Serco AGM: corporate responsibility can’t be oursourced

By Bill Linton, AGM Army member

17 May 2016

I attended the Serco AGM, backed up by fellow AGM Army recruit Olivier Salas. At the pre-meeting coffee one of the directors came over and introduced himself – in fact it was Rupert Soames, the CEO. He was friendly and jokey – as soon as I said I was from ShareAction he responded “It’s all my fault!”. I was able to start my pitch, which was about a contract Serco are bidding for to run the offshore detention centres the Australian government have set up on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus Island. His basic position was that the set-up is backed by all the parties in Australia (in fact the Greens are against it, but I didn’t get the chance to make this point) and that governments have to make tough decisions which the likes of Serco then implement. He did say that no decision has yet been made on whether to bid for the contract.

The conversation got slightly side-tracked – perhaps an instance of a politician answering the question he wants to answer rather than the one he’s been asked – to the onshore facilities which Serco already run and where there have been a couple of suspicious deaths. Soames pooh-poohed these, concentrating on the most recent where he said, all the evidence pointed to a simple heart attack and the ‘suspicion’ came just from the victim’s mother. Not knowing any more details I had to retreat on that one.

Time to move into the AGM itself, where presentations by the Chairman Sir Roy Gardner and by Soames concentrated on how the company was overcoming difficulties they had run into in 2013 but still has a way to go. The assembled shareholders seemed largely to accept this, probably on the basis that they’d been expecting worse.

I got my chance to ask my question and got much the same response from Soames as I’d had in private: all the points I had made had been the subject of intense discussion within the board, which was still ongoing. There weren’t many other questions and the formal part of the meeting, voting on resolutions, was a formality – mainly as it was pretty clear that Sir Roy had about 800 million proxy votes in his back pocket!

Afterwards I had a word with Rachel Lomax, the chair of the Corporate Responsibility and Risk Committee who was interested in what I’d said. I suggested a meeting with ShareAction and she seemed basically agreeable without committing herself. Clearly worth further investigation, though.

I also spoke to Ed Casey, who let on that the board’s attitude to the Nauru/Manus bid was that they would only go ahead with it if they got assurances that they could run the operation within their comfort zone.

Thanks Bill. To hear more about our AGM Army work, contact Aislinn Lambert, Shareholder Activism Coordinator.

Colette St-OngeSerco AGM: corporate responsibility can’t be oursourced