More than 1,500 workers for the video game maker Activision Blizzard walked out from their jobs this week. Thousands signed a letter rebuking their employer. And even as the chief executive apologized, current and former employees said they would not stop raising a ruckus.
Shay Stein, who used to work at Activision, said it was “heartbreaking.” Lisa Welch, a former vice president, said she felt “profound disappointment.” Others took to Twitter or waved signs outside one of the company’s offices on Wednesday to share their anger.
Activision, known for its hugely popular Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and StarCraft gaming franchises, has been thrown into an uproar over workplace behavior issues. The upheaval stems from an explosive lawsuit that California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed on July 20, accusing the $65 billion company of fostering a “frat boy workplace culture” in which men joked about rape and women were routinely harassed and paid less than their male colleagues.
Activision publicly criticized the agency’s two-year investigation and allegations as “irresponsible behavior from unaccountable state bureaucrats.” But its dismissive tone angered employees, who called out the company for trying to sweep away what they said were heinous problems that had been ignored for too long.
Hollywood, restaurants and the media — the male-dominated video game sector has long stood out for its openly toxic behavior and lack of change. In 2014, feminist critics of the industry faced death threats in what became known as Gamergate. Executives at the gaming companies Riot Games and Ubisoft have also been accused of misconduct.
Now the actions at Activision may signal a new phase, where a critical mass of the industry’s own workers are indicating they will no longer tolerate such behavior.
“This could mean some real accountability for companies that aren’t taking care of their workers and are creating inequitable work environments where women and gender minorities are kept at the margins and abused,” said Carly Kocurek, an associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology who studies gender in gaming.
She said California’s lawsuit and the fallout at Activision were a “big deal” for an industry that had traditionally shrugged off claims of sexism and harassment. Other gaming companies are most likely watching the situation, she added, and considering whether they need to address their own cultures.
spared little detail. Many of the misconduct accusations focused on a division called Blizzard, which the company merged with through a deal with Vivendi Games in 2008.
The lawsuit accused Activision of being a “a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” Employees engaged in “cube crawls” in which they got drunk and acted inappropriately toward women at work cubicles, the lawsuit said.
In one case, a female employee died by suicide during a business trip because of the sexual relationship she had been having with her male supervisor, the lawsuit said. Before her death, male colleagues had shared an explicit photo of the woman, according to the lawsuit.
Employees reacted furiously. An open letter addressed to Activision’s leaders calling for them to take the accusations more seriously and “demonstrate compassion” for victims attracted more than 3,000 signatures from current and former employees by Wednesday. The company has nearly 10,000 employees.
“We no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests,” the letter said, calling Ms. Townsend’s remarks “unacceptable.”
a $155 million pay package that makes him one of the country’s highest-paid executives, added that the company would beef up the team that investigated reported misconduct, fire managers who were found to have impeded investigations and remove in-game content that had been flagged as inappropriate.
Employees said it was not enough.
“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point,” organizers of the walkout said in a public statement. They declined to be identified out of fear of reprisal.
Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates have at times referred to the foundation they established together as their “fourth child.” If over the next two years they can’t find a way to work together following their planned divorce, Mr. Gates will get full custody.
That was one of the most important takeaways from a series of announcements about the future of the world’s largest charitable foundation made on Wednesday by its chief executive, Mark Suzman, overshadowing an injection of $15 billion in resources that will be added to the $50 billion previously amassed in its endowment over two decades.
“They have agreed that if after two years either one of them decides that they cannot continue to work together, Melinda will resign as co-chair and trustee,” Mr. Suzman said in a message on Wednesday to employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. If that happened, he added, Ms. French Gates “would receive personal resources from Bill for her philanthropic work” separate from the foundation’s endowment.
The money at stake underscores the strange mix of public significance — in global health, poverty reduction and gender equality, among other important areas — and private affairs that attends any move made by the first couple of philanthropy, even after the announcement of their split. The foundation plans to add trustees outside their close circle, a step toward better governance that philanthropy experts had urged for years.
announced their divorce in May, Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates noted the importance of the work done by the foundation they had built and said they “continue to share a belief in that mission.” In the announcement on Wednesday, each echoed those sentiments.
