Shell cuts AGM video link to London

Mar 20, 2013
<p>Oil giant comes under fire for &lsquo;retrograde step&rsquo;</p>

Unlike previous years, Shell’s annual general meeting in May will not feature the usual video link to London, prompting criticism from corporate responsibility group ECCR.

Shell argues that the audio-visual satellite link simply did not satisfy shareholders in London or The Hague, where the meeting is held. ‘Given this feedback, and a drop in the percentage of votes cast by shareholders present in London compared with the total votes cast at the meeting (approximately 0.005 percent at the 2012 AGM), it has been decided that there will not be an audio-visual link to a satellite meeting place in London this year,’ says the oil giant in a statement on its website.

Instead, the company is offering UK-based shareholders access to a webcast on the day, ‘so shareholders unable to attend in person can still follow proceedings.’

Peter Voser, chief executive officer and Simon Henry, chief financial officer, will also hold a presentation for retail shareholders in London on Thursday May 23 – two days after the AGM.

Jonathan French, senior spokesman at Shell adds that ‘the only alternative suggested by shareholders was to alternate the location of the AGM between London and The Hague. After careful consideration, it was decided to proceed with the arrangements as set out on our website.’

However, the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) – a church-based investor coalition and charity – says this does make up for the loss of the live video link, adding that shareholder dissatisfaction with the two venue arrangement is hardly surprising. ‘That said, ECCR believes that it is unacceptable to abandon the arrangement to the disadvantage of those in the UK where the company is registered,’ says John Arnold, ECCR executive director, in a letter to Shell. ‘The very small percentage of votes cast in London compared with the total votes cast at the meeting is only to be expected when the great majority of votes which are held by institutions are unlikely to be cast by those who attend the meeting.’

Criticizing Shell for not issuing a press release Arnold says there has been ‘a lack of transparency’ over the reasons for this ‘fundamental change.’

‘Surely the value of the occasion should not be measured solely by the quantity of [UK-based shareholder] votes but rather the questions that arise and the quality of the discussion and interaction with directors and non-execs that such an occasion permits,’ he continues. ‘The entire Royal Dutch Shell board is present at an AGM and it is an opportunity for the non-execs to hear first-hand the concerns of shareholders – these directors will not be present at the shareholder presentation in London.’

Arnold concludes that Shell’s decision comes at a time when shareholders are being encouraged by the British government ‘to take greater interest and responsibility for the governance of the companies which they own and for companies to be more transparent in their operations.’ The ECCR, which has worked on corporate and investor responsibility issues for more than 20 years, has in the past filed shareholder resolutions at Shell AGMs over the company’s operations in the Niger Delta and says it ‘played a key role in resolutions on the Canadian tar sands filed with BP and Shell in 2010.’

In a letter to Bishop Michael Doe, ECCR chairman, dated March 7, Shell added that security also played a part in the decision. ‘[The board] also took account of the continuing security risk to the audio-visual satellite link, any breach of which would give rise to significant legal issues for the AGM,’ says company secretary Michiel Brandjes.

Further details of the Shell AGM – including the webcast and London presentation – will be available on the company’s website from April 18.

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