Is AGM activism for you?

I recently partnered with ShareAction at AGMs to support its work in challenging the world’s largest companies on environmental and social issues.

ShareAction works with corporates and investors to harness the power of investment to tackle climate change, workforce crises, public health challenges, and inequality. Its Director of Corporate Engagement, Simon Rawson, joined me earlier on this year on my ‘PAYING FOR GOOD’ podcast to discuss implementing the real living wage in the retail sector.

One of ShareAction’s strategies is AGM activism. It attends the AGMs of publicly-owned organisations and asks questions about prevalent topics on behalf of shareholders – that’s you and me with our savings and pension investments.

A lot of work goes into organising AGMs. I’ve attended quite a few on behalf of clients, preparing them for questions investors might ask about HR and remuneration. This time, I was going to be the one asking the questions. Here is the process I went through to be an AGM activist.

Before the meetings
ShareAction and I agreed which AGMs I was going to attend. Only shareholders can attend AGMs so I received a letter of representation and background information on the companies of interest. ShareAction and I worked together to phrase the questions in the most impactful way. AGMs are very intense with a lot of information to digest in a short period of time. Attendees’ attention span is short so it’s important to be concise.

During the meetings
Dressed in business attire, I checked in with the registrars and was welcomed by the chair of the board and CEO at each AGM. The format differs slightly from meeting to meeting. Some prefer questions to be asked after the chair and the CEO have given their reports. Others prefer questions up front. I shared my questions with the organisation’s representatives before the meeting started as it gave them a bit of time to prepare their answer.

My questions focused on the ethnicity pay gap and the new Living Hours standard set by the Living Wage Foundation. During the cost of living crisis, investors’ focus is very much on how companies are treating their workforce. Work insecurity can significantly affect employees’ pay and increases the likelihood of them falling into debt.

The Living Hours standard calls on employers to provide the right to:
• decent notice periods for shifts: at least 4 weeks’ notice, with guaranteed payment if shifts are cancelled within this notice period
• a contract that reflects accurate hours worked
• a guaranteed minimum of 16 hours a week (unless the worker requests otherwise)

Just as for the real Living Wage, Living Hours is for both employees and third-party contractors. Becoming accredited therefore requires engagement with the procurement function and suppliers.

I wasn’t at the meetings to catch anyone out but very much to create collaboration between ShareAction and the companies. In fact, I’m pleased to say that in all instances, the relevant contacts agreed to engage with ShareAction and continue the conversation on these important topics.

Is AGM activism for you?

If you:
• enjoy doing research and reading background documents
• are an expert in your field
• are a confident public speaker
Then consider becoming an AGM activist!

You’ll get the opportunity to raise important questions, leverage your knowledge and experience, and create new connections. More importantly, you’ll be interacting with some of the most influential people in business to make a difference to people and the planet.

Get in touch

If you’re a corporate or an investor wanting to forge long-term investment relationships by, in part, engaging meaningfully on HR and remuneration, please contact me.

Remember that whatever sector you’re in and however big or small your organisation is, base pay, incentives, benefits, and pensions are all part of your Responsible Reward offering. By linking your remuneration and sustainability strategies, you become an employer, an investment, and an investor of choice.