“These new resources and the evolution of the foundation’s governance will sustain this ambitious mission and vital work for years to come,” Mr. Gates said in a statement.
Ms. French Gates emphasized the importance of expanding the board. “These governance changes bring more diverse perspectives and experience to the foundation’s leadership,” she said in a statement. “I believe deeply in the foundation’s mission and remain fully committed as co-chair to its work.”
In the immediate aftermath of the divorce announcement, it was unclear how they would share control of the institution. Wednesday’s announcement indicated that if they cannot work out their differences, it is the Microsoft co-founder Mr. Gates who will maintain control, as he essentially buys his ex-wife out of the foundation.
Mr. Suzman said he did not know how much Ms. French Gates would get if it came to that. But any payout would most likely be significant.
Ms. French Gates’s name since the divorce was announced. She pursues her own priorities through a separate organization known as Pivotal Ventures. Mr. Gates also has his own group, Gates Ventures.
Less than a year ago, the Gates Foundation was run by Mr. Gates, Ms. French Gates, his father and one of his closest friends, the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett. It was a remarkable concentration of power for one of the most influential institutions in the world, a $50 billion private foundation that works in every corner of the globe.
The restructuring announced Wednesday could begin the process of making the Gates Foundation more responsive to the people its mission aims to help and loosen the grip on the reins that its founders have held for more than two decades.
“We’re trying to do this in a very careful and deliberate manner, thinking for the long term,” Mr. Suzman said in an interview.
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In a larger sense, the planned changes at the Gates Foundation reflect the tensions within philanthropy as a whole — between the wishes of the wealthy, powerful donors who provide the millions and even billions of dollars and the nonprofits using those funds to feed, shelter and treat those in need.
“The problems with the governance predated the separation and divorce just as those problems are an issue with all family foundations,” said Rob Reich, co-director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford.
Two former senior Gates Foundation officials called for an expanded board in an article a few weeks after the divorce announcement, including “a chair who is not the foundation’s C.E.O., founder or a founder’s family member.”
“Given that founders receive a substantial tax benefit for their donations, the assets the board oversees should be regarded as belonging to the public, with the board being held accountable to a fiduciary standard of care,” wrote Alex Friedman, the former chief financial officer, and Julie Sunderland, the former director of the foundation’s Strategic Investment Fund.
The Gates Foundation is trying to fight Covid-19, eradicate polio and reshape the struggle for gender equality, even as its two co-chairs extricate themselves from a 27-year marriage. The foundation has more than 1,700 employees and makes grants in countries around the world. Since 2000, the foundation has made grants totaling more than $55 billion, much of it from Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates, but tens of billions also came from Mr. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.
Yet, in significant ways, the future of such an influential institution, one that touches the lives of millions of people through its grant recipients, is being decided in a separation agreement between two billionaires.
Mr. Buffett’s announcement last month that he was stepping down as the third trustee of the foundation made clear that the divorce had set significant changes in motion. Mr. Suzman promised at the time that governance changes would be announced this month, with many observers anticipating that a new slate of independent trustees would be revealed.
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Details on what that might look like remained few on Wednesday, with neither names of candidates for the board of trustees nor even the ultimate number of new trustees released. Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates will approve changes to the foundation’s governance structures by the end of the year and the new trustees will be announced in January, according to the statement.
At the center of the impending changes stands Mr. Suzman, a 14-year veteran of the Gates Foundation, who was named chief executive just as the spread of Covid-19 in the United States was becoming apparent. Born in South Africa, the Harvard- and Oxford-educated Mr. Suzman served as a correspondent for The Financial Times in London, South Africa and Washington before going to work at the United Nations. He joined the foundation in 2007 to work on global development policy before claiming the top post last year.
Mr. Suzman said in an interview that he had heard that Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates would be divorcing only about 24 hours before the news was announced. He said they had started talking about possible governance changes “almost right away” after that.
He said he was in regular contact with both. “I’m having three-way conversations with them,” Mr. Suzman said. “We’re having regular three-way email exchanges and other discussions.”
He noted that the hands-on leadership of Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates meant the changes will take some time to enact.
