Fund manager says Total ‘mistrusts’ tar sands debate as investors withdraw AGM resolution support

Oil giant informs shareholder group that co-filers have pulled back from resolution.

Total, the French oil giant, “mistrusts” any detailed public debate with its shareholders on the risks involved in its tar sands operations in Alberta, Canada, according to PhiTrust Active Investors, the French corporate governance specialist.
The fund manager levelled the accusation after the withdrawal of support for a resolution on the issue that had been tabled for the company’s Annual Shareholders’ Meeting in Paris on May 13.
PhiTrust said it initially tabled the resolution alongside 19 other unnamed investors and in partnership with Greenpeace France and US campaign group, the Natural Resources Defense Council. The shareholder group said it had originally brought together 21,380,075 shares in Total, or 0.905% of the shareholder register worth about €850m. The threshold in France for putting resolutions on the AGM slate is 0.5% of company shares.
PhiTrust says that it was subsequently informed by Total that two of the co-filers had dropped their support for the resolution, taking it below the required 0.5%. The fund manager said this was the first time in 26 AGM proxy depositions that investors had withdrawn support for a resolution after having presented it to the company.Phitrust said: “We are certain that this resolution would have contributed to a start in the shareholder debate with Total about its investments in tar sands, and that moreover it would have shown that formal shareholder engagement on environmental and social issues was starting to solidify.” Total could not be reached for comment. The French oil group has interests in several tar sands projects in Alberta’s Athabasca region through its Total E&P Canada subsidiary. In January it received conditional approval for the Joslyn North Mine Project, about 70km north of Fort McMurray – increasing Alberta’s approved mineable project area by about 7%.
Total says environmental stewardship is a priority and cites its position as the top-ranked oil and gas company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. It acknowledges that oil sands development is challenging in terms of CO2 emissions, water consumption, land footprint and tailings management.
PhiTrust, chaired by Olivier de Guerre, has various fund products. Its corporate governance-led Proxy Active Investors SICAV is a collaboration with Proxinvest, the French proxy voting company, while it has teamed up with the Swiss pension fund-backed, Ethos Foundation, for its Euro Active Investors mutual fund.