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$260 Million After Death? How Rich Executives Make Money From Beyond the Grave

Under "golden coffin" arrangements, CEOs who die while still employed may be entitled to lavish payouts upon death.

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Any shareholder can file a resolution, for example, an adjustment to executive compensation, as long as that shareholder has held $2,000 in stock for a year or more. Shareholders tend to focus on their own interests, and those with the most to lose may be unable to hold the required amount of stock for the necessary period, let alone read through the extremely long documentation companies use to conceal executive compensation while ostensibly meeting disclosure obligations. Many more people cannot afford to buy stock at all, let alone purchase enough to participate in shareholder votes.

Intervention though pooled resources may be the most effective way to address the excesses of executive compensation agreements. Bringing executive pay into more reasonable realms should, and does, interest a number of social welfare organizations, particularly unions, which are already active in the executive compensation reform movement. The golden coffin, as a particularly horrific example of corporate inefficiency and greed, ought to be a soft target for angry shareholders and activists alike.

With one in six Americans now officially meeting the poverty guideline, and actual poverty probably occurring at a much higher rate, executive compensation should be a much bigger topic; sadly, for some of the most cutting assessments, you’ll have to look to the pages of financial publications. Many progressives are surprised to learn that activism within the financial industry is sometimes in line with their own values. Shareholders who do smack down unreasonable executive compensation packages have profits, not social responsibility, in mind, but the end product is the same. Uniting across the divide may result in real change in the financial industry.

There’s no justifiable reason to offer such lavish death benefits to CEOs, and there are a great number of reasons to start shredding the golden coffin along with other unreasonably high benefits offered as part of routine compensation packages for CEOs.

s.e. smith is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Bitch, Feministe, Global Comment, the Sun Herald, the Guardian, and other publications. Follow smith on Twitter: @sesmithwrites.

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