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May 04, 2021

DuPont shareholders back plastic pollution report proposal

Eight in 10 votes cast support measure brought by As You Sow

Shareholders in DuPont de Nemours have overwhelmingly backed a shareholder proposal asking the company to disclose its role in plastic pollution.

The proposal, filed by As You Sow, received 81 percent support among the votes cast. It requests that DuPont’s board release a report each year that discloses ‘trends in the amount of plastic in various forms released to the environment by the company annually, and concisely assess[es] the effectiveness of the company’s policies and actions to reduce the volume of the company’s plastic materials contaminating the environment.’

Kelly McBee, waste program co-ordinator at As You Sow, says in a statement that the vote ‘demonstrates investor interest in taking action on a silent but deadly contributor to the global plastic pollution crisis. Pellet spills have been ongoing for decades but the industry has failed to proactively respond. Public reporting of spills is the first step in corporate accountability for plastic pellet pollution.’

As You Sow says in its supporting statement that DuPont is a leading producer of transportation and industrial plastics and that most plastic products originate from plastic pellets. ‘Eleven mn metric tons of plastics – including pellets – leak into oceans annually, causing fatalities in more than 800 marine species from ingestion, entanglement, suffocation or drowning… Plastic pellets are estimated to be the second-largest direct source of microplastic pollution to the ocean by weight, with more than 10 tn spilled every year,’ the group says.

As You Sow argues that pellet spills create financial risk due to potential government lawsuits. It says: ‘DuPont is a member of Operation Clean Sweep, an industry program that encourages best practices to reduce pellet loss, but which provides no public reporting on spill incidents.’

In the last two years several corporate peers have agreed to public reporting of pellet spills, As You Sow notes in DuPont’s proxy statement: ‘Such reporting is a necessary first step to the company realizing its 2030 goal to Integrate circular economy principles into our business models considering lifecycle impacts in the markets we serve.’

DuPont’s board recommended shareholders vote against the proposal, arguing that ‘its adoption is unnecessary given the company’s robust sustainability policies and programs and is not in the best interests of the company and its stockholders.’

The board says in its proxy statements that it understands plastic pollution is a global environmental issue and believes the chemicals industry, and others, should create policies and practices to tackle the issue.

‘Currently, the company drives sustainable practices throughout all its businesses,’ it says. ‘Reducing plastic waste, including plastics in the ocean, is a component of our sustainability strategy. For this reason, we are actively implementing Operation Clean Sweep programs across our manufacturing sites.’

The company works with customers, members of Congress and others in support of sustainability goals through the supply chain and to increase the reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery of plastic materials, the board says. It states that DuPont plays leadership roles in industry associations that are focused on ‘enabling and encouraging the responsible handling of plastic products after their intended use and the reduction of plastic marine debris.’

It adds: ‘We appreciate that plastic pollution, especially in the ocean, is a concern, including to our stockholders. That is why the company is taking action to avoid pellet spills, increase plastic recycling and prevent plastic waste from entering the environment. We believe those actions address the concerns and accomplish the objective of the proposal and that the annual reporting requested by the proposal is unnecessary and would consume time and resources that are best spent on executing the programs, processes and systems that are already in place to address the issue of plastic pollution.’

McBee says: ‘We encourage DuPont to respond swiftly to its investors and proactively curb the plastic pollution it is responsible for by joining its peers in publicly reporting its pellet-handling information and spill data.’

A DuPont spokesperson says in a statement: ‘We can confirm that the proposal received support from a majority of the shares that were voted at the annual shareholder meeting. DuPont is committed to transparent reporting on sustainability and environmental matters, and annually issues a sustainability report.

‘We are taking action at our facilities to avoid pellet spills, increase plastic recycling and prevent plastic waste from entering the environment. The DuPont board will review the results of the vote on the proposal and will determine the appropriate next steps with respect to reporting.’

Ben Maiden

Ben Maiden is the editor-at-large of Governance Intelligence, an IR Media publication, having joined the company in December 2016. He is based in New York. Ben was previously managing editor of Compliance Reporter, covering regulatory and compliance...