“The degree and depth of engagement of our co-chairs and trustees goes significantly beyond what a traditional board does and how it does it,” he said in the interview. “So we’ll need some time to think through how we balance that with the people we bring on board.”
Mr. Suzman will work with Connie Collingsworth, the foundation’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, to handle the process. The final decisions on both the new trustees and the changes to the foundation’s governance documents will be made by Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates. It is a reminder that, at least for now, power remains concentrated in the former couple.
TOKYO — Kurumi Mochizuki is the kind of skilled soccer player who can roll a ball from between her shoulder blades to the top of her head and onto her right foot, keeping it aloft for more than a dozen kicks. She makes it look so easy.
Yet when she practices with her local club team in southeastern Tokyo, her coaches sometimes advise her to take longer breaks than her teammates, and warn her not to pick up heavy bags of balls when clearing equipment from the field.
All because she is a girl.
Kurumi, 13, is the only girl on her team. She plays with boys because there are no girls’ club teams near her neighborhood andno girls’ team at her middle school. Finding a team in high school will be difficult, too. Only one of the 14 schools in Kurumi’s area offers a girls’ team. Her older brother, who plays soccer at his high school, has had no such trouble — almost all the high schools in the district have boys’ soccer teams.
Tokyo Olympics, which open next month, offer an opportunity to anoint another crop of champions to inspire girls with athletic aspirations. But after the Olympic spotlight dims, those like Kurumi will still face powerful obstacles.
Japan has no law like Title IX, the American statute that requires schools receiving public funding to offer equal opportunities to boys and girls, and there is no public data on how much schools spend on extracurricular sports or how it breaks down on gender lines.
Female athletes who persevere often have to push past stereotypes that they are doing something unladylike, jeopardizing their chances of attracting boys and later becoming wives and mothers. Even their coaches view their participation through this lens, in some cases giving them etiquette lessons to ensure they are ready for domestic life.
2011 Women’s World Cup and claimed the silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012.
She followed her brother into soccer when she was 6. “When I was little, I never thought about it,” she said of being the sole girl on her team. “But once I got a bit older, I was much more aware of it.”
The extracurricular soccer team at her public middle school is technically coed, although not one of the team’s 40 players is a girl. Kurumi decided to stick to the club team she had played with since elementary school rather than try to break into a new group at school.
“There is a difference in strength and aggressiveness between boys and girls,” said Shigeki Komatsu, the middle school’s vice principal, standing on the sidelines as the boys scrimmaged on a gravel pitch, their cleats kicking up puffs of dust.
hopes that the situation would improve for female athletes in Japan.
Before that victory, girls in the United States had flocked to suburban soccer clubs after the U.S. women won the World Cup on American soil in 1999.
Koshien, that is more than 100 years old. Just after New Year’s, huge audiences tune in to watch the Hakone Ekiden, a college-level marathon relay that is restricted to male runners.
There are few vocal advocates for female athletes, and most of their coaches are men who often do not provide support for the physical changes that girls undergo in adolescence.
Hanae Ito, a swimmer who represented Japan at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, said coaches along the way had told her she was “mentally weak” when she gained weight or suffered menstruation-related mood changes as a teenage athlete.
“I thought it was a problem with me or that it was my fault,” she said. “But I think that this all ties back to Japan being a patriarchal society. Even women’s sports is seen from a male gaze.”
The idea that female athletes need to worry about their future prospects with men is deeply rooted.
After Hideko Maehata, an Olympic swimmer, became the first woman to win a gold medal for Japan, The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, heralded her victory at the 1936 Berlin Summer Games with the headline: “Next Up Is Marriage.”
Such attitudes persist today. Yuki Suzuki, who played in Japan’s Nadeshiko women’s professional soccer league and taught the sport until she gave birth to her son, is frustrated by the rigid gender definitions.
“Girls are often told ‘be feminine, be feminine,’” said Ms. Suzuki, now 34. “I think we have to change the fundamental culture of Japan when it comes to women.”
Even when girls get the chance to play, a bias toward boys emerges in small ways. At the middle school Kurumi attends, the boys’ volleyball and basketball teams get the gym three days a week for practice, while the girls use it the other two days.
