Efforts to kick-start corporate democracy are running up against the reality of voter apathy–in this case individual shareholders. And this season a change in regulations may make it harder for companies to get a quorum and easier for shareholder activists to foment unrest.

As proxy season starts, $29 billion insurer Prudential is breaking new ground by offering registered shareholders who vote their proxies the choice of a socially-aware tote bag with Prudential's logo or having a tree planted in their name.

Providing the gifts will cost the company less than paying a proxy solicitation company to call shareholders, says Peggy Foran, Prudential's chief governance officer and corporate secretary. Prudential's offer targets its 2.4 million registered shareholders-individuals who had insurance policies and received shares in 2001 when the insurer demutualized.

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Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly is a business journalist who has written for Treasury & Risk, FierceCFO, Global Finance, Financial Week, Bridge News and The Bond Buyer.