Abigail Disney heiress explains how to bring magic back to capitalism

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 20: Abigail Disney speaks at the Cinema Dedication Ceremony for the Firehouse DCTV Documentary Film on September 20, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)

Santiago Felipe | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Abigail Disney, a great-niece of Walt Disney and shareholder of the media giant, went viral in 2019 when she criticized former CEO Bob Iger’s $66 million compensation package. Since then, the Disney heiress – who is a documentary filmmaker and social activist – has used her relationship with the company to advocate for broader changes in corporate America related to the issue of pay equity and to redefine the success in a business setting.

“How can you say that a company is successful when people are suffering? Disney recently told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin during the virtual ESG Impact Summit. “Part of the problem is how we define the idea of ​​what a successful business is, and if we pushed human interest to the center of our set of calculations about the well-being of a business, we would have a very different opinion of Disney as a successful company.”

Disney, which recently released the documentary “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” said it views ESG as one aspect of a much larger set of principles that shape how a company operates and determine what what she can and cannot do.

“It’s also about helping companies do the right thing,” Disney said.

Workers’ issues are, in fact, the #1 ESG theme, according to a poll of the American public. The poll finds that paying a fair and living wage is the most important issue for Americans when asked what they want companies to do.

Disney does not accept the argument that the market dictates salaries. “The market is a bit of a yardstick, but it really doesn’t dictate anything,” she said. “These are boards that are populated by people who are CEOs or would like to be CEOs one day and are loyal to the class…they identify with the CEO,” she said.

A Disney spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CNBC, “Our incredible cast members, storytellers and employees are the heart and soul of Disney, and their well-being is our priority. absolute.” The Disney spokesperson cited “competitive pay and industry-leading entry salaries,” affordable medical coverage, tuition-free access to higher education, and subsidized childcare for eligible employees.

Just Capital, the ESG research nonprofit that polls the American public on issues of business importance, ranks Disney as the No. 1 media company in its annual Top 100 rankings, but its the lowest score is for workers, where Disney ranks 10th among 15 media companies.

In March, Disney shareholders voted in favor of a proposal for greater transparency on salary data, including data related to race and gender, a rare loss for Disney management in a proxy battle. which garnered the support of 60% of shareholders. According to a June article by entertainment publication The Wrap, Abigail Disney is gearing up for another shareholder fight next year over the salary of current Disney CEO Bob Chapek, whose pay doubled last year. last to reach $32.5 million.

Disney, who told the FT in 2019 she had a net worth of $120 million and called herself a “traitor” to her class, doesn’t think the idea of ​​wealth redistribution is necessary.

“I don’t think we need to do redistribution. But I think we need to think more carefully about pre-distribution, and maybe companies need to take less as owners and see workers as their true partners who deserve to share in the profits just as deeply,” she said. “Capitalism is the invisible hand that creates a kind of magical surplus when it works properly. And he can still do it, without being this predatory entity that he has become,” she added.

Watch the ESG Impact video below to learn more about the Disney heiress and shareholder views on CEO compensation and worker compensation.

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