By Sam Hayward, Research Analyst

Some of the most influential actors in the tragedy of climate change are huge multi-national corporates. In fact, these corporations have become so bloated that they have been found to emit more than major industrial economies. For example, the three biggest meat supply companies (JBS, Tyson and Cargill) produced more emissions than France in 2016. With this in mind, anyone who is passionate about fighting climate change must take their fight to the world’s major corporations.

The problem is, it is nearly impossible for individuals to communicate with the people who can affect change in the mega-corporations – i.e. the CEO and board of directors. It feels like there are no mechanisms in place for us to hold these extremely powerful, but virtually faceless, people accountable for their actions. The problem of gaining access to the right ears has left me frustrated in my convictions before. However, there is always a way round these issues: AGM activism.

There’s sometimes a problem with campaigning in getting access to the right ears. However, there’s a way around this: AGM activism.

AGMs (annual general meetings) are a unique channel though which to voice your passions, and further your personal campaign goals. It is a time for shareholders, the board and C-level staff to convene and run through the company’s annual performance. Importantly, it is also an opportunity for shareholders to ask the board a question of their interest. ShareAction can give individuals the opportunity to ask their own questions at AGMs by nominating them as their representative. So when the opportunity came up to attend the AGM of Tesco and write my own question, I seized it.

Everyone’s fight is unique – some people fight plastic, some deforestation, others energy companies – my fight is with factory farms, agribusinesses and Western consumption. These three are having eye-watering impacts on animal welfare, the environment, the climate, and indigenous communities in Latin America (where a huge amount of farming animals and their food occurs). One of the most powerful actors in the ecologically destructive meat and dairy supply chain is the supermarket.

Supermarkets are uniquely placed, as the middle-person between consumers and agribusiness, to leverage more environmentally responsible farming practices. In the case of the meat and dairy supply chain, these responsible farming practices materialise as zero-deforestation policies.

“I exchanged contact details with Tesco’s CEO and head of responsible sourcing, and, just like that, the problem of gaining access had evaporated. I felt empowered.”

Out of the UK supermarkets, I was aware that Tesco was involved in supplier relations with a notoriously harmful corporation, Cargill. Cargill are incentivising the wide-spread decimation of Latin American forests by buying both soy and beef from deforested regions, which Tesco then buys. As a supermarket’s food supply chain depends on a healthy environment for agricultural production, Tesco backing zero-deforestation in Latin America seemed not only a moral imperative but a financially prudent move. In relation to my personal fight, Tesco seemed like a first point of contact.

I wrote a question asking Tesco if they’d consider adopting a Latin America-wide zero-deforestation policy, and if they’d consider breaking supplier relations with Cargill. Following the question section, I had an opportunity to speak with the Head of Responsible Sourcing at Tesco and the CEO. We exchanged contact details, and just like that, the problem of gaining access had evaporated. I felt empowered.

I would recommend that people seize the opportunity to write their own AGM question when it arises. Use AGM activism to bring your fight directly to the people who matter, and who can affect change.

Thanks Sam! To find out more about AGM activism, click here.