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Shareholder resolutions - Norwegian banks split between ESG leaders & laggards

Thursday, March 25, 2021

With climate change and sustainable supply chains being high on corporate agendas these days, investors have the opportunity to push companies towards adopting more sustainable environmental and social approaches through voting on shareholder resolutions at annual general meetings. To get a picture of the current trend with Norwegian banks, FFI Norway engaged Profundo to review how 9 banks voted on shareholder proposals specifically related to climate, human rights, labour rights and other social issues.

The report reveals how 9 banks voted on 43 shareholder proposals in various high profile companies in the food, tech, mining, energy and banking sectors. 28 of the proposals related to climate, while 15 related to human rights, workers' rights and other social issues.

The data shows that Norwegian banks are either leaders or laggards when it comes to passing shareholder proposals on these important ESG issues. KLP and Storebrand lead in voting in favour of such shareholder resolutions - 95% and 81% respectively. Five other banks all ranked as laggards, with major Norwegian banks DNB and Handelsbanken scoring the lowest.

DNB in particular stands out as a laggard, as it one of the banks that actually scores well in the Norwegian Fair Finance Guide – Etisk Bankguide. The bank’s very low score in the report is a stark contrast to their relatively good policies and guidelines for their financial activities.

Why voting matters

Investors can influence companies they are invested in by proposing resolutions at their annual meetings, or by voting on proposals put forward by other shareholders. In addition to excluding or investing in companies from their portfolios, these annual meetings are an important arena for influence and there is a notable increase in resolutions filed in recent times on issues such as labour rights, human rights and climate change.

But having good policies and guidelines on sustainability and ethics is not enough to ensure implementation, and the report provides a picture of the sustainability challenges investors face.

Inconsistencies in voting

The report reveals that several banks are not consistent in their voting. In banks that use more than one asset manager for voting, the report reveals that these agents are sometimes voting in contradiction to each other on the same proposal.

This applies in particular to Sparebank 1 Forsikring, but also Storebrand Asset Management and Skagen, which are both owned by Storebrand, but which do not always vote consistently.

Recommendations

The inconsistencies in voting are show poor communication between different parts of the company structure, and a random and inadequate implementation of sustainability policy. A weak track record on voting on climate and ESG issues is also a poor reflection on banks investing heavily in green growth.

Fair Finance International recommends that investors:

1) Vote at all general meetings of the companies in which they hold shares.

2) Have clear voting policies on sustainability and social issues, and have mechanisms to monitor voting.

3) Work proactively to interact with other investors, to push companies to become more responsible companies.

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