Kurumi said she tried not to worry about the unequal treatment. She does not hold it against her coaches, she said, for barring her from carrying heavy equipment during practice.
“I am sure the coaches just care about me,” she said. “But personally, I know I could carry it.”
After China said it would allow couples to have three children, the state news media trumpeted the move as a major change that would help stimulate growth. But across much of the country, the announcement was met with indignation.
Women worried that the move would only exacerbate discrimination from employers reluctant to pay maternity leave. Young people fumed that they were already hard-pressed to find jobs and take care of themselves, let alone a child (or three). Working-class parents said the financial burden of more children would be unbearable.
“I definitely will not have another child,” said Hu Daifang, a former migrant worker in Sichuan Province. Mr. Hu, 35, said he was already struggling, especially after his mother fell ill and could no longer help care for his two children. “It feels like we are just surviving, not living.”
For many ordinary Chinese, the news about the policy change on Monday was only a reminder of a problem they’d long recognized: the drastic inadequacy of China’s social safety net and legal protections that would enable them to have more children.
Pregnancy discrimination is widespread in China, with women reporting being fired or demoted after telling their bosses they were expecting a child. Some women have even reported being forced to sign contracts promising not to get pregnant within a certain period at new jobs.
“As a woman, you’re inherently at a disadvantage in the workplace,” Ms. Li said.
Ms. Li said she was sympathetic to her boss’s concerns. She did believe that as a manager, her absence would be inconvenient for the company. She acknowledged that she herself, when interviewing candidates, would sometimes wonder whether a new hire would soon leave to give birth.
as some other countries do, and mandate paternity leave, so women would not be singled out for being parents.
had already barred employers from asking women about their marital or childbearing status in 2019, and the problem was weak enforcement. The government has often encouraged women to retreat to more traditional gender roles, in an effort to increase the birthrate.
“Our government is very good at empty talk,” said Lu Pin, a Chinese feminist activist. “It’s meaningless to just look at a few things they said.”
Ms. Lu expected workplace discrimination against women to get worse. Employers might fear that women would want to have a third child — even if, she added, that was unlikely to be the case, given broader trends.
The lack of social support may discourage those who would otherwise want more children, but a more fundamental issue may be a lack of interest among younger, better educated women who have declared a preference for small families. Even if the government did offer more benefits, Ms. Li said, she would not want to have a third child.
“Two is pretty good,” she said. “There’s no point to having too many.”
The music should be pumping and the burgers and jerk chicken wings flying out of the kitchen this holiday weekend at the Rambler Kitchen and Tap in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago.
To wash it down, patrons might go with a mixed drink or one of the 20 craft beers the bar sells. But many will order a hard seltzer. The Rambler expects to sell close to 500 cans in flavors like peach, pineapple and grapefruit pomelo.
“We’ll sell a lot of buckets of White Claw and Truly seltzers,” said Sam Stone, a co-owner of the Rambler. “It’s going to be a big summer for hard seltzer.”
The Memorial Day weekend kicks off what many hope will be a more normal summer, when kids start counting down the number of days left in school, people head back to the beach and grills heat up for backyard parties that went poof last year because of the pandemic. And for the hard seltzer industry, it’s the start of a dizzying period when dozens of old and new competitors vie to be the boozy, bubbly drink of the season.
ad campaign with the British pop singer Dua Lipa. This spring, the hip-hop star Travis Scott released Cacti, a seltzer made with blue agave syrup, in a partnership with Anheuser-Busch. It quickly sold out in many locations.
“People were lining up outside of the stores to buy Cacti and share pictures of themselves with their carts full of Cacti,” said Marcel Marcondes, the chief marketing officer for Anheuser-Busch.
Also this spring, Topo Chico Hard Seltzer was released. A partnership between Coca-Cola and Molson Coors Beverage, it hit shelves in 16 markets across the country, chasing the cult following of Topo Chico’s seltzer water in the South.
“I feel like I can walk into a party saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I brought the Topo Chico,’” said Dane Cardiel, 32, who works in business development for a podcast company and lives in Esopus, N.Y., about 60 miles south of Albany.
