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“Redskins” threat to FedEx

BETHESDA, MD: Investors have asked FedEx Corp. to respond to the reputational damage and business risk associated with its continued support of the Washington D.C.-based NFL Redskins football team. FedEx has the brand rights to the team's "FedExField" stadium in Maryland until 2026.

On June 18, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the team's trademark calling it "disparaging to Native Americans".

fedexfieldThe shareholder proposal has been filed on behalf of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, Mercy Investment Services and Calvert Investments with support from Boston Common Asset Management, Walden Asset Management and Trillium Asset Management.

"As times change, so must our language. Given the historic and present connotations of the name, turning real people into caricatures and mascots or insulting a portion of our population with an offensive name is no longer acceptable in this day and age," said Reed Montague, sustainability analyst at Calvert Investments. Founded in 1976, the company has more than US$13 billion in assets under management.

"As investors, we believe that the FedEx board and management must address the reputational risks linked to its sponsorship of the Washington NFL team franchise said Jonas Kron, senior vice president, director of shareholder advocacy at Trillium Asset Management. "Each time a game is broadcast or the team name mentioned, the company is perceived as supporting disparaging and racist language," he added. Trillium manages US$1.5 billion of sustainable business assets.

Last month 50 U.S. Senators sent letters to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell urging him to push for a name change as "the NFL can no longer ignore this and perpetuate the use of this name as anything but what it is: a racial slur".

But despite a growing chorus of opposition that also includes Barack Obama, 200 civil rights organisations and national sports columnists, FedEx has responded to the investor proposal by asking the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to exclude their shareholder proposal from its 2014 proxy statement.

The company says discussing support for the "Redskins" brand is not a significant issue for investors to consider at the company's annual meeting in September this year.

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