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Shareholders call for big changes


Google parent Alphabet is facing 13 shareholder proposals at its annual meeting Wednesday, the latest tech giant forced to deal with growing discontent from investors and others.

Some of the proposals address issues that have made headlines in the past year or so, including Google’s plans to once again operate a search engine in China, extremist content on its platforms, sexual harassment in the workplace, and employment practices and contracts that make it tough for employees to seek redress.

Other proposals aim at the company’s structure: Amid calls for breaking up tech companies and talk of antitrust action, one urges exploring strategic alternatives that include selling off parts of the business; another wants to require majority voting for electing directors to the board; and — after worker actions that include the big walkout late last year — one wants to place an employee representative on the board.

“We are troubled by the substantial deterioration of Alphabet’s workplace brand over the last year,” said Dieter Waizenegger, executive director of CtW Investment Group, in a statement. “Adding a non-executive employee representative to the Board will help restore employee confidence in senior leadership and help resolve the cultural crisis by adding much needed depth to the Board’s perspective.”

Investors at the annual meeting in Sunnyvale will also consider a proposal calling for equal voting rights. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin hold 51 percent of voting power because of the company’s multi-class voting structure — meaning all of the proposals, which the company is urging investors to vote against, are likely to fail.

NorthStar Asset Management in Boston has filed the proposal titled Give Each Share an Equal Vote since 2015, and has seen non-insider voter support for it rise 37% over four years.

“Year after year, as shareholders file these proxies with increasing concern about the behavior of these companies, you can see a lot of dissatisfied people, including large institutional shareholders,” said Julie Goodrich, CEO of NorthStar, in an interview. “Especially in the tech industry, when we’re looking at issue of privacy, government regulation and use of data, we’re seeing shareholders getting more concerned that people at the top… don’t have the best interests of users and shareholders at the forefront of their mind.”

She noted that last year, the resolution garnered 88% of non-insider shareholder votes, and 28.9% overall.

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