-voting guidelines at a state pension fund committee meeting, to press for greater diversity on corporate boards, higher environmental standards, and other issues.

The pension board’s Administration and Audit Committee approved the measure and voted to present the proposal to the full board next month.

Goldberg, who took office in January, chairs the $61 billion state pension fund. Her proposal included a number of new measures to put pressure on companies in which the state invests -- to hire more diverse boards, adopt stronger environmental policies, and raise standards for human rights.

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In one example, she proposed that the fund vote against all of a company’s board nominees if less than 25 percent of the board is made up of women and people of color.

The proposal is in line with promises Goldberg made during the campaign. It adds to policies championed by her predecessor, Steve Grossman, who introduced in 2011 several proxy measures, including voting against slates of directors where there is zero diversity.

“Demanding that companies create diverse leadership teams and confront the threat of climate change are no longer simply admirable social goals,” Goldberg said in a statement. “These reforms will help protect the stability and financial success of the companies that we invest in.”

The proposed new policies would not affect which stocks the pension fund can own. Rather, the fund would try to influence the top executives and directors of companies whose stocks it owns.

The pension fund hires an outside firm, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. of Rockville, Md., to vote its 9,000 proxies a year. Publicly traded companies give their shareholders an opportunity to vote on directors and other matters annually.

Goldberg’s proposal calls for the pension fund to vote in favor of corporate measures to increase recycling, invest in renewable energy sources, and report on energy efficiency targets.

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It also calls for linking executive pay to nonfinancial factors, such as corporate downsizing and environmental goals. Goldberg also wants to vote proxies that would increase health warnings against smoking and call on companies to assess human rights risks in their operations and supply chains.

In addition to the voting proposals, the treasurer plans to introduce a new “statement of principle” in which the pension fund “urges companies to lead on the issue of wage equality and proactively seek to hire a diverse workforce.”

The proxy measures approved Thursday will be presented to the full board at the next meeting, April 7.

Michael Trotsky, executive director of the pension fund management group, said the fund has the ability to influence corporate governance and policy through its proxy votes.

“Treasurer Goldberg has placed a priority on examining these guidelines and considering changes and areas of expansion. I applaud her efforts,’’ he said.


Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.