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How flavored bubbly water with alcohol became a national phenomenon is partly due to social media videos that went viral and clever marketing that sold hard seltzers as a “healthier” alcohol choice.
White Claw’s slim cans prominently state that the drinks contain only 100 calories, are gluten free and have only two grams each of carbohydrates and sugar. The brand is owned by the Canadian billionaire Anthony von Mandl, who created Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
“The health and wellness element is front and center in terms of the visual marketing,” said Vivien Azer, an analyst at the Cowen investment firm. “Every brand’s packaging features its relatively low carb and sugar data.”
On top of that, the alcohol content in most hard seltzers, about 5 percent, or the same as 12 ounces of a typical beer, is less than a glass of wine or a mixed drink. That makes it easier for people to sip at a party or while watching a game without getting intoxicated or winding up with the belly-full-of-beer feeling.
“It’s a nice drink for an afternoon on the patio,” said Shelley Majeres, the general manager of Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver. “You can drink four or five of them in an afternoon and not have a big hangover or get really drunk.”
Blake Street, an 18,000-square-foot sports bar, started selling hard seltzers two years ago. Today, they make up about 20 percent of its can and bottle sales.
The industry has also neatly sidestepped the gender issue that plagued earlier, lighter alcoholic alternatives like Zima, which became popular with women but struggled to be adopted by men.
“I’ve got just as many men as women drinking it,” said Nick Zeto, the owner of Boston Beer Garden in Naples, Fla. “And it started with the millennials, but now I have people in their 40s, 50s and 60s ordering it.”
That kind of broad appeal is attractive to beer, wine and spirits companies.
“We view ourselves as the challenger brand,” said Michelle St. Jacques, the chief marketing officer of Molson Coors, which has been making beer since the late 1700s but hopes to end this year with 10 percent of the hard seltzer market.
Last spring, the company released Vizzy, a hard seltzer that contains vitamin C. Top Chico came this spring. “We feel like we’re making great progress in seltzer by not trying to bring me-too products, but rather products and brands that have a clear difference,” Ms. St. Jacques said.
While grocery and liquor stores have made plenty of space available to the hard seltzer brands that people drink at home, the competition to get into restaurants and bars is fierce. Most want to offer only two or three brands to their customers.
“Oh, my god, I get presented with new hard seltzer whenever they can get my attention,” said Mr. Stone, who sells six brands at the Rambler. The crowd favorite, he said, is the vodka-based High Noon Sun Sips peach, made by E.&J. Gallo Winery. “Everybody, from the big brands to small, new ones, are getting into the hard seltzer game.”
All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.
Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.
Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating. Though some countries continue to see their populations grow, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling nearly everywhere else. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.
A planet with fewer people could ease pressure on resources, slow the destructive impact of climate change and reduce household burdens for women. But the census announcements this month from China and the United States, which showed the slowest rates of population growth in decades for both countries, also point to hard-to-fathom adjustments.
spirals exponentially. With fewer births, fewer girls grow up to have children, and if they have smaller families than their parents did — which is happening in dozens of countries — the drop starts to look like a rock thrown off a cliff.
“It becomes a cyclical mechanism,” said Stuart Gietel Basten, an expert on Asian demographics and a professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s demographic momentum.”
Some countries, like the United States, Australia and Canada, where birthrates hover between 1.5 and 2, have blunted the impact with immigrants. But in Eastern Europe, migration out of the region has compounded depopulation, and in large parts of Asia, the “demographic time bomb” that first became a subject of debate a few decades ago has finally gone off.
South Korea’s fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.92 in 2019 — less than one child per woman, the lowest rate in the developed world. Every month for the past 59 months, the total number of babies born in the country has dropped to a record depth.
schools shut and abandoned, their playgrounds overgrown with weeds, because there are not enough children.
To goose the birthrate, the government has handed out baby bonuses. It increased child allowances and medical subsidies for fertility treatments and pregnancy. Health officials have showered newborns with gifts of beef, baby clothes and toys. The government is also building kindergartens and day care centers by the hundreds. In Seoul, every bus and subway car has pink seats reserved for pregnant women.
