A Week In the Life of Action (Archive)
Monday, April 10. The Greenpeace conference room had probably not seen such a gathering for some time. Around the table sit representatives of Greenpeace, U.S. PIRG, Wilderness Society, World Wildlife Fund, Trillium Asset Management, the Canadian government, and the Gwinch’in people of northeastern Alaska and northwestern Canada. Athan Manuel of U.S. PIRG likened the gathering in London of North American environmentalists, social investors, and government officials to a “caribou-like migration.” To reap the full benefit of those who had traveled from the U.S. and Canada, the group has arranged a week of action leading up to BP Amoco’s annual meeting.
Tuesday, April 11. I head over for a meeting at BP Amoco’s headquarters in the company of activists focusing on Tibet and the Sudan. We are there to express our concerns over BP Amoco’s recent investment in PetroChina. After two hours of intense discussion with David Rice, Director of BP Amoco’s Policy Unit, we leave having established a productive dialogue. David Rice then has to leave for an afternoon meeting with representatives of the World Wildlife Fund and the Gwinch’in.
That evening, the UK Social Investment Forum holds a panel discussion. The audience seems reticent aboutAmerican-style shareholder activism. Then I realize that the UK-SIF is mainly composed of representatives of large traditional investment firms who are constrained from engaging in social advocacy. Britain lacks two actors key to American shareholder activism: religious shareholder activists and firms such as Trillium Asset Management dedicated to social investment. This is why Greenpeace approached an American investment firm in order to find the one significant investor in BP Amoco needed to file the resolution.
Wednesday, April 12. The press campaign enters high gear with a morning press conference. We are quoted by the Independent newspaper and the Economist magazine, taped by NPR’s “Living on Earth,” and filmed by BBC Breakfast Time. The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times already carry stories and pictures of Greenpeace’s actions at BP Amoco’s Northstar project off the coast of Alaska.
Thursday, April 13. Outside BP Amoco’s headquarters mass polar bears, baby caribou, and demonstrators toting Free Tibet banners. Inside the meeting, Matthew Spencer of Greenpeace speaks in favor of the resolution from the perspective of an energy consumer while I make the case why the resolution makes sense for shareholders. BP Amoco’s Chairman Peter Sutherland and Chief Executive Sir John Browne thank us for the spirited debate then attack some of Greenpeace’s assertions. However, they seem somewhat taken aback.
During the previous management-sponsored resolutions, the company had projected the voting results before the discussion. Each one had showed approximately 99% voting in favor and 1% against in the manner of a communist-era Albanian election. It was not until after the lengthy and heated debate about Alaska that BP Amoco projects overhead and without comment the preliminary vote figures for our resolution. We are pleasantly stunned to realize that 13.5% of shareholders opposed management and supported our resolution. No wonder Peter Sutherland and Sir John Browne were so subdued.
Back at Greenpeace’s headquarters, we continue to pump out the message that the extraordinarily high vote for the resolution represents a huge defeat for BP Amoco management. We are festive and exhausted.
Friday, April 14. The Guardian carries a story quoting us as having achieved a “moral victory.” The Financial Times has the best picture: a polar bear bowing to a policeman with the title: “Paws For Thought.”