Accenture faces shareholder fight over sustainability at today’s AGM

Investors say consultancy group’s support of US Chamber of Commerce contradicts their own policies.

US investors representing assets of $43bn will today accuse Accenture, the global consultancy group, at its AGM in New York, of hypocrisy in espousing sustainability values while undermining them through active support of the US Chamber of Commerce, which they say has become increasingly political in its corporate lobbying. The group of Accenture shareholders including pension funds, asset managers and mutual funds led by Walden Asset Management wrote last month to Bill Green, its Chairman and former CEO, expressing concern about the company’s membership and role on the Chamber board. They say that while Accenture trumpets sustainability issues and environmental causes in its corporate reporting, the US Chamber on the other hand opposes climate change legislation and is suing the US Environmental Protection Agency to undermine its efforts to regulate carbon emissions. The investor group has filed similar resolutions at talisman US corporate giants including IBM, Pepsi and Pfizer, which are also Chambermembers, challenging their boards to review their policies and oversight of political expenditures through trade associations.
US SRI investors and the Chamber of Commerce have locked horns over numerous issues in recent years including climate change, engagement, proxy access and say-on-pay. A legal challenge in September last year from the Chamber on proxy access (the ability to nominate company directors for a shareholder vote), prompted the US Securities & Exchange Commission to postpone its availability to investors for the 2011 AGM season. It prompted the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the $131.8bn scheme – the second largest in the US – to threaten its own legal riposte against what it called a “roll back” on shareholder rights. The Chamber of Commerce, which is the world’s largest business federation, said the ‘stay’ on the proxy vote issue would allow the issue to be fully examined by the SEC on its merits.