Report From the Front Line of AGM Activism: June 2017

The AGM season is in full swing. AGM activists from all over the UK have been using shareholder rights to hold the bosses of the world’s biggest companies to account on the real issues that matter. With success!

This report features some of our most recent wins alongside cracking stories of AGM activists fighting the good fight.

If you scroll down, you’ll also find a selection of top blogs written by our AGM activists, our top AGM selfies so far, and a list of must-read articles about AGM activism.

“Attending an AGM really opened my eyes to the importance of shareholder engagement. It was great to engage with them so directly on an issue that I am passionate about [i.e the real Living Wage]… It really goes to show the importance of using your power as a shareholder to question the companies on their practices in order to create change.”


The movement for responsible investment is growing stronger every day

We have been using AGM activism to drive change since 2011. AGM activists have attended more than 600 AGMs to ask questions on the things that matter – from human trafficking and workers’ conditions to ensuring the corporate transition to a low-carbon world.

This year, 59 AGM activists from all around the country attended 60 UK-based AGMs to ask 88 hard-hitting questions on climate change, fair pay, and sustainable food systems. Of those 59 AGM activists, 24 attended an AGM for the first time.

Our AGM activists are making history

The AGM season is far from over, but we are already making history. The last two months have been full of wins that have changed lives all over the UK! These would never have been possible without the help of AGM activists and our investor coalitions.

The momentum for renewable electricity is unstoppable

Whitbread, which owns brands like Premier Inn Hotels and Costa Coffees, now source all its purchased electricity in the UK from renewable energy sources. In other words, your daily Costa Coffee is now made using electricity sourced from the sun, the sea, and the wind.

Legal and General, the company that manages the pensions of so many of ShareAction supporters and UK savers, casually announced their commitment to 100% renewable electricity after Lauren Peacock’s question on the topic at its AGM. Well done!

The logic behind the Living Wage doesn’t need explaining anymore

Ashtead, Informa, and WPP – three of the UK’s biggest companies – recently committed to paying all its staff at least the real Living Wage. Ashtead CEO Geoff Drabble said that “the rationale [behind paying the real Living Wage] is simple. These are the people who keep the business running. [They] are so vitally important to the delivery of our service.” His decision resulted in 700 of his employees receiving a pay rise – and knowing all staff can make ends meet.

Investor pressure on BP and Shell must be escalated

The pay packets and bonuses of the top bosses at oil giants BP and Shell are linked to fossil fuel exploration and extraction activities that are incompatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement. We think they should instead be linked to ensuring the companies are able to operate profitably in the low-carbon world global leaders committed to in 2015.

Prior to the BP and Shell AGMs, we worked with more than 25 of our Pension Power teams to urge big investors to vote against the remuneration policies proposed by each company. A dozen AGM activists attended the BP AGM to hold the Board to account for its nanoscopic investments in renewable energy, poor representation of the electric car market, and membership in climate-denying lobbying groups. They also challenged CEO Bob Dudley on BP’s holding in Rosneft, a Russian oil company which spills 4.5 million tonnes of oil a year (an amount seven times bigger than BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill).

When asked about BP’s strategy to transition to a 1.5-2C degree world, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said “The pledges made by countries in the Paris Agreement take us to 3.5-4.5C degrees. That’s the reality. We can’t change that reality.” Such a world would not only be catastrophic for human society as we know it, it would also lead to a massive destruction of shareholder capital.

Our ambition has no limits

This year, Sonia Hierzig took part in a marathon of European banking AGMs across the Channel. She asked the top executives of BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale to outline how they engage with corporate clients that operate in high-carbon sectors, such as oil and gas, utilities, and the automotive industries. Sadly, her questions were met with disappointing answers from the board and contempt by other shareholders who did not yet recognise the need to challenge the status quo for the planet and long-term profit. Read more about it here.

“What this year’s AGM season has shown for the banking sector is that, while some positive and important measures have been taken, there is still a very long way to go until the largest European banks can consider themselves to be aligned with low-carbon, <2°C scenarios.”


There is still a lot to do

But there are still many battles to be won. Cineworld staff have once again been forced to stage a protest outside the Cineworld AGM to get their voices heard about the proliferation of zero-hour contracts as well as the need for better sick pay and maternity leave.

Natalie Parsons, a shareholder and AGM activist who works for the Ritzy cinema, said: “Every time the Ritzy is closed on a Saturday, the company loses £20,000, and five other cinemas are now participating in industrial action. Would it not make financial sense to meet with staff as soon as possible to reach a resolution on this dispute?”

