Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Retro Article Of The Week: Proxies Aim To Have Their Say At BP’s Annual Meeting

The United States experienced one of the worst oil spills in the country's history on April 20th, 2010 when British Petroleum's (BP) Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.  Gallons of oil flooded into the waters, causing damage to wildlife and the way of life of countless local fisherman.  It wasn't until September 19th that the oil well was sealed and by then, the damage had already been done.

BP held its annual meeting in London in April of 2011, and a fourth-generation fisherman named Diane Wilson and five others came along.  Wilson and the others were hoping to display the human cost of the disaster.  The NonProfit Times wrote an article on their efforts on April 14, 2011:

“People in the media like to ask us why we are so upset,” Wilson said in an interview last week. “I am coming to the annual general meeting (AGM) to call BP to account for its actions in the Gulf — for the oil spill, the lies, the cover-ups, the skimping on safety, the deaths, the nonexistent documents and the ‘swinging door’ with regulators.”

Part of a five-person delegation funded by the New Orleans, La.-based Gulf Coast Fund, Wilson and her cohorts planned to appear at the BP annual meeting as proxies to directly engage BP leadership and its board of directors about the corporation’s response to the Gulf oil spill. The Gulf Coast Fund does not own shares of BP stock but through a partnership with the UK Tar Sands Network, based in London, England, was to appear as a proxy on behalf of the nonprofit organization.

The AGM is “an opportunity for shareholders to question the company and raise any matters of concern,” said BP spokesman Robert Wine, declining further comment.

Having activists or affected residents appear as proxies on behalf of other nonprofits is not something new and has been a useful in engaging the leadership of major corporations.

At the BP annual meeting, the group will have the option to vote for or against the annual report submitted by BP. Although the group has issues with items in the report, they had not yet decided how to vote, choosing once they were to meet in London, Bryan Parras, board member for Houston’s Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S), said last week.

Besides a discussion with leadership, there is not much more the group can accomplish in terms of getting BP to enact change, said Mark Regier, director of stewardship investing at Everance Financial, based in Goshen, Ind. “If you want to be involved in filing a resolution in the United States — rather than just voting or attending an annual meeting, it requires ownership of more than $2,500 in stock for a continuous period of one year,” he said.

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