Proxy Preview: who and what to look out for this season
A range of shareholder resolutions filed by investors at some of the world’s largest companies expose relatively new concerns
Last year's proxy season saw a 46% increase in climate-related shareholder resolutions as asset owners, asset managers and advocacy groups held companies to account regarding their climate transition plans.
A significant portion of engagement in annual general meetings in 2022 focused on setting concrete targets, aligning corporate climate action with the Paris Agreement and incentivising emissions reduction in the short-term.
This year will see the momentum rise. Data from the UN Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) dataset on shareholder resolutions suggests that 172 resolutions have been filed or co-filed by PRI signatories, of which more than a third are climate-related.
These resolutions provide insight into the changing contours of engagement. While 2023 will carry on the dialogue from 2022, some new concerns are set to enter the conversation:
Fossil fuel finance
18 of the 172 resolutions list fossil fuel financing as a key concern. In particular, investors have targeted Canada’s big five banks: Toronto-Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal, and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
For example – Vancity Investment Management has filed a resolution at Toronto-Dominion Bank asking for greater clarity on the bank’s financed emissions reduction plan.
The resolution reads: “While TD’s updated Plan provides more clarity on the measurement of financed emissions, its intensity-based 2030 targets don’t align with the absolute 2050 target TD has committed to and the Plan lacks clarity as to the specific measures and policies."
Other investors have expressed similar concerns over the state of fossil fuel financing by Canada’s commercial banks. In support of their resolution at National Bank of Canada, Mouvement d'éducation et de défense des actionnaires (MÉDAC) stated that “since the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015, the big five banks have lent or committed close to $700 billion to fossil fuel companies”.
In addition, a range investors are targeting lenders in the United States.
Companies such as Chubb Group, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Berkshire Hathaway and Goldman Sachs are all set to face questions over their role in financing fossil fuel projects across the globe.
Some resolutions have put the investor spotlight on the relationship between companies and regulators. The resolutions reflect a growing concern regarding climate-related policy engagement by corporates.
Paccar, one of the world’s largest truck manufacturers is one such company. Calvert Research and Management has filed a resolution asking for a policy engagement report. In it, the investment manager has requested information on specific lobbying efforts that might contradict the company’s stated climate goal.
“Of particular concern is Paccar’s membership in a trade association that has actively sought to impede proposed clean truck regulations," says the resolution. "In contrast, emerging competitors in the truck market, such as Tesla, have supported efforts by California and other states to set rules that grow the market for medium and heavy-duty clean trucks."
Paccar’s AGM is scheduled for the 25th of April, while iInvestors have filed similar resolutions at Devon Energy Corp and American consumer sector giant Home Depot.
Heading into the proxy season, a critical question is whether the net-zero conversation moves beyond carbon. Based on the resolutions filed this year, this might be the case. Miller Howard Investments, an asset manager, is seeking methane disclosures from Targa Resources, an energy company.
As part of the shareholder resolution, the asset manager has stated, “methane is at least 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years”.
In addition, the non-profit As You Sow has filed a deforestation related resolution at Texas Roadhouse, a steakhouse chain.
The key argument being made is that the company has an exposure to deforestation risk in its supply chains. The resolution warns that “Failing to end deforestation may make Texas Roadhouse less attractive to investors, less competitive, and have a negative effect on shareholders’ financial returns”.
Waste, pollution and sustainable packaging are other related concerns that have entered the conversation. For instance, As You Sow has also filed a resolution at Amazon asking for information related to the company’s plastics pollution. According to the resolution, this where Amazon is “falling behind peers”.
Building on the momentum at high-level political dialogue over just transition, some investors have followed suit. Domini Impact Investments, an investment adviser, has filed just transition related resolutions at BrogWarner Inc (a manufacturing company) and Wabtec (a rail transport firm).