A generation ago, radical organizer Saul Alinsky predicted “Proxies can be the mechanism by which [ordinary Americans] can organize, and once they are organized they will re-enter the life of politics…Trips to stockholders’ meetings will bring drama and adventure into otherwise colorless and sedentary suburban lives.”*
While I like to think that my life isn’t entirely colorless (sedentary is a harder charge to deny), the ExxonMobil stockholder meeting last month was certainly dramatic and adventurous. It was also a visceral display of how corporate power operates.
This meeting, however — accompanied by street protests, a moment of civil disobedience, and a dash of celebrity — was not your run of the mill stockholder meeting. Environmentalists, human rights activists, gay rights activists and more turned out to voice serious grievances against ExxonMobil. Trillium Asset Management had two stockholder proposals on the ballot, one asking the company to report on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (in collaboration with U.S. Public Interest Research Group), and another calling upon the company to implement a sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy (in collaboration with multiple co-filers led by the New York City Employees Retirement System). Religious shareholders led by Campaign ExxonMobil (see 1st addendum below) were present to introduce proposals addressing ExxonMobil’s paltry investments in renewable technology R&D and its failure to link executive pay to performance on social and environmental issues.
Just three weeks earlier, British activists led by human rights activist Bianca Jagger called for a boycott of Esso, the retail name for ExxonMobil in Europe and the United Kingdom. Jagger was present in Dallas, too, talking to reporters, attending the stockholder meeting, and delivering a keynote at the intense, three-day “Empowering Democracy” conference that took place just before the ExxonMobil shareholder meeting.
Note to Self: Just Carry A Wallet Next Year
Despite an appalling shortage of iced coffee in Dallas, about one hundred protestors found their way at 7:30 in the morning to the site of the ExxonMobil meeting. They unveiled huge, colorful puppets and props for a lively protest. Papier mache suns symbolizing solar energy beamed down upon an effigy of ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond who lumbered about ominously and was at one point observed chasing after a bipedal, fake-fur covered ExxonMobil tiger. Many of the protestors were Empowering Democracy attendants.
In a short while, 60-70 more conference attendees entered the meeting hall, submitting forms from sympathetic stockholders authorizing them to attend in their place. Most walked through metal detectors unaccosted, but I was not so lucky. After confirming my identity, a member of the security staff whispered to another, and then asked if I would submit my bag for a search. Eager to dispense with an apparently terrorist reputation, I opened my bag to reveal some tissue, sunglasses, and The House of the Seven Gables. After gingerly ruffling my harmless sundries, the nice lady at the metal detection desk thanked me for my courtesy and I thanked her for hers.
Lee Raymond was not in a courteous mood. After a slide presentation summarizing the fattening year ExxonMobil stockholders have enjoyed, he presided perfunctorily over the landslide reelection of the board of directors and approval of the auditing firm. It went quickly downhill from there. At one point, the CEO completely turned his back on a questioner from the audience. Other offensive and autocratic displays unbefitting the leader of the Number 1 company in the Fortune 500 almost had to be seen and heard to be believed. Thankfully, we have the transcript (see 2nd Addendum below).
In our view, however, it was the dissenting shareholders who carried the day. The infusion of environmental advocates into the auditorium changed the psychological balance of the meeting markedly from the previous year, as advocates’ statements were applauded enthusiastically numerous times. Two unfurled a banner that read “ExxonMobil — Stop Killing For Oil” before being hastily escorted from the hall.
And each shareholder proposal received enough votes to be resubmitted it next year.
Campaign ExxonMobil was founded by religious shareholder activists concerned about the impacts of global warming and ExxonMobil’s influence in obstructing public policy solutions. For more information on religious shareholders visit the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility at www.iccr.org.
Why the Religious Community Targets ExxonMobil
While ExxonMobil is not alone in its role as a producer and marketer of fossil fuels, the company has distinguished itself by its reckless position on global warming, an issue that threatens the planet and our ability to preserve it. Examples of ExxonMobil’s irresponsibility abound:
ExxonMobil continues to deny that global warming is happening and that the burning of oil and other fossil fuels is the cause.ExxonMobil funds multi-million-dollar propaganda campaigns orchestrated by industry front groups like the Global Climate Coalition. These efforts are intended to confuse the public and policymakers about global warming and to stop efforts to solve it.ExxonMobil is aggressively pushing for more consumption of oil around the world, feeding our fossil fuel addictions instead of helping to cure them. The company targets developing countries, telling them the way to improve their quality of life is to burn more and more oil.ExxonMobil is working to obstruct the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a historic agreement that unifies humanity to solve a common problem. ExxonMobil recommends to developing nations that they should resist attempts to curb their use of fossil fuels at the same time it argues that industrialized nations should reject any agreement that doesn’t require developing nations to cut their emissions.In contrast, other corporations have demonstrated a willingness to take climate change seriously. They have committed themselves to helping solve the problem by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions:
DuPont recently set ambitious new goals for the year 2010: reducing global carbon equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent, using 1990 as a base year, holding total energy use flat, using 1990 as a base year, and using renewable resources for 10 percent of their global energy useCompanies like BP Amoco, Shell, Enron, Entergy, Sunoco, and Toyota have signed on to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s Business Environment Leadership Council Joint Statement. This document says, “We accept the views of most scientists that enough is known about the science and environmental impacts of climate change for us to take actions to address its consequences” and “Businesses can and should take concrete steps now in the US and abroad to assess opportunities for emission reductions, establish and meet emission reduction objectives, and invest in new, more efficient products, practices and technologies.”In view of the responsible approaches adopted by many companies, ExxonMobil’s behavior seems to stand out as immoral.
