Thursday, November 06, 2014

Forest City's second Corporate Social Responsibility report maintains omissions about dicey issues; battle with Skanska shows hard-nosed tactics

So, what's a more accurate representation of Forest City Ratner/Forest City Enterprises: a carefully produced, selective report on corporate social responsibility, or a document unearthed in a lawsuit with its bitterly estranged former partner Skanska?

I'd bet the latter more accurately represents the hard-nosed business that drives shareholder value--though the report itself is a carefully crafted document.

The second edition of  Forest City Enterprises' Corporate Social Responsibility Report, issued in September, is, like the 2012 report issued in 2013 (bottom), a selective document, focusing on nice things like charitable contribution and energy efficiency measures.

It again ignores aspects of the Global Reporting Initiative Guidelines that touch on sensitive aspects of public-private partnerships, such as campaign contributions and negative community impacts.

Meanwhile, in a set of lawsuits involving Skanska, new details are emerging in the battle over cost overruns at the modular plant. Forest City and Skanska reciprocally blame each other, and neither party comes off well. (See this anonymous source saying both Forest Ratner and Skanska were willfully blind.)

Also, consider the email at right from Skanska EVP Mike McNally to colleagues, regarding a conversation he had last February with Forest City CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin and Executive VP Bob Sanna. McNally wrote:
"They basically said that we need to come to the meeting committed to alternative D (take the modules off the line regardless if they are ready) or don't show up. After about 10 minutes, I mentioned that we would also like to discuss the financial impact at the meeting and they went crazy. They were threatening and insulting."
This email was described but not detailed in an affidavit from Skanska's Richard Kennedy that I mentioned in September.

In another episode that has created bad blood between the companies, Forest City, which sued Kennedy individually, was--in a Skanska executive's words--"served by ambush" in his driveway at 8 pm in front of his small children, rather than having the process server deliver a copy of the lawsuit at his workplace.

This doesn't make Skanska a white knight, however; consider that the company had to pay nearly $20 million in 2011 for its role in a scheme in which fake minority contractors were used as fronts.

The new report

Forest City Enterprises this past September released "its 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report (below), which details the company's environmental, social and economic performance and governance strategy.

According to the press release:
Highlights include reporting water usage data for the first time, instituting an associate wellness program and reducing energy usage companywide by 5.7 percent. The company also recognized eight of its property teams through an internal awards program for achievements in sustained excellence and best practices in energy.
Click to enlarge
And similar omissions recur, as shown in the screenshot at left. There's no report of political contributions, nor displacement, nor mitigation measures taken in response to negative community impacts.

The new report does show some changes. It drops last year's misleading description of Atlantic Yards and, as one example of social responsibility, cites the late 2013 award to the Barclays Center from the Municipal Art Society as "Best Neighborhood Catalyst."

contended that the award was badly misguided, given the mixed impact of the arena, and the uncertainties of the then-pending Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement and railyard awaiting development.

How CSR report helps

These reports have a business purpose. As stated in the recent press release:
Forest City's first CSR report, issued last year and detailing achievements and metrics for 2012, helped drive improvement in Forest City's MSCI Intangible Value Assessment rating by two levels, from BB to A, in a single review period.
That MSCU Intangible Value Assessment goes beyond in traditional financial analyses to assess a company, and the increase of two levels was seen as a significant accomplishment for Forest City's overall image.

That assessment, too, has its flaws. As I wrote, Forest City's omissions went unmentioned in that Intangible Value Assessment. Nor were the deceptions in marketing EB-5 investments mentioned. Will the next Corporate Social Responsibility report mention how the 2014 EB-5 marketing got a rebuke from the U.S. State Department? I doubt it.

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