But this month, Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki admitted that the government — which has spent more than $178 billion over the past 15 years encouraging women to have more babies — was not making enough progress. In many families, the shift feels cultural and permanent.
projections by an international team of scientists published last year in The Lancet, 183 countries and territories — out of 195 — will have fertility rates below replacement level by 2100.
municipalities have been consolidated as towns age and shrink. In Sweden, some cities have shifted resources from schools to elder care. And almost everywhere, older people are being asked to keep working. Germany, which previously raised its retirement age to 67, is now considering a bump to 69.
Going further than many other nations, Germany has also worked through a program of urban contraction: Demolitions have removed around 330,000 units from the housing stock since 2002.
recently increased to 1.54, up from 1.3 in 2006. Leipzig, which once was shrinking, is now growing again after reducing its housing stock and making itself more attractive with its smaller scale.
“Growth is a challenge, as is decline,” said Mr. Swiaczny, who is now a senior research fellow at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany.
Demographers warn against seeing population decline as simply a cause for alarm. Many women are having fewer children because that’s what they want. Smaller populations could lead to higher wages, more equal societies, lower carbon emissions and a higher quality of life for the smaller numbers of children who are born.
But, said Professor Gietel Basten, quoting Casanova: “There is no such thing as destiny. We ourselves shape our lives.”
The challenges ahead are still a cul-de-sac — no country with a serious slowdown in population growth has managed to increase its fertility rate much beyond the minor uptick that Germany accomplished. There is little sign of wage growth in shrinking countries, and there is no guarantee that a smaller population means less stress on the environment.
Many demographers argue that the current moment may look to future historians like a period of transition or gestation, when humans either did or did not figure out how to make the world more hospitable — enough for people to build the families that they want.
Surveys in many countries show that young people would like to be having more children, but face too many obstacles.
Anna Parolini tells a common story. She left her small hometown in northern Italy to find better job opportunities. Now 37, she lives with her boyfriend in Milan and has put her desire to have children on hold.
She is afraid her salary of less than 2,000 euros a month would not be enough for a family, and her parents still live where she grew up.
“I don’t have anyone here who could help me,” she said. “Thinking of having a child now would make me gasp.”
Elsie Chen, Christopher Schuetze and Benjamin Novak contributed reporting.
In the near future, giant index funds, those low-cost investments that have helped millions of people to build nest eggs, will gain “practical power over the majority of U.S. public companies.”
That nightmarish vision originated in a prescient 2018 paper by John Coates.
Mr. Coates was a professor of Harvard Law School when he laid out his argument — one that I share. Now, he is a policymaker. In February, he became acting director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s division of corporation finance. Under the new reform-minded S.E.C. chairman, Gary Gensler, Mr. Coates is in a position to address the problems he has analyzed so painstakingly.
Neither Mr. Coates nor Mr. Gensler was available for an interview, but in that paper, Mr. Coates laid out his views. Index funds, which simply track the market and make no attempt to outperform it, are so effective and cheap, he said, that they have become the investment vehicle of choice for trillions of dollars of assets. Yet under current rules, it is the index fund executives, not the millions of people who invest in them, who have the power to cast proxy votes.
Those votes are the heart of a system intended to give investors a voice on crucial matters like how much the chief executive is paid or whether a company is damaging the environment.
wrote in December 2019, that lack of proxy voting capability leaves vast numbers of investors out of the equation, and gives corporations inordinate power. Consider that roughly half of all American households, comprising tens of millions of people, have a stake in the stock market. But most own equities indirectly through funds — mainly index funds.
That leaves fund managers with the decisive power over corporate governance, and the biggest fund companies have sided with management roughly 90 percent of the time.
As Mr. Coates wrote in 2018, “Control of most public companies — that is, the wealthiest organizations in the world, with more revenue than most states — will soon be concentrated in the hands of a dozen or fewer people.” The title of his paper was “The Problem of Twelve,” referring to the unelected leaders of index fund operations.
What’s worse, mutual fund companies are frequently conflicted. Many receive revenue from public traded corporations for providing financial services connected to retirement plans, yet have the responsibility of casting critical votes on how those companies are run. Scholars like Mr. Coates have worried about these conflicts for years.
study, “Uncovering Conflict of Interests: Proxy Voting Data Reveals Bias for Asset Managers to Favor Clients,” was done by the group As You Sow, which files for shareholder proposals on issues such as the environment, gender and racial diversity, and executive pay.
