Australian campaigners and ethical investors in bid to create US-style shareholder resolutions

Special resolution lodged with banking giant ANZ

(Updates to include status of Commonwealth Bank case.)

A group of campaigners and ethical investment houses has launched an attempt to foster US-style ordinary shareholder resolutions at companies.

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), the not-for-profit association promoting ethical investment, has lodged a three-pronged resolution at banking giant ANZ. The move has been made with 100+ shareholders from Market Forces, the campaign group that is affiliated with Friends of the Earth Australia and a member of the BankTrack network, along with fund firms Ethinvest and Tas Ethical.

The first is a special resolution that would in effect make it easier for shareholders to move resolutions, amending the company’s constitution.

The second part is an ordinary resolution that would firstly ask the ANZ board to report to shareholders by end-August 2016 about their assessment of the bank’s exposure to carbon-intensive industries. Tied to this is a requirement in the proposal for ANZ to set public targets and a timetable for reducing its exposure to carbon intensive industries.They are up for debate at ANZ’s annual general meeting on December 17 this year, as the bank has said it will include them in its Notice of Meeting for the event.

“We are hoping that all shareholders will support the idea that shareholders should be able to pass resolutions advising ANZ’s board of their views on company policy so we are hopeful that this resolution will get broad support,” the ACCR’s Executive Director Caroline Le Couteur said. The special resolution would need at least 75% shareholder support, ANZ said in a filing. If this does not occur, the ordinary resolution will not be put to the AGM.

In August, the ACCR had a setback when a test case it brought against Commonwealth Bank, centring on the rights of shareholders to put resolutions at AGMs, was dismissed. This has now gone to appeal with the case set for February 2016.

Earlier this month ANZ said it would set strict rules on lending to the coal industry. Its new climate change commitments include A$10bn in new lending for greenhouse gas reductions over five years and a ban on lending to new coal plant that does not use the latest clean coal technology.