a. What is the ACCR about?
The ACCR is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to promote ethical investment so that corporate activity will assist humanity to live more justly and within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.
b. What does the ACCR do?
Firstly, it conducts research on issues of corporate behaviour of concern to members. Such issues might include corporate governance and executive pay, environmental damage caused by corporate activity, product health issues, human rights and staff health and safety, use of corporate funds for lobbying or political purposes, disclosure of environmental and social impact.
Secondly, it assists members engage with companies in which they own shares on issues that concern them. It may also assist them request that companies distribute statements to all their shareholders or place resolutions on meeting agendas. Thirdly, it is an advocate for improved corporate law and practice in regard the rights of shareholders to have issues addressed.
c. What doesn't the ACCR do?
The ACCR is not an investment manager itself. We don't provide financial advice.
d. What sort of issues will the ACCR engage companies on?
The following examples are engagement themes pursued by organisations like the ACCR in the US and Europe in recent years:
- climate change impact of corporate activity - reduction and disclosure;
- toxic chemicals in products;
- use of child slaves in supply chain;
- contribution of corporate funds to climate change-denier lobby groups;
The following examples are resolutions filed by shareholders in collaboration with organisations like the ACCR in the US and Europe in recent years:
- that, car-makers, for example GM and Ford, should reduce the carbon emission footprint of their vehicle fleet;
- that companies, for example Goldman Sachs making political contributions, should provide a detailed statement to shareholders on recipients of such political contributions;
- that agricultural seed suppliers, for example DuPont, should report to shareholders on the potential adverse impacts of genetically modified seed;
Engagement themes the ACCR is actively pursuing this year can be seen on our Issues page.
a. Why was the ACCR formed?
A group of concerned organisations and individuals observed the healthy influence on corporate democracy of organisations operating in other countries with missions like the ACCR. There was no similar organisation in Australia or New Zealand. But, for example, a similar organisation in the US, the Interfaith Centre on Corporate Responsibility, has been operating for over 40 years.
b. Why hasn't an organisation like this ever been established in Australia or New Zealand before?
We're not sure. A culture of active, responsible share ownership is less well developed in Australia and New Zealand than, for example, in the US or in parts of northern Europe.
a. How will the ACCR work with its members to identify issues of concern?
There are 3 ways. Firstly, the ACCR will draw on the work of similar organisations in other countries. Secondly, individual ACCR members can make suggestions about issues of corporate irresponsibility the ACCR should research. Thirdly, each year input is sought from members on potential themes.
b. How will be ACCR convert this "thematic work” to action in order to achieve anything tangible?
The primary focus of the ACCR’s approach is firstly, to engage with companies and then, where appropriate, formulate and file proposed statements for distribution to all shareholders and/or proposed resolutions for discussion at shareholder meetings. Shareholders are the owners of companies. The people who run the company are responsible to the shareholders. Such an approach is fairly novel in Australia. Issues canvassed may include: corporate governance and executive pay, environmental issues, product health issues, human rights and staff health and safety, use of corporate funds for lobbying or political purposes, disclosure of environmental and social impact.
c. Isn’t it a government responsibility to address these sort of issues?
Not alone. At the ACCR we feel it is the responsibility of shareholders, their companies, as well as governments, to address issues of corporate behaviour. Australian voters show their concern about issues at a government level. That's a healthy aspect of our civil democracy. Actions undertaken by a company are undertaken in the name of the shareholders of that company. Individuals don't just "do the right thing" out of fear of the legal consequences if they don’t. At the ACCR we think companies should act similarly. If boards don't ensure their companies behave ethically, shareholders should ask questions & suggest changes.
d. How can shareholders “have their voice heard?”
The first step after an issue has been researched is dialogue. The next step is participating at shareholder meetings. In Australia 100 shareholders can request a company distribute to all shareholders a notice about a matter of concern to all shareholders. Similarly 100 shareholders can lodge a resolution for consideration by all shareholders at the next meeting of shareholders. In New Zealand, unless the Constitution of the individual company has other requirements, any one shareholder can request a resolution is considered at a meeting of shareholders.
e. How do company annual general meetings (AGM’s) work?