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The group based its finding on an analysis of 9.6 million proxy votes by fund companies, along with Labor Department records that show how much fund companies were paid for retirement plan services.
“The big fund companies have a massive aggregation of power that comes from the investments of their shareholders,” said Andrew Behar, chief executive of As You Sow. “At the very least, the fund companies shouldn’t be allowed to vote if they have conflicts of interest.”
Such apparent conflicts are permitted under current rules, as Mr. Coates noted in his 2018 paper. There are many possible regulatory solutions, but the fundamental cure would be to take proxy voting power away from the fund companies and put it in the hands of millions of fund shareholders. That change would be especially important for investors in broad-based index funds, which mirror the stock market and cannot divest shares of individual companies.
Say you don’t want to put money into Exxon Mobil because you disagree with its approach to climate change. If you own shares in an S&P 500 index fund, you will have an indirect stake in Exxon nonetheless. And if you hold the fund in a workplace retirement account, you may be stuck. Only 3 percent of 401(k) plans include investment options based on what are known in the industry as environmental, social and governance (E.S.G.) principles, according to the research firm Morningstar, a research firm that rates funds.
Reflecting widespread concern about climate change, fund companies appear to be shifting some of their proxy votes, Morningstar said. BlackRock, headed by Larry Fink, has called for a speedy transition to a “net zero economy” and Vanguard in April adopted guidelines that may lead to more “E.S.G.-friendly” votes, said Jackie Cook, director of investment stewardship research at Morningstar.
INDEX, has taken a small step that could have revolutionary implications: This year, it has begun asking shareholders how they want to vote.
Index Proxy Polling,” an easy way for shareholders to convey their preferences on proxy votes for S&P 500 companies. The aim is to demonstrate how shareholders in an index fund could express their opinions.
So far, only about 100 investors have participated, said Mike Willis, the fund manager, and current S.E.C. regulations require him to make the final voting decisions on behalf of the fund. But he said he hoped the S.E.C. would eventually allow him “to move to real shareholder democracy and go to pass-through voting, in which the shareholders say what they want and we just cast the vote for them.”
I commend Mr. Willis for his innovative approach, but note that this is not a typical index fund. It is an equal-weighted version of the S&P 500: It gives equal emphasis to big and small companies, so it may underperform the market when giants like Apple boom, and do better than the standard index when smaller companies excel. Its expense ratio of 0.25 percent is reasonable but not as low as some of the giant funds.
If experiments like this catch on, they could help to move the markets closer to something resembling shareholder democracy. But legislators and regulators — people like Mr. Coates and Mr. Gensler — will need to weigh in, too, if we are to avert a future in which the voices of investors are muffled and giant corporations are dominated by even more powerful index funds.
While its island neighbors in the Pacific weathered military coups and internal volatility, Samoa long followed a predictable political course, keeping the same leader in power for more than two decades.
But as the country is set to usher in its first female prime minister, that status quo has been dramatically upended. The incoming leader, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, represents a sharp break from what she describes as a worrying slide away from the rule of law, and she has vowed to scrap a major infrastructure project backed by China, her country’s largest creditor.
And her ascension itself, after a dizzying seven-week period of uncertainty and intrigue that followed the April 9 election, has sent a rare charge through Samoan politics.
First, there was a dead heat at the polls. Ms. Mata’afa’s upstart party won as many seats in Parliament as the one led by the swaggering prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi. An independent candidate took the remaining seat, making him a kingmaker.
American Samoa — is more than four decades in the making. Ms. Mata’afa, 64, a high chief who holds the title fiame, was propelled into political leadership after her father, the country’s first prime minister, died when she was 18. Not long after, she became the matai, or head of her family — an unusually early rise.
legislation that threatened to change the structure of the Samoan judiciary.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision to make,” Ms. Mata’afa said. “What really led me to make the decision to step away was the dismantling of essentially the rule of law.”
“Because of that huge majority that the H.R.P.P. had,” she added, “it became a lot more rampant, even the internal checks weren’t there — I was getting to feel a bit like the lone voice. If you can’t do it from the inside, you have to step outside.”
