Climate activism is not just about street protests, happenings or petitions. By purchasing even a single share of a company, you can influence its policy. This is what shareholder climate activism is all about.
General meetings of shareholders – activists have their say
At general meetings of shareholders gather the management board, supervisory board and shareholders of the company who register for the meeting in advance. Key decisions on the company's strategy are made together. Resolutions are voted on, financial statements are approved and discharge is granted to the management board.
Attending general meetings of shareholders provides an opportunity to meet the company's board members in person and signal that their harmful actions are not going unnoticed. In the presence of other shareholders, questions can be asked about the climate strategy or data related to environmental impacts. You can also propose amendments to resolutions.
Precisely formulated questions to company boards increase the chance of obtaining more adequate answers. They can also effectively reveal management's unpreparedness to respond and poor governance, which puts the institution's actions in an unfavourable light in the eyes of its shareholders and investors. This mode of action not only puts pressure on the company itself, but also makes other shareholders aware of where their money is being spent.
It works – an example of the Ostrołęka C power plant
Although this form of activism is still relatively new, it has already proven its effectiveness on more than one occasion. One of the biggest successes of shareholder activists in Poland was the discontinuation of the construction of the Ostrołęka C coal-fired power plant. The campaign against the power plant involved, among others, the Pracownia na rzecz Wszystkich Istot association and the Instrat Foundation, which jointly prepared financial reports showing the unprofitability of the investment project. These reports were submitted to the institutions interested in supporting the power plant project. Members of the organisations appeared at the general meetings of the companies responsible for the construction of Ostrołęka C (Enea and Energa) as well as the potential lenders or insurers of the investment. There they presented their arguments against the construction of the power plant, highlighting the financial and reputational risks.
Some of the banks and reinsurers responded directly to the objections raised by the organisations and admitted that they would not support the project. In the end, the Ostrołęka C power plant did not receive financing or insurance, as a result of which its construction was halted.
How to get started
Anyone can become a shareholder climate activist. All it takes is a bit of motivation and the knowledge to have a substantive discussion with company members or other shareholders. In the end, all that is left is to buy shares.
Here are a few steps you need to take to be able to attend AGMs:
- open a brokerage account (investment account) - you can do this online through your bank
- buy a minimum of one share: transfer funds in the amount of the share price plus commission and order the purchase of the share (it is advisable to assume a higher price than the current one to be sure that the share will be purchased)
- register for the meeting by notifying the personnel of the bank in which you have your brokerage account (registration costs about PLN 30-50)
What to keep in mind:
- the stock exchange only operates on working days – if you order a share purchase at the weekend, it will not be purchased until next week
- in order to register for the AGM, a share must be purchased at least 16 days before the date of the event
- it is useful to follow the AGM announcements on a regular basis (in Poland they are usually organised between March and June)
- a company must be listed on the stock exchange in order to purchase its shares
- if you decide to sell the share, remember to file a PIT-38 return in the next year
- if you want to attend a foreign AGM, it is advisable that you prepare several months in advance. There are organisations such as ShareAction or Follow This, which assist in the acquisition of shares in foreign companies
How to prepare for an AGM:
- draft very precise questions
- if you want a comprehensive answer from the members of the company, you can send a list of questions to be asked at the meeting in advance
- you have the right to receive a list of shareholders registered at the AGM – so you can better prepare for the discussion
Patience pays off
Shareholder climate activism is not just about attending general meetings. You need to be prepared to work at the grassroots in terms of changing the awareness of company owners, financial institutions, other shareholders, and society as a whole. It is a lengthy process which requires some patience, but the outcome can surprise us positively.
Photo: Kuebi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons