At the annual stockholder meeting, directors ask stockholders to vote on certain matters, including the election of directors and other matters, like the ratification of the board's selection of a corporate auditor. But, directors do not have exclusive control over the agenda at a stockholder meeting. Stockholders also have the right to put proposals and questions before the meeting. Some matters that are proposed by stockholders, including amendments to bylaws are expressly permitted by the state corporate law. Others are governed by bylaws, for example stockholder nomination of candidates for the position of director.
Other proposals put forward by stockholders, however, are not expressly contemplated by the corporate law. For these stockholder proposals, the SEC has developed a series of rules to govern when a board is required to put a shareholder proposal on the corporate proxy statement, or to be more precise rules governing when a board is permitted to exclude a shareholder proposal from the corporation's proxy materials sent to stockholders.
Although many shareholder proposals are focused on tradtional corporate governance issues, there is a long history of social activists using the shareholder proposal process to put important social issues on the agendas of corporate America. For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, the anti-Apartheid movement used the shareholder proposal process to raise awareness of the evils of Apartheid in South Africa.