Proxy Voting and Governance
It is the policy of the Committee to make proxy voting decisions that are solely in the best long-term economic interests of the clients of its Member Firms. The Committee is aware that, from time to time, voting on a particular proposal or with regard to a particular issuer may present a potential for conflict of interest for its Member Firms. For example, potential conflicts of interest may arise when: (1) a public company or a proponent of a proxy proposal has a business relationship with a BNY Mellon affiliated company; and/or (2) an employee, officer or director of BNY Mellon or one of its affiliated companies has a personal interest in the outcome of a particular proxy proposal.
Aware of the potential for conflicts to influence the voting process, the Committee and the IMRC consciously developed the Voting Guidelines and structured the Committee and its practices with several layers of controls that are designed to ensure that the Committee’s voting decisions are not influenced by interests other than those of its Member Firms’ fiduciary clients. For example, the Committee developed its Voting Guidelines with the assistance of internal and external research and recommendations provided by third party vendors but without consideration of any BNY Mellon client relationship factors. The Committee has directed the Proxy Agent to apply the Voting Guidelines to individual proxy items in an objective and consistent manner across client accounts and similarly has directed the Proxy Agent to administer proxy voting for Member Firm clients. When proxies are voted in accordance with these pre-determined Voting Guidelines, it is the Committee’s view that these votes do not present the potential for a material conflict of interest and no additional safeguards are needed.
For those proposals that are referred to the Committee in accordance with the Voting Guidelines or Committee direction, the Committee votes based upon its principle of seeking to maximize the economic value of the securities held in client accounts. In this context the Committee seeks to address the potential for conflicts presented by such “referred” items through deliberately structuring its membership. The representatives of the Member Firms on the Committee do not include individuals whose primary duties relate to sales, marketing or client services. Rather the Committee consists of senior officers and investment professionals from its Member Firms, and is supported by members of BNY Mellon’s Compliance, Legal and Risk Management Departments, as necessary.
With respect to the potential for personal conflicts of interest, BNY Mellon’s Code of Conduct requires that all employees make business decisions free from conflicting outside influences. Under this Code, BNY Mellon employees’ business decisions are to be based on their duty to BNY Mellon and to their clients, and not driven by any personal interest or gain. All employees are to be alert to any potential for conflict and to identify and mitigate or eliminate any such conflict. Accordingly, members of the Committee with a personal conflict of interest regarding a particular public company or proposal that is being voted upon must recuse themselves from participation in the discussion and decision-making process with respect to that matter.
Additionally, there are certain instances where an independent fiduciary will be engaged to vote proxies as a further safeguard to avoid potential conflicts of interest or as otherwise required by applicable law. These instances are considered to be “Primary Conflicted Proxies” and they typically arise due to relationships between proxy issuers or companies and BNY Mellon, a BNY Mellon affiliate, a BNY Mellon executive, or a member of BNY Mellon’s Board of Directors.
We are also subject to the policies and decisions of BNY Mellon’s Proxy Conflicts Committee (the “PCC”). If a situation arises that is not identified as a Primary Conflicted Proxy, but may present an actual, potential or perceived material conflict of interest, or if there is ambiguity as to whether a Primary Conflicted Proxy exists, the PCC shall review the matter, and (in the case of identified conflicts) determine how best to resolve the conflict. If the PCC determines that a conflict exists, possible resolutions may include: (1) voting in accordance with the guidance of an independent fiduciary; (2) voting in proportion to other shareholders (“mirror voting”); (3) erecting informational barriers around, or recusal from the vote decision making process by, the person or persons making voting decisions; and (4) voting in other ways that are consistent with our obligation to vote in our clients’ best interest.
When an independent fiduciary is engaged, the fiduciary either will vote the involved proxy, or provide us with instructions as to how to vote such proxy. In the latter case, we will vote the proxy in accordance with the independent fiduciary’s determination.
The foregoing information is only a portion of a broader description of the BNY Mellon Proxy Voting and Governance Committee and its philosophy, voting guidelines, process, and approach to conflicts of interest. Please refer to the Introduction section and review the related information on prior and subsequent pages for the complete overview, including the meanings of the capitalized terms used herein.