BOSTON (Reuters) - Activist investor Boston Common Asset Management LLC said that it has sold most of the 167,000 shares it held in Cisco Systems Inc, capping a lengthy dispute with the company over its human rights record.
Cisco is among a number of technology companies that have tangled with human rights groups in recent years over sales to governments in China and elsewhere.
Microsoft Corp and Yahoo Inc are among the others; activists say the companies’ software and hardware have been used to clamp down on electronic speech and dissidents’ communications.
Boston Common, which has about $1.4 billion under management, has long campaigned to get Cisco to monitor more closely the risks these sales posed.
In a statement sent late on Tuesday the group said it sold the shares after deciding Cisco was not doing enough to engage with shareholders on the issues.
Among other things, Boston Common had sponsored a resolution at Cisco’s annual meeting in November calling on the company to study steps it could take to reduce the likelihood its business practices might lead to violations of rights like freedom of expression and privacy.
Cisco opposed the proposal, saying it has already taken similar steps, such as publishing a social responsibility report.
It also said its products have fostered the spread of the Internet “into the medium it is today, providing access, expression and community across the globe.”
About two-thirds of votes cast on the question sided with Cisco, according to tallies the company later filed to the
Boston Common’s allies in the campaign had included holders of about 20 million shares, including public retirement systems in New York City, said Dawn Wolfe, a researcher for the group. Boston Common was the first to divest, however.
Total shares outstanding in Cisco are more than 5.5 billion.
“We continually evaluate and address human rights issues within our business operations and in communities where we operate,” a Cisco spokeswoman said in a statement.
The statement continued that “We have various policies, practices and procedures in place relating to human rights around the word, and believe our business practices and our standards-based technology architecture support the benefits of Internet access to information on a global basis.”
Cisco shares were up 0.8 percent at $21.05 at midday on Wednesday.
Reporting by Ross Kerber, editing by Matthew Lewis