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Using university investments to change companies at AGMs

March 21, 2022
Companies have a huge impact over the planet. They manufacture, produce, sell and employ. They are intertwined through our lives. In fact, it was found in 2017 that just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, and that figure is likely to have risen since.

Everywhere you look these companies are making statements on environmental and social justice issues - tackling the climate crisis, diversifying company management, prioritising mental health… but where is the action? What does your sustainability plan mean if you’re still funding new fossil fuel projects? What is ‘caring about the planet’ if activity in your supply chain is driving deforestation and displacement of communities?

Take banks for example. Many have recently pledged to become net zero, but research shows that the biggest UK banks have poured £230 billion into the fossil fuel industry since The Paris Climate Agreement, including to build new fossil fuel infrastructure such as oil fields in the North Sea.

We need to companies to get serious about commitments and actually act on them, ensuring that statements are not just about looking good, but are actually doing good – and luckily we can use AGMs to push for this.

What is an AGM?

AGMs – Annual General Meetings - are a chance to hold companies to account, all public companies have to hold them. Investors in a company (known as shareholders) gather together each year to have a say over how the company is run. They have the opportunity to raise issues and have their say on the company’s performance and strategy, through voting. Shareholders also have the opportunity to table resolutions – similar to policy, meaning the company adopt commitments in the way they run their business.

Graphic explaining what an AGM is

But what does this have to do with students?

Universities are often shareholders in companies. In fact, UK universities have over £15 billion in investments, and much of this is invested in public companies.

This year, we’re asking you to call on your university to support shareholder resolutions at company AGMs.​

Many companies are facing different resolutions, and your university may be invested in some of them - ShareAction have created a useful resource to look them up. You can also help us support Market Forces, in their call to stop the bank Standard Chartered from continuing to fund new fossil fuel projects, despite pledging to be Net Zero by 2050. Check if your university invests in Standard Chartered – and if so sent this Standard Chartered specific template email!

So, what can I do?