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It has been a big year for activist shareholders to push for improvements in corporate governance at many major companies. The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), a large institutional shareholder that often fights for good corporate governance policies, is setting its sights on Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) .
That's a pretty big -- and for many consumers and investors, beloved -- company to target. This development also gives a good indication that 2011 likely will be another big year for shareholder activism, and such moves likely will target some of the major, well-known companies in your portfolio.
A major need for common-sense voting policies
Earlier today, I highlighted Apple as one of eight stocks that let you sleep at night, but acknowledged that no stock is without risk.
One of Apple's major risky flaws may be its rather slipshod approach to shareholder-friendly corporate governance. For example, shoddy disclosure of CEO Steve Jobs' health concerns should have led shareholders to feel less soft and fuzzy toward the tech giant.
Earlier this year, CalPERS revealed that it was targeting 58 major companies to try to get majority voting standards put in place. Apple was one of them. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple has resisted the change, and so CalPERS has lodged an advisory shareholder resolution for Apple's annual meeting in February.
Majority voting is a far more democratic approach to electing directors to a company's board. Under plurality voting, an individual only needs one "yes" vote to be elected. It's pretty easy to see why shareholders would prefer a system in which directors need a majority of shareholder votes to be elected to their posts.
Of the 58 companies CalPERS has targeted regarding majority voting, 20 of them, including Graco (NYSE: GGG ) , have been open to either making the change or letting shareholders vote on it.
On the other hand, CalPERS plans to file more resolutions as it deems fit at the remaining companies; so far, it says it also plans to lodge shareholder resolutions at VF (NYSE: VFC ) , BB&T (NYSE: BBT ) , and Annaly Capital Management (NYSE: NLY ) . (VF has already said it will recommend that shareholders support the majority vote proposal.)
Is change coming?
In 2010, shareholder activism began to take a very serious turn, and fans of good corporate governance scored some major victories. It looks like 2011 will be an even bigger year for shareholders' voices, and even the biggest, most powerful companies may find they have to listen.
Usually, very little changes when the calendar flips to a new year, but when it comes to pro-shareholder policies, a lot may change in 2011.
Check back at Fool.com on Wednesday, Dec. 29, for Alyce Lomax's next commentary on corporate governance.