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Cisco Voters Down Human Rights Proposal

Aren't shareholder meetings a hoot? Lots of senior citizens -- nice folks, really -- getting gladhanded by execs. Rubber-stamp voting on things like naming a new accouting firm.

The Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) shareholder meeting today, held in a cushy theater at the Santa Clara Convention Center, was no exception. But today's meeting did see some gadfly issues get noteworthy support.

Two proposals on the proxy sought to have Cisco more deeply examine its role in human rights when selling to countries such as China and Saudi Arabia. The issue was probably on some investors' minds since Jerry Yang -- a member of Cisco's board -- got chewed up by members of U.S. Congress last week for Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO)'s role in China. (See Cisco Faces Human Rights Questions.)

Boston Common Asset Management LLC , for the third year in a row, proposed that Cisco prepare a report on how it could better address human rights issues. This year, the proposal got a 36 percent "yes" vote, based on a preliminary count, compared with 19 percent last year.

A second proposal, from John Harrington of Harrington Investments Inc. , got just 7 percent of the vote.

Bigger moral victories came in the issue of executive pay, which has been a hot button for big U.S. companies of all stripes. Again, two proposals were put forth, and neither passed -- but one came really close.

Christian Brothers Investment Services Inc. got a 48 percent vote for its "say for pay" initiative, according to the preliminary count. The proposal, being floated at many companies besides Cisco, would let shareholders vote on top executives' compensation packages each year.

The vote would be non-binding, meaning the company wouldn't have to do anything about it -- but it would give shareholders a way to lash out at what they perceive as over-the-top pay packages.

Such policies have already been adopted at Aflac Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Christian Brothers claims, making it not so surprising that so many Cisco shareholders supported the idea.

A second executive-pay proposal, floated by The United Brotherhood of Carpenters Pension Fund, picked up 33 percent of the vote.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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