By Jeanne Martin, Shareholder Activism Coordinator, ShareAction

Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and shareholders are rushing to the annual general meetings of the world’s biggest companies… yes, you got it: AGM season has officially begun!

What is an AGM and why should I care?

Each year, publicly-listed companies (the ones traded on stock exchanges) hold a meeting in which the Board of Directors (the people who run the company) have to answer to the company’s shareholders (the people and institutions who own the company).

It’s a unique and important meeting for corporate accountability.

We believe shareholders, big and small, should take advantage of this opportunity to engage companies on their sustainability and impact. Shareholders can and should challenge board members, and also praise them when they take a positive step such as becoming accredited Living Wage employers.

The most powerful way to challenge a company at its annual general meeting (AGM) is to ask the right question to the Board. Really, shareholders are allowed to ask questions about pretty much anything related to the company – from its financial health to how it treats its employees and manages its climate risks. This is a tactic we have honed with our AGM activists over the past seven years. Last year alone, we supported 102 different people to ask 121 questions at 84 AGMs. And, together, we secured some important wins.

We believe shareholders, big and small, should take advantage of this opportunity to engage companies on their sustainability and impact.

For example, our AGM question at AstraZeneca (a big pharmaceutical company) helped to galvanise their commitment to using 100% renewable electricity and joining the RE100 initiative. BP pulled out of its plans to drill for oil in the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. WPP (the world’s largest communications services group) committed to paying all its staff at least the Living Wage within the next three years. The Restaurant Group committed to phase out the routine, purely preventative use of antibiotics in its meat supply chain.

These victories would not have been possible without the work of our AGM activists.

But there’s still a lot to do. And we have a new plan for 2017.

What’s the new plan for 2017?

This year we are doing things a bit differently.

We’re inviting old and new AGM activists to join one of three Action Teams that will campaign on a specific issue at AGMs. The three key issues for this AGM season are climate change, good work, and sustainable food.

You can scroll down to find out a bit more about the focus of each Action Team.

Our hope is that this approach will make you an expert in a topic of your choice, and allow you to shape our strategy for the long term and take action outside of AGMs. And you’re encouraged to join as many Action Teams as you like. These are all very important issues for this AGM Season and moving forward.

Scroll down to find out more about each of the Action Team.

You don’t need to be an AGM activist to sign up, everyone is welcome!

What are Action Teams actually going to do?

The first step is for everyone who cares about the same issue to meet up. That’s why we’re hosting a first meeting for each Action Team. This first meeting will allow you to:

  1. Build up your knowledge of AGM activism
  2. Learn about the issue and hear from other members of your Action Team
  3. Develop a campaign strategy for the 2017 AGM season and beyond
  4. Enjoy some free pizza

Once you are a member of an Action Team and have a plan in place for this year’s AGM season, we’ll help you take your campaign for corporate accountability to the next level.

Sign up to the first meet-ups here:

Climate change | Good work | Sustainable food

What is the focus of each Action Team and why?

Climate change

Many AGM activists come to us because of a deep interest in challenging the impact of public companies on our environment. There are a number of ways to do that, and there are questions you can ask to make sure their impact is positive.

Here are three keys ways you can use AGM activism:

Question the banks

Banks are highly exposed to high-carbon sectors, such as coal, oil and gas. Banks need to assess climate risks, offer more low-carbon products and services, and play a greater role in the low-carbon transformation of the global economy. AGM activism can help determine whether banks will delay or drive forward a response to climate change.

Challenge the biggest oil and gas companies

The business models of the world’s largest oil and gas companies like BP and Shell are not aligned with the need to stay well below the 2C degree temperature change, the goal of the Paris Agreement. This year, we will be telling the oil majors: it’s time to move, or be left behind.

Demand renewables

Around half of all the world’s electricity is used by the companies and brands you see around you every day. What if the private sector committed to renewable electricity? What if global companies sparked the energy revolution we need? Why not ask those companies to do just that at their AGMs?

Interested in driving the energy revolution forward? Book your tickets here.

Good work

“Our people are our greatest asset” is a phrase commonly used by business leaders across the globe. But this asset is neglected far too often.

Poor quality and precarious jobs remain prevalent in Britain and around the world. Britain’s biggest companies should take the lead, and commit to ensuring their staff earn enough to make ends meet and live in dignity.

AGM activists have driven real change for workers by asking the biggest British employers to pay all staff at least a Living Wage. 30 companies in the FTSE 100 are already accredited Living Wage employers. That’s a lot, but the job isn’t over yet.

We’ve also started looking more globally by working with shareholders to make sure companies are transparent about the risks in their global supply chains. The lack of information has been a stumbling block to challenging poor labour practices for too long.

Interested in ensuring hardworking people live in dignity? Book your tickets here.

Sustainable food

The production of our food needs to be sustainable.

Intensive farming models are far from sustainable. Last year, AGM activists started questioning this standard and demanding change. We’re focussing on how restaurants and fast-food chains are working with their meat suppliers to improve animal welfare standards and tackle the overuse of antibiotics in their meat which is leading to an antibiotic resistance crisis. We’re also focussing on how retailers and manufactures – such as Tesco and Unilever – are encouraging customers towards sustainable diets that rely less heavily on animal-based proteins.

Interested in revolutionising the food system? Book your tickets here.

Thanks Jeanne! You can find out more about AGM activism here or get in touch here.