The board of directors and the management of the company discuss the operations of the company with the shareholders. Shareholders may vote on high-level resolutions dealing with the operation of the company, for example, new directors, the remuneration of executives etc.
f. Does a resolution have to get 51% of the vote to be “successful”?
No. The most successful resolutions get withdrawn. That means the board has agreed to act in accord with the proposal. Even if the resolution proceeds but fails to win majority shareholder support it will often still have a significant influence on the operations of the company. Sometimes, the same resolution has to be put a few years in a row, slowly gathering support. Once support has reached 10 to 15% proponents generally view their actions as having been successful as, at this level, change is usually triggered.
g. In Australia, how many shareholders do you need to be able to put a proposed resolution to an AGM?
One hundred. Note that, for example, even if a super fund has hundreds of thousands of individual members, that fund will only count as one shareholder! To our knowledge and surprise, no super fund in Australia has ever lodged any resolution on an environmental or social issue of the sort commonly lodged in the US by ICCR members.
h. In New Zealand, how many shareholders you need to be able to put the proposed resolution?
In general, only one. However the situation in New Zealand can vary with particular companies.
i. Will the ACCR or individual ACCR members collaborate with other large shareholders to get support for resolutions?
Yes. Many large shareholders have signed up to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI). Those signatories are natural allies of the ACCR. Many government investment bodies are also potential collaborators with the ACCR. Indeed, in the US, a number of state governments are members of the ICCR.
a. Who are the people involved in the ACCR?
The ACCR’s establishment committee shows evidence of its origins across a broad range of backgrounds, including financial, economic, investment, corporate ethical, religious, philanthropic, political, mathematical, innovative or even cultural links.
Firstly it was born as an idea when Robert Howell and Howard Pender serendipitously discovered in 2012 that they shared a concern about the roles of shareholders and stakeholders in the corporate world of Australasia. Robert had previously chaired the CSRI in New Zealand which had helped to persuade the NZ Super fund to stop its investments in tobacco and landmines.
In his more recent role as Australian Quaker Peace and Earthcare worker in Australia he found common cause with Howard Pender whose co-founding of Australian Ethical Investment was only part of a his eminent career as an innovative and green economist. Little wonder that they fused their Quaker and Environmental concerns with their knowledge of public finance and investment into the exciting new ACCR project, based on their mutual admiration of the work of ICCR and ECCR (links) overseas.
The other members of the establishment committee also bring breadth to the ACCR. Elizabeth Cham’s innovative work in philanthropy, as an advisor to senior government ministers and in academic teaching provides it with additional and unique perspectives. Her work on public accountability of funding is especially valued by the ACCR with its goal of corporate responsibility.
John McKinnon fuses his outstanding achievements in mathematics and Biblical studies with his ethically-focussed work in the corporate world, including overseas aid and local NGOs. Jill Sutton has shared his passion for sustainability and social justice in her work, both inside and outside government, but has recently expressed these in a published book of poetry! Her past role as a wordsmith with Tim Costello has given her the courage to insist on the links between poetry, religion, investment, corporate behaviour and government. These links are an integral part of the very broad church which has become the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility.
b. Who can join?
There are three categories of membership:
- individuals, i.e., natural persons can join. They can also join on behalf of their self-managed super funds;
- organisations including church and environmental groups, super funds and financial planners can join. They don't necessarily have to have a share portfolio but they must have a commitment to seeing their values enshrined in the work of the powerful organisations which make up the fabric of modern life;
- organisations who want to support the operations of the ACCR but not become full members can join as associates.
Every member agrees to give reasonable consideration to requests by another member that they will use the voting power of any shares they hold to assist that other member pursue the other member’s ethical objectives (provided the request is compatible with their own ethical objectives).
Every organisational member agrees to give reasonable consideration to requests by another member to publicise and garner support for specific engagement and advocacy actions undertaken by another member (again, provided the request is compatible with their own ethical objectives).
c. Who has nurtured the establishment of the ACCR?
The following organisations provided support to get the ACCR “off the ground”;
- the Australian Society of Friends (the Quakers);
- the Australia Institute;
- the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Charles Sturt University.
a. When was the ACCR established?
b. When will the ACCR first engage with companies?
c. When can I make suggestions about potential engagement themes?
You can email us at any time with your suggestions. Please also see the event listing on our News page.