By Juliet Phillips, Campaigns Officer, ShareAction
13 Februarty 2015
On a cold and grey February morning, I found myself on a train from St Pancras to Luton Airport. Was I heading somewhere hot and exotic? Not exactly. Rather, I was accompanying my colleague Lisa to the EasyJet AGM to ask some probing questions about human trafficking and the Living Wage.
This outing was my first exposure to the exciting world of shareholder activism. Next to my seasoned partner, I felt ready to face the board of directors and excited to (hopefully) get some answers on these important issues.
After collecting my guest pass and sampling the tea supplies, Lisa and I sat down and re-read over the question she’d prepared. She’d been along the previous year and raised the topic of human trafficking for the first time ever at an EasyJet AGM – quite an impressive feat! This time, she was aiming to follow up on their progress on this, and ask for further information about what they were doing on the Living Wage.
After a couple of hard-hitting questions from other shareholders on evocative subjects such as whether EasyJet would consider moving their AGM forward an hour, it was Lisa’s turn to speak. In a polite but firm voice, she read out her question and awaited a response.
Whilst the answer wasn’t a straightforward “Yes! We’ll adopt the Living Wage for all of our workers!” it was a reasonably well considered and progressive one. The CEO said that the issue EasyJet faced was that the workers paid below the Living Wage were largely employed by partner organisations, such as ground-handling companies. Whilst she (that’s right – she – hooray, a female CEO!) was engaged in on-going dialogue with these partner companies about paying the Living Wage, EasyJet wasn’t in a position to enforce change. She also signalled that she’d be happy to talk to us after the AGM about their policy on human trafficking.
Was it scary going to talk to the CEO after the AGM? Perhaps it would have been if Lisa hadn’t been there, but together we were an unstoppable force. Turns out that EasyJet had been expecting Lisa, and had printed out a letter on their human trafficking position. They said they’d be happy to discuss their policy further if we had any points to add, which was some impressive bridge building, I felt. The CEO reiterated their position on the Living Wage, and Lisa suggested a meeting with the Living Wage Foundation to see whether there were action points which could be taken up with the partner organisations.
And that’s what I learnt from my first AGM about this form of activism. It’s not about who shouts the loudest, but who can make the connections – and who will stick around and maintain the relationships which allow real progress to be made.
Thanks Juliet! If you want to take an issue to the board of directors, contact Liz at email@example.com to sign up to join our AGM army!