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Jun 07, 2024

The week in GRC: AI workers call for increased whistleblower protections and group plans Texas stock exchange

This week’s governance, compliance and risk-management stories from around the web

The Guardian reported that a group of current and former employees at prominent AI companies released an open letter warning about a lack of safety oversight within the industry and called for increased protections for whistleblowers. The letter, which calls for a ‘right to warn about [AI]’, is one of the most public statements about the dangers of the technology from employees within the industry. Eleven current and former OpenAI workers signed the letter, along with two current or former Google DeepMind employees.

‘AI companies possess substantial non-public information about the capabilities and limitations of their systems, the adequacy of their protective measures and the risk levels of different kinds of harm,’ the letter states. ‘[But] they currently have only weak obligations to share some of this information with governments and none with civil society. We do not think they can all be relied upon to share it voluntarily.’

OpenAI defended its practices, saying it had avenues such as a tipline to report issues at the company and that it did not release new technology until there were appropriate safeguards. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters (paywall) reported that Boeing’s outgoing CEO David Calhoun said the company’s board would decide his successor and he would support its choice. Calhoun is due to step down by the end of the year as part of a broad management shake-up brought on by the company’s safety crisis.

‘The board is prepared to make [its] decisions, [it has] time to be able to make them,’ Calhoun said, adding that he is committed to getting the company through its recovery. Calhoun added that he would support whoever is chosen for the role. ‘It has been thought through. OK, we’ll get to a conclusion. It’ll be a great one and I’ll be the most supportive player in the field,’ he said.

The Associated Press (AP) reported that according to data analyzed for AP by Equilar, the typical compensation package for S&P 500 CEOs rose almost 13 percent in 2023, easily surpassing the gains for workers. The median pay package for CEOs increased to $16.3 mn, up 12.6 percent. Around two dozen CEOs received a pay bump of 50 percent or more. Meanwhile, wages and benefits netted by private-sector workers rose 4.1 percent through 2023. At half the companies in this year’s pay survey, it would take the worker at the middle of the company’s pay scale almost 200 years to earn what their CEO did.

Many companies have listened to shareholders by linking CEO compensation more closely to performance. As a result, a large proportion of pay packages consist of stock awards, which the CEO often can’t cash in for years, if at all, unless the company meets certain targets.

The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reported that Estée Lauder is expected to keep longtime CEO Fabrizio Freda in the top job. The WSJ said that according to people familiar with the matter, board members discussed Freda’s future at a meeting in late May and directors talked about extending the CEO’s 15-year tenure beyond June when certain financial grants vest. The directors want Freda to continue to stabilize the company as it launches the next phase of CEO succession planning, the people said. 

Estée Lauder’s lead independent director Charlene Barshefsky and executive chair William Lauder said in a statement that the board fully supports Freda and his plan to boost growth, profitability and speed to market. ‘The board has a long-established process for succession planning, which includes assessing potential leaders, internally and externally,’ they noted, adding that Freda will continue to work with the board on that process.

– TXSE Group, backed by BlackRock and Citadel Securities, plans to launch the Texas Stock Exchange in Dallas, according to Reuters. The exchange, which has raised about $120 mn, plans to file registration documents with the SEC to start operating as a national securities exchange later this year. A rebound in the capital markets has sent many companies from within and outside the US looking to list their stocks, although carving a space could be difficult for a new exchange.

But changes in equities trading markets, such as a shift in listing standards and associated costs, are driving more volumes to exchanges and more choices for issuers and sponsors, said James Lee, founder and CEO of TXSE Group. Corporate issuers and exchange-traded product sponsors are demanding more stability and predictability around listing standards and associated costs, the company said.

– The WSJ reported that the FASB wants to establish requirements on how companies account for government grants in their financial reports, a move intended to help investors compare businesses as such aid becomes more prevalent. The FASB voted to propose that US public and private companies recognize grants, something most companies already voluntarily do, by applying an existing standard on government-aid accounting from the FASB’s international counterpart, the International Accounting Standards Board.

The proposal focuses on the transfer of both monetary assets such as cash and loans expected to be forgiven as well as physical assets such as buildings, land and equipment between a government and a company.

Ben Maiden

Ben Maiden is the editor-at-large of Governance Intelligence, an IR Media publication, having joined the company in December 2016. He is based in New York. Ben was previously managing editor of Compliance Reporter, covering regulatory and compliance...