‘ESG is intersecting with activism,’ says Bill Zawada, vice president of business development at strategic shareholder communications firm Laurel Hill Advisory Group. ‘Traditional activists repurpose themselves as ESG activists… The E and the S are starting to creep into the narrative because they see more money to be made there.’
Zawada warns that it would be unwise for boards to ignore the looming challenge of ESG activists. A turning point, he notes, was the Engine No 1 campaign at ExxonMobil with more campaigns being launched in 2022, both in the US and Canada. Outside of board-targeting campaigns, shareholder proposals are also increasingly a tool for ESG activism.
Whatever the pathway, success for activists depends on appealing to investors’ desire for long-term shareholder value creation, Zawada says.
Meanwhile, say-on-climate proposals have faced headwinds and have gained little traction in Canada but likely aren’t going away soon, Zawada says. ‘Companies ultimately will be best served, and shareholders will be best served, by engagement,’ he advises. ‘This is a really complex subject with a lot of moving parts. Boards, management teams and shareholders need to speak on these things and shareholders need to express their views [and] expectations in terms of disclosure.’
With a new proxy season on the horizon he advises corporate secretaries to, among other things, understand who their shareholders are, their governance views and policies and who they subscribe to in terms of proxy advisers.
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