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Keeping an eye on Annual General Meetings

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By posing critical questions and providing sustainable voting advice on the basis of SOMO’s research, the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (Vereniging van Beleggers voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling -VBDO) has this spring once again challenged Dutch listed companies with respect to their CSR policy. At KPN this has led to a dialogue with suppliers and stakeholders, in other cases to some initial promises and improvements.

SOMO has carried out research into cases at KPN, ING, Philips, Ahold, Heineken and Unilever that involve violation in 2010 of international standards, guidelines or the own company’s code of conduct. On the basis of this research, SOMO has written profiles of the companies and the VBDO has used these for its voting advice. Profiles and voting advice have been published for the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of shareholders.


At the AGM of KPN in April 2011 the mobile network provider did not want to provide any transparency on the suppliers of brand telephones such as Nokia and Samsung, of which KPN sells millions every year. The company did organise, in conjunction with the VBDO, a meeting two months later at which all links in the chain (client, KPN, producer) were represented. No concrete agreements were reached, but KPN did agree to review matters again within two years time.

CEO Jan Hommen of ING when questioned made the promise in May 2011 that the bank will take steps in 2011 to expand the sustainable investment policy to include investments of asset management by third parties, such as pension funds and other institutional investors.

Ongoing attention

It is not always possible to ask public questions at an AGM. Nevertheless, written responses by companies to the research papers of SOMO also sometimes lead to ongoing attention for improvements in CSR policy. Philips, in a written response, said it is prepared to ‘seriously investigate to what extent we can include a list of the locations of the own production facilities per country in the annual report of 2011’.

In response to criticisms on labour conditions at the suppliers of asparagus and mangos in Peru, Ahold sent the written response that the Peruvian company has embarked on a process of BSCI certification. Ahold also reported that ‘an independent report will set out to identify all circumstances that are in need of improvement’.

‘With the public commitments made at AGMs and the written responses received, we can hold companies accountable at a later stage This way we can keep a finger on the pulse and everyone on their toes,’ says Kristof Racz of SOMO. SOMO and VBDO have been collaborating for years to produce recommendations for sustainable investment.

Company AGM
Philips 31 maart 2011 Company overview
Voting advice
KPN 6 april 2011 Company overview Voting advice(opens in new window)
Ahold 20 april 2011 Company overview Voting advice(opens in new window)
Heineken 21 april 2011 Company overview Voting advice(opens in new window)
ING 9 mei 2011 Company overview Voting advice(opens in new window)
Unilever 12 mei 2011 Company overview Voting advice(opens in new window)
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