Early vote count at BHP AGM suggests call to exit coal lobby groups fails

MELBOURNE, Nov 7 (Reuters) - BHP Group’s Australian shareholders voted against a resolution to axe the global miner’s membership of industry groups that advocate for coal, backing the board’s call and echoing the stance taken by BHP investors in London, a preliminary tally showed on Thursday.

Votes cast ahead of BHP’s annual general meeting in Sydney showed 68.08% rejected a resolution proposing