Excerpts from the ExxonMobil Annual Stockholder Meeting Transcript – May 30, 2001
Since 1998, ExxonMobil has imposed a two-minute limit for shareholder commentary on ballot issues. Five minutes are allotted for the introduction of shareholder resolutions. During his remarks, ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond also explained that comments were restricted to the agenda item at hand.
Shareholder Dr. Sidney Kay has protested the time limits since they were enacted.
Dr. Kay: I’m asking you in all fairness to get rid of the timer. It was despicable last year, it was detestable the year before when you first inaugurated it.
LR: I rule you out of order.
Shareholder Proposal No. 5 – calling for a more diverse board of directors – was forwarded by a self-proclaimed opponent of board diversity, to gain time at the microphone to air his views. This year he used his time to engage with CEO Raymond at some length on comparisons between fossil fuels and renewable energy technologies, prompting us to protest.
Trillium Asset Management: I’m confused because I thought that our comments were supposed to be limited to the proposal. I thought that the proposal was about Board diversity, but we seem to have gone over and talked about other issues instead.
LR: Well, that was an error on my part. I assure you that if you tried to do that, I would enforce the rules. Are there any other comments on 5?
John Passacantando: I’m John Passacantando with Greenpeace, and I just wanted to make a clarification….
LR: I’m sorry, I hate to interrupt, but did you hear the comment I made to the prior speaker at your stand?
JP: So you don’t want me to correct the record on fuel efficient cars, is that right?
LR: You’ll have your opportunity when it comes to 8, 9, and 10 which I’m sure you plan to speak about.
Sensitivity To Stakeholder Concerns
Juanita Seward: Hello, my name is Juanita Seward, I live in a small community called Alta, Louisiana…. In my community of a population of 1600, I am surrounded by about three Exxon facilities… and a fourth one that is three miles from me, Exxon Chemical. Your company created what was called the SuperFund Site petrol processors, contaminating 80 acres of property, destroying a paradise facility. There was swamp where we could hunt, fish, and also swim, and it was part of our lifestyle and our way of living. You also were demanded to clean this facility up. You built a vault to hold, a 60-acre vault, to hold one million cubic yards of hazardous waste, but when the workers started digging up this contaminated soil, they got sick. Therefore you could never use this vault. You decided that you were going to try to let Louisiana landship use it in 1995, but they were defeated We fought them on that issue. Let me tell you something else about Exxon Mobil. When you was Exxon, in 1989, a tank was destroyed. And a seven-foot flame. One worker was killed and one had severe burns. Christmas Eve, 1989, you had a huge explosion. Two workers were killed. It took several days to find one of the workers. Four contract workers and three of your Exxon employees were injured. (Tone sounds to limit time.) Two minutes are up already?
LR: Yes. Time goes fast when you’re having fun, doesn’t it?
JS: No, I’m not having fun, sir. Please, make your projects more safe and by the way, you got awarded the Trough Award in the state of Louisiana….
In Indonesia, ExxonMobil has security arrangements with the military and police. This relationship has been blamed for civilian massacres and other human rights abuses. Radhi Darmansyah traveled from Aceh, Indonesia to confront ExxonMobil directly.
RD: While you made $26 million [in salary and stock options] last year Mr. Raymond, more than one thousand six hundred of my people were killed, maimed, or tortured around your facilities in Aceh.…. I am here to ask for your help….We, the Acehnese, are asking that ExxonMobil stop working with the Indonesian military for its security forces, because the Indonesia military is murdering its citizens in Aceh. …They are murdering my brothers and sisters. They are raping and keeping schoolgirls as sexual slaves. I ask you today to please issue a public statement that you will not return to Aceh until my land is free of human rights abuses, and until my people are free….
LR: I believe your time is up. (Radhi continues.) I’m sorry you’ll have to come back another time. Sister Pat, I think we’re about to move on to the next item. You have three minutes. (Radhi continues.) Sister Pat, he’s using your time….I think you should turn off the light of Number 1, please. You understand you’re out of order? (Radhi still continues.) Sister Pat, please! I’m getting ready to move on to the next item. (Deliberately not calling on Bianca Jagger, who is at the microphone.) Sister Pat has the floor for three minutes [of time remaining from her proposal introduction]. Thank you.
Sr. Pat Daly: First, Bianca [Jagger] speaks and then I will take the last minute…. and also point of order…You do not put a limit on speakers. I’m just asking you, one more person….
LR: No, no, I believe if you listen to the rules, speakers had two minutes, sponsors had five….
PD: You do not limit the number of people who would speak to the shareholders. We checked that out with [the corporate secretary] a number of times. Point of order. I’m just asking, Mr. Raymond. Let’s go back to my three minutes and nine seconds. We have one more speaker, and then I will speak for three minutes. I think that’s fair.
LR: I hate to be so direct, but I am in charge of the time. Is she speaking on your behalf or not?
PD: She is not. She’s a shareholder speaking on her own behalf.
LR: Then she has two minutes. She has two minutes, and then we’re going to move on.
Karren Hadden, Campaign ExxonMobil: Today we not only witnessed lip service and not real commitment to renewables, but two things that are totally appalling: one is that you attempted to limit the time of Bianca Jagger at the microphone….Secondly, I cannot believe the insensitivity of telling the gentlemen from Indonesia, concerned about the survival of his people, to come back next year. Mr. Raymond, you and your Board should be visiting Indonesia and Beaumont and many other locations to find out how your company affects the people. (Applause)
LR: Of course, you should listen. I didn’t tell him to come back next year. I told him to come back for another two minutes.