Monday, April 04, 2005

Environment Put Center Stage at Corporations' Annual Meetings

Shareholders, up until now the largely silent owners of the means of production, are increasingly demanding the companies they own to improve their environmental standards. Shareholders of ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil have asked those companies to increase their efforts to protect natural and cultural sites. Shareholders asked Avon to reformulate its consmetics line to meet new European Union toxic regulations designed to phase out chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects.

This year Friends of the Earth and four other environmental groups have endorsed 49 environmental initiatives that they are urging shareholders to support.

''Friends of the Earth calls on people and institutions to claim their power as shareholders--through retirement plans, mutual funds, or endowments--to demand more environmentally responsible corporate behavior,'' said Michelle Chan-Fishel, coordinator of the organization's green investments program. ''The variety of resolutions that different environmental groups are endorsing shows that we believe challenging and changing corporate behavior is a key to environmental progress.''

Companies also benefit from eco-friendly business practices, environmentalists said. They limit their risk of expensive toxic clean-ups and environmental or consumer litigation, for example. Conversely, consumers often favor firms they regard as being kinder to the planet and its people.

''Many leading companies and their investors are realizing that making safer, greener products is not only better for their customers and the planet, but better for their bottom line,'' said Lisa Archer, coordinator of Friends of the Earth's health and environment program.

Shareholder proposals have seldom passed, but the growing number of resolutions have forced companies to discuss their policies, and sometimes offer concessions on issues they had previously ignored. Some firms have tried to get out in front of their critics by engaging activist investors on environmental issues, labor rights and other issues. Ford agreed to write a report about global warming, including details on emissions from Ford Vehicles and factories in exchange for the shareholders withdrawing a resultion asking the company to spell out its plans to comply with stricter environmental laws enacted by California and other States.

For more infomration on the corporate campaign, see here.


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