2021 Shareholder Season – “A Sea Change” Unprecedented Majority Votes on Climate, Racial Justice, Political Spending

Shareholder proposals on climate change, political spending and racial justice met with unprecedented success this year. Some of the largest shareholders, such as Blackrock, State Street, Vanguard, and Fidelity, who had previously voted against such proposals or abstained, supported them this year. Most of the resolutions were filed by faith-based and socially responsible investors.

There were five climate-related majority votes at US oil and gas companies on the topics of Paris-Aligned Lobbying and GHG targets, more than doubling the cumulative number of majority votes on climate proposals at O&G companies from recent decades. In addition, many proposals received high levels of support, many exceeding 40%.

Perhaps more importantly, there were a record number of withdrawals for agreement. This means that the companies agreed to take action on the shareholder requests to the satisfaction of the filers. The most groundbreaking moment of this proxy season occurred at ExxonMobil when three board candidates, nominated by Engine No. 1 through the Reenergize Exxon Campaign, were elected to Exxon’s board of directors. These directors ran explicitly on Exxon’s failure to develop a strategy to manage the transition to a low-carbon economy.

In her Forbes column, Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres, said, ““A sea change is happening before our very eyes in investor action on the climate crisis.” The UUA is a long-time member of the Ceres investor network.

This article from Forbes by Bhakti Mirchandani provides an excellent summary of the year’s developments. Bhakti is Director of Responsible Investing at Trinity Church Wall Street, a member of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

In the upcoming proxy season, companies will feel extra pressure to be responsive to shareholder concerns. In recent years some climate activists have questioned the effectiveness of shareholder activism. This season demonstrated what can happen when shareholders work together and make a compelling case for action. It is truly a new day.