At the Cineworld AGM, Cineworld President Anthony Bloom agreed to meet with his staff – a statement that he hasn’t lived up to yet.

ShareAction stands in solidarity with all Cineworld employees and looks forward to collaborating more with them in the future.

Check out our favourite #AGMselfies so far

The investment system is often perceived as something removed, complex, and – let’s be honest – a tiny bit scary. But it doesn’t have to be. Each year we ask our AGM activists to take an #AGMselfie to break that misconception and make AGM activism a more relatable experience.

This month’s best snaps feature Colette G. St-Onge and Sophia McNab demoralised after the BP AGM, Pavel Kirjanas excited at his first AGM, and a smiling Lauren Peacock after Legal and General committed to going 100% renewable electricity!

Find out more directly from AGM activists

Wondering what attending an AGM entails in practice? Get the full scoop directly from our AGM activists to find out about their experiences at the AGMs of Barclays, BP, Shell, BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole, Informa, RBS, Standard Chartered, Societe Generale, and WPP!

Shareholder Spring, Executive Pay and the Living Wage

By Jeanne Martin, AGM Activism Coordinator and Danny Gazzi, AGM Activist $11.6 million. That’s how much BP CEO Bob Dudley took home with him this year. Yes – it is slightly less than his 2016 salary of $19.3 million. But how can $11.6 million possibly justify the running of an oil company in a way

screen at WPP AGM

Persistence Pays Off at WPP – and Pays a Living Wage, too!

By Roger Jeary, AGM activist The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of WPP, the global marketing company famous for its overpaid CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell, is different to other corporate AGMs.  It is held in a theatre and the AGM is a production in itself, with Sir Martin in the leading role.  As you take your

La défense in Paris

Are Banks Ready to Help Drive the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy?

By Sonia Hierzig, Research Officer, ShareAction This spring, ShareAction was back at the shareholder meetings in the banking sector – excitingly expanding our focus beyond the largest UK banks to include some French and German banks too. In total, we attended the AGMs of nine banks[i] to find out more about how they are driving

photo of ben van beurden, shell CEO

5 Key Takeaways from the Shell AGM

By Juliet Phillips, Campaigns Manager, ShareAction Each year, the Shell Annual General Meeting (AGM) feels more and more like a climate change conference. The speeches get slicker, the questions get sharper, but dig a little deeper and the answers remain fundamentally the same. Shell is still an oil and gas company which premises its business

“An American class action lawyer”: the BP AGM 2017

By Rebecca Warren, AGM Activist More than three hours, a huge space in the Excel Centre, over a thousand attendees, lunchboxes and miniature wine bottles. And a team of 14 from ShareAction. It can only be the BP AGM.

Climate Change is the Ultimate Human Rights Issue – And Other Things BP Learned at AGM

By Daniel Macmillen-Voskoboynik, Campaigns Officer, and Juliet Phillips, Campaigns Manager BP is one of the world’s largest international oil and gas companies, with an annual revenue higher than the GDP of many countries. Its stated aim is to provide “light, heat and mobility” around the world, predominantly through the location, extraction, and trading of fossil

Read about AGM activism in the news

Media coverage is vital to ShareAction’s mission of building the movement of people taking action for positive corporate behaviour and unlocking change in those companies. Press interest is not hard to come by with so many committed AGM activists covering such important topics. This update really drives home the breadth of issues on which AGM activists hold CEOs to account.

Pay – low and high – always tops the AGM agenda and one AGM activist, Chris Baines, sparked the interest of the local press in Derby when he challenged the Rolls Royce CEO and Board to become an accredited Living Wage employer.

WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell was paid £70m in 2015, making him the best-paid CEO in the FTSE 100. Needless to say, journalists were keen to sniff out a shareholder rebellion, despite the advertising company shaving £22m off his final take-home pay for 2016. Campaign magazine, the Daily Mail, and the nation’s favourite bite-size newspaper, the i, got in touch with ShareAction for comment.

The City of London’s most reputable newspaper, City AM, covered a proposal filed at Twitter’s AGM which put forward a new model of democratic ownership: that the social media giant should become a cooperative, owned and run by its Tweeters. Following a rather apt campaign on the same platform strategically targeting responsible investors to support the resolution, City AM reported ShareAction’s guidance to “promote a visionary new model of co-operative ownership for Twitter”.

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Colette St-OngeReport From the Front Line of AGM Activism: June 2017