Investor pressure heralds say-on-pay victories at Credit Suisse, Nestlé, UBS and Hewlett Packard

Swiss, US and Canadian pay campaigns build up steam.

Credit Suisse, Nestlé et UBS have accepted to go beyond their legal Swiss requirements and allow shareholders to vote on say-on-pay resolutions following a campaign by Ethos, the Geneva-based foundation which looks after CHF2.3bn (€1.4bn) in pension assets run on a socially responsible basis, and eight other Swiss Pension Funds. UBS has committed to put its remuneration programme for 2009 to a vote, while Credit Suisse and Nestlé will both ballot on their 2008 remuneration reports. The votes will be advisory as Swiss company law does not permit a binding vote. Ethos said it considered an advisory vote would still allow investors to send a strong signal to management with regard to remuneration. In December, Ethos took its campaign international, inviting overseas shareholders to support it in order to gather “maximum endorsement” from investors with large stakes in the targeted Swiss companies. The campaign has gathered support from 30 Swiss and non-Swiss institutional investors with more than €170bn in assets under management, including Railpen Investments in the UK and AP1, the Swedish pension buffer fund. Ethos says it will maintain action to put say-on-pay resolutions on the agenda of the annualmeetings of Novartis (24 February, 2009) and ABB (5 May, 2009), although neither company has yet said it will voluntarily accept the resolutions. In a separate move indicating the growing pressure on companies internationally to accept say-on-pay votes, Hewlett Packard (HP) has bowed to investor pressure and said it will allow its shareholders to cast a non-binding vote on its executive pay policies and practices, beginning in 2011. Investors, including London-based F&C and US fund manager Walden Asset Management, filed a proposal in September 2008 asking the board of HP to adopt a policy to allow shareholders to cast an advisory vote on annual executive pay. In a response last week, HP said it would submit a proposal to adopt such a policy at its 2010 annual meeting, which, if approved, would lead to an advisory vote on pay in 2011. HP has also agreed to support mandatory legislation in the US that would make an advisory vote on pay practices a legal requirement for all US companies. In Canada, the Vancouver-based Shareholder Association for Research & Education (SHARE), said that 39% of the 91 shareholder resolutions filed for the forthcoming 2009 voting season at Canadian companies related to executive compensation.