She became the leader of a new opposition party, known as FAST, which drew a number of other H.R.P.P. defectors.
told local news media. “They should go to a church and pray instead of protesting in front of the courthouse.”
Ms. Mata’afa, for her part, said she just wanted to get on with the job.
“It’s a free world; he can talk about anything he likes,” she said. “I just like to spend my energy talking about things that need to be addressed.”
A court in India on Friday acquitted a prominent journalist of charges that he raped a junior colleague, bringing an end to a politically charged case that had been closely watched as a test of a new sexual assault law.
The journalist, Tarun J. Tejpal, was accused of sexually assaulting a staff reporter for Tehelka, a well-known investigative magazine that he edited, in 2013.
Mr. Tejpal, 58, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, initially apologized to the reporter but later said the encounter had been consensual. “The truth will come out,” he told an Indian news channel in 2019.
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Tejpal thanked the judge in the court in the coastal state of Goa and repeated his assertion that he had been targeted for prosecution as part of a political vendetta against him.
has been slow to take hold in India, where public discussions of sex are frowned upon and traditional ideas of gender roles predominate in homes and workplaces.
Still, some women have gone public about sexual harassment and assault, and some have won victories in court. In February, a journalist successfully fought off a defamation suit brought by a former public official whom she had accused of sexually harassing her.
Mr. Tejpal was one of India’s best-known editors when he was arrested and charged. Tehelka, the liberal-minded magazine he led, is known for crusading public-interest journalism and has broken major stories over the years. Two decades ago, Tehelka reporters posed as arms dealers and caught Indian Army officers and members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — then, as now, India’s governing party — accepting bribes.
said in a statement after the accusation became public.
Mr. Tejpal initially expressed remorse about the incident, saying it had resulted from “an awful misreading of the situation.” But after the charges were filed, he said he was the victim of a right-wing “political vendetta,” and that security camera footage taken outside the elevator supported his version of events.
Mr. Tejpal, who resigned as editor of Tehelka, spent six months in jail before India’s top court released him on bail in 2014.
Since then, as the case made its way through India’s justice system at a typically glacial pace, Mr. Tejpal has largely disappeared from public life. A recent streaming series on Amazon based on a novel wrote did not include his name in the credits.
Ro, the parent company of Roman, the brand that is best known for delivering erectile dysfunction and hair loss medication to consumers, announced on Wednesday that it would acquire Modern Fertility, a start-up that offers at-home fertility tests for women.
The deal is priced at more than $225 million, according to people with knowledge of the acquisition who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not public. It is one of the largest investments in the women’s health care technology space, known as femtech, which attracted $592 million in venture capital in 2019, according to an analysis by PitchBook.
Modern Fertility was founded in 2017 with its flagship product: a $159 finger prick test that can estimate how many eggs a woman may have left, which can help determine which fertility method might be best.
“We essentially took the same laboratory tests that women would take in an infertility clinic and made them available to women at a fraction of the cost,” said Afton Vechery, a founder and chief executive of Modern Fertility, noting that her own test at a clinic set her back $1,500.
valued in March at about $5 billion, has in recent years expanded into telehealth, including delivering generic drugs by mail. In December, Ro acquired Workpath, which connects patients with in-home care providers, like nurses.
The global digital health market, which includes telemedicine, online pharmacies and wearable devices, could reach $600 billion by 2024, according to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. And yet, by one estimate, only 1.4 percent of the money that flows into health care goes to the femtech industry, mirroring a pattern in the medical industry, which has historically overlooked women’s health research.
“Gender bias in health care research methods and funding has really contributed to sexism in medicine and health care,” said Sonya Borrero, director of the Center for Women’s Health Research and Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh. “I think we’re seeing again — gender bias in the venture capital sector is going to exactly shape what gets developed.”
That underinvestment was part of the reasoning behind the acquisition, said Zachariah Reitano, Ro’s chief executive. The company developed a female-focused online service in 2019 called Rory.
“We’re going to continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years into women’s health,” Mr. Reitano said, “because ultimately I think women’s health has the potential to be much larger than men’s health.”