What ACCR does

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.

What doesn't the ACCR do?

The ACCR is not an investment manager itself. We don't provide financial advice.

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.

 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.

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.

Who supports the ACCR, do you get any corporate support yourselves?

Listed companies are not eligible to become members of the ACCR. We have never received any listed company support. The following supporters assisted us to an amount exceeding $10k in financial year 14/15: a donation from Howard Pender, a grant from the GSCC, administered by the European Climate Foundation.

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. You can email us at any time with your suggestions.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

 

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