ACCR has recently put forward a shareholder resolution to BHP Billiton asking them to reconsider their membership with the Minerals Council of Australia. There are glaring inconsistencies between what BHP say (that they’re a leader on climate issues and support sensible bipartisan climate policy), and what they do (they’re the largest financial member of the Minerals Council of Australia, one of the major roadblocks to sensible climate policy in this country). We think this runs contrary to the interests of BHP, their investors, and the planet.
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility
The ACCR is a not-for-profit association whose mission is to promote informed shareholder engagement and advocacy for more just and sustainable corporate activity. We research corporate activity and assist people to use the research. We promote ethical investment. We aim to empower stakeholders in corporate Australasia - which is all of us.
Companies and political expenditure
ACCR's new report Corporate political expenditure in Australia looks at what shareholders and the public know about corporate political expenditure in Australia. We find that the answer is very little. Shareholders would be shocked to find that if they knew that some resource companies use shareholders funds to support blocking action on climate change while at the same time publicly supporting action on climate change.
ACCR thinks it is time for more greater accountability and transparency. We are considering launching shareholder resolutions, and NAB was to be our first target. However on 20 September 2016, NAB announced that it was changing its policy to stop political donations, so we are no longer launching a resolution at NAB's 2016 AGM.
Big banks and climate change
At the ANZ AGM on 17 December 2015, 10.52% of the shares voted for the corporate governance resolution and about 5.4% for the climate change resolution. For more detail, see our media release.
See what our big banks do in pictures
As a result of our 2014 big bank resolution campaign we know more about how much carbon our banks finance. It has made it clearer that the bank that finances the most is ANZ. As a result we, with the support of Market Forces, Ethinvest and Tas Ethical have lodged resolutions to be voted on at the ANZ AGM. The resolutions have 3 parts asking ANZ to:
- make it easier for shareholders to move resolutions
- ask ANZ to provide more information about how much it is exposed to carbon intensive industries
- set public targets for reducing their exposure to carbon intensive industries.
The Climate Institute has recently published a discussion paper, “Australia’s Financial System and Climate Risk”, which identifies risks that the Australia’s financial system could be destabilised by both direct climate change impacts and secondary effects, such as a slump in demand for carbon-intensive exports.
In 2014 ACCR lead a shareholder campaign to force our big 4 banks – CBA, NAB, ANZ and Westpac – to tell shareholders how much carbon they finance. By the end of the 2014 Australian AGM season the campaign demonstrated the impact that shareholder resolutions can have. Faced with having to distribute carbon-related resolutions to millions of shareholders, all of the big four banks have improved their carbon disclosure.
The campaign was based on our research report into ‘Financed emissions, ‘unburnable carbon’ risk and the major Australian banks’. You can download the update here and the original report here. Our research shows that ANZ and the Commonwealth Bank have the highest level of carbon exposure and have clearly taken a very short term view of the risks. We moved resolutions at the CBA and ANZ AGMs and asked questions at the NAB and Westpac AGMs. For more details see here.
Australian power companies commit to change after shareholder resolutions
ACCR, with the help of over 100 other shareholders, moved climate change resolutions at the 2015 AGMs of AGL, Australia’s largest carbon polluter and Origin, Australia’s largest electricity retailer and 8th largest carbon polluter.
Both of them have now (at or just before the AGM) announced they are committing to the ‘We Mean Business’ (http://www.wemeanbusinesscoalition.org/) climate change related initiatives. ‘We Mean Business’ is a coalition of organizations working with thousands of the world’s businesses and investors including IKEA, Nike, Unilever, Nestlé, Goldman Sachs, Coca Cola and Westpac to address climate change.
Origin will be the first Australian company and, globally, the first major energy company, to commit to all 7 of the ‘We mean business’ initiatives. AGL has adopted 4 of the “We Mean Business” commitments.
The Origin and AGL announcements show how shareholders, along with others from civil society, can make a difference to the companies they invest in. However both companies have made climate change commitments in the past and then not followed thru so ACCR will continue to monitor them to see if they stick to their word. In particular we want them to make measurable short term commitments so that we can see progress, not just long term commitments such as AGL’s ‘no coal by 2050’ where no one can tell for possibly 35 years if they meet the commitment. For more information see our pages on Power companies, AGL and Origin.
Commonwealth Bank case : a loss for shareholder rights
The case came about because last year the Commonwealth Bank(CBA) refused to put our ordinary resolutions on their AGM agenda. Instead the CBA board said to the proposing shareholders the only valid option open to them was to endeavour to change the Constitution. ACCR launched a legal challenge against the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) hoping to improve the clarity in Australian law of shareholders’ rights to have a say in how their companies are run.
ACCR argued that the ultimate rights in a company are held by shareholders. After all we/they own the companies. Because of this, they argued, under Australian law properly construed, boards cannot prevent formal comment by shareholders unless shareholders expressly give away this right which they have not done. This how corporate democracy works in the USA. Hundreds of shareholder resolutions are considered each year in America.
ACCR has lost the case and an appeal to the Federal court. For more details see our page on legal action.