“BHP is perhaps the most influential company in Australia and the way it chooses to spend shareholders’ money on policy advocacy has real world impacts,” ACCR director Brynn O’Brien said.
The push is part of a campaign by the ACCR to encourage institutional investors to pressure companies they hold shares in to review their memberships of business groups such as the Minerals Council of Australia and the Business Council of Australia (BCA) over their stances on policies such as the future of coal and the removal of bans on onshore gas development.
Energy giant Origin last year faced an investor rebellion when almost half of its shareholders – 46 per cent – backed a motion asking it to review its membership of certain lobby groups and establish criteria for continuing their support. The company is facing a motion to suspend memberships this year.
BHP and the Minerals Council declined to comment.
In a letter sent to investors last week, BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott stressed that the group supported “strong action on climate change”, and sought to clarify the “misinformation” suggesting BCA was lagging behind its members and blocking meaningful action on climate change.
“BCA’s policy position is being targeted because we have sought to be transparent about the costs and trade-offs required in the necessary transition to a low-emissions economy. If we are to finally achieve a durable climate policy, we must have an open and honest debate about the impact of the changes required to become a lower emissions economy,” the letter said.
The BCA said it supported a market-based price signal to limit carbon emissions and backed Australia’s 26-28 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 under the Paris climate accord.
The ACCR said it expected the shareholder resolution would be heard at BHP’s London annual general meeting on October 17 and at its Sydney AGM, on November 7.
“Pro-coal lobbying simply needs to stop,” said Michael Wyrsch, Vision Super’s chief investment officer.
“We need a political environment in which sensible, market-based bipartisan policy on energy and climate change can be developed, which will give companies the confidence to invest at the same time as protecting all our futures. BHP should be part of the solution, not funding the problem.”
The head of impact at super fund HESTA, Mary Delahunty, said: “The contradictions between BHP’s climate change strategy and the MCA’s advocacy campaign is concerning as we need to know that management are committed to addressing a material risk to their business both through implementing operational changes and through consistent public policy positions.”
Large investors globally have taken an increasingly activist stance on issues such as climate change. Several large Australian superannuation funds are members of the Climate Action 100+ group which was formed to pressure companies into stronger action on greenhouse gas emissions.
Andrew Gray, of Australian Super, said the fund had spoken with BHP about its membership of the Minerals Council of Australia, and was “monitoring” the company’s membership of peak bodies to ensure they were aligned with the Paris agreement on climate change.
Mr Gray said the fund viewed shareholder resolutions as an important way of engaging with companies.
“We are seeing that as a much more active space,” he said.
Business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Clancy Yeates is a business reporter.