May 30, 2022

Speaking truth to power at shareholders’ meetings

Corporations consistently brand themselves as benevolent actors when it comes to public health—but we know the truth. Each year, corporations spend billions to flex their political power to protect their profits.

And it’s long past time that they fully open the books on their political activities worldwide.

During the recent shareholders’ meetings season, we and our allies challenged the executives of corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and McDonald’s for their many abuses and for continuing to interfere with commonsense policy decisions at the expense of people and the planet. Representing the voices of thousands of people, we and our allies demanded that they fully disclose the details of their political activities worldwide in the nearly 200 countries they do business in—activities including their role in funding junk science, supporting trade associations and corporate think tanks, and manipulating policies.

In the midst of the corporations’ celebration of profits and slick propaganda, we and our allies brought a much-needed reality check to investors, board members, staff, and the media.

We successfully organized a powerful contingent of progressive investors like Zevin Asset Management, As You Sow, NorthStar Asset Management, and others, representing more than $140 billion in assets in all. These investors demanded that the corporations disclose all of their political spending in all its forms—not just in the U.S., but in all countries in which they operate.

We also submitted resolutions in partnership with Harrington Investments that called for global transparency of all of the corporations’ political activities. These resolutions received record-breaking support. Investors representing more than 500 million of Coca-Cola’s shares (nearly 13% of share ownership) voted to compel the corporation to fully disclose its political activity and spending globally, and nearly 18% did the same at PepsiCo.

As we have seen with fossil fuel corporations, “activist” shareholders can make an impact in challenging the ability of abusive corporations to do business as usual. But of course, we know that significant and lasting change cannot be achieved by “inside” tactics alone. That’s why we also partnered with allies who are challenging these corporations for the harms they are causing to the communities in the Global South. This year, we organized with allies El Poder del Consumidor (Mexico), ACT Promoção da Saúde (Brazil), and Amandla.Mobi (South Africa), who spoke directly to these corporations’ abuses, including the corporations’ attempts to thwart lifesaving policies.

Challenging corporate abuse requires a wide range of tactics—from mobilizing grassroots resistance and changing the public conversation about corporate actions, to confronting corporations directly regarding their abuses. This year’s shareholders’ meeting season proves once again that the robust range of tactics we engage in together are vital for shifting the public climate and holding accountable some of the most destructive entities we contend with.


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