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Engaging with managers: a review of the 2022 AGM season

Understanding how third-party managers vote on environmental and social issues is an important part of our sustainable fund selection process.

10/10/2022
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We believe that investment managers should be using their votes at annual company meetings to make their voices heard on social and environmental considerations. In effect, a manager’s vote is its "voice." In 2022, there were thousands of shareholder resolutions tabled at company AGMs providing managers with the opportunity to express their views on a wide range of sustainability topics.

Within wealth management, we often invest for clients using third-party funds, meaning that our exposure to companies is indirect. In these cases, we are entrusting voting of our shares to other managers and it is important for us to understand their views on key environmental and social resolutions. Many managers claim they engage with companies to achieve better outcomes for people and the planet: we want to see evidence of this in their voting behaviour.

A useful starting point for assessing how managers voted during the last AGM season is the list of 21 “resolutions to watch” released by ShareAction, a charity that promotes sustainable investment. Where managers had exposure to the companies in question, we asked them how they intended to vote on upcoming resolutions.

Schroders and Cazenove Capital do not always vote in accordance with the recommendations of ShareAction. As Schroders’ Global Head of Sustainable Investment has said: “The principles or intent of a resolution may be admirable and attractive, but the details may undermine that intent.” However, ShareAction is well known and respected in the UK market and managers we work with are likely to have considered some or many of the resolutions they highlight.

Resolutions for people and the planet

The list of shareholder resolutions to watch focuses on two key stakeholders – people and the planet. This encompasses a wide range of topics from workforce freedom of association to disclosure on alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

What did the resolutions highlighted by ShareAction call for?

Some of the resolutions on people…

Activision Blizzard

Include non-management employees on the board

Alphabet

Explore public disclosure of government-mandated content removal requests

Amazon.com

Report on how the company protects freedom of association

Home Depot

Adopt paid sick leave policy

McDonald's Corp

Report on the health costs arising from the use of antibiotics in the supply chain

TJX Companies

Third-party assessment of the effectiveness of controls to prevent forced, child, and prison labour in the supply chain

Some of the resolutions relating to the planet…

Chubb Limited

Ensuring underwriting practices do not support new fossil fuel supplies

Citigroup

Ensuring financing does not support new fossil fuel supplies

Credit Suisse

Provide disclosure on financing alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement

Dow Inc

Report on the impact of reduced plastic demand on the company's financial assumptions

Exxon Mobil Corporation

Report on the alignment of lobbying activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement

Kroger Co

Report on measurement of pesticide use in agricultural supply chains

Royal Dutch Shell

Set and publish greenhouse gas targets for scopes 1-3 that are consistent with the Paris Agreement

United Parcel Service

Set science-based emissions reduction targets to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner

Numbers and outcomes

We contacted managers who owned shares in companies on the list of resolutions. Of the 39 fund managers we contacted, 41% were able to share their voting intentions ahead of the vote. This allowed us to gather data to inform our understanding of active ownership activities in relation to important social and environmental resolutions.

Of the resolutions that our managers were able to vote on, 71% of votes were in favour and 29% were against.

Interestingly, of the managers that responded, 100% voted in favour of the shareholder resolutions at Amazon and Exxon Mobil. At Alphabet, Citigroup and Credit Suisse the majority voted against. In the case of Credit Suisse, managers felt that the company has already disclosed sufficient information in its annual report and additional reporting.

Resolutions calling for the immediate cessation of new fossil fuel lending were broadly not supported by managers. The rationale given for voting against these prescriptive resolutions was that there is currently no affordable alternative in certain regions.

Manager engagement

We were disappointed that one of our managers voted against a shareholder resolution which simply asked for disclosure. In our opinion, this was inconsistent with the firm's position in sustainability within the market. We therefore met with their Head of Climate and Sustainability to understand further their ambitions and commitments to climate change. We discussed their coal policy in detail. Following this meeting, we were reassured that the manager has a strong ambition to transition their assets under management and had evidence of taking significant action in identifying and engaging with high-emitting assets. We reiterated, however, that we expected their voting to match this ambition, particularly on resolutions relating to disclosure. We will monitor their progress as part of our annual assessment of the firm's environmental, social and governance credentials.

Managers voted in favour of 71% of resolutions this year, up from 51% last year. We do not expect managers to always vote in favour of resolutions calling for environmental or social action. We expect that, like us, they will look at the detail of the specific resolution to understand its effectiveness and feasibility. However, we are encouraged by the trend of greater support for resolutions targeting improved outcomes for people and the planet.

Ideally, we would like to see a higher percentage of managers sharing their voting intentions with us beforehand so that we can engage with them and share our thoughts on the resolutions in question. Understanding voting intentions also provides valuable insight into managers’ approach to environmental and social issues, which is an increasingly important pillar in our sustainable fund selection process.

This article is issued by Cazenove Capital which is part of the Schroders Group and a trading name of Schroder & Co. Limited, 1 London Wall Place, London EC2Y 5AU. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. 

Nothing in this document should be deemed to constitute the provision of financial, investment or other professional advice in any way. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income from it may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amount originally invested.

This document may include forward-looking statements that are based upon our current opinions, expectations and projections. We undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements. Actual results could differ materially from those anticipated in the forward-looking statements.

All data contained within this document is sourced from Cazenove Capital unless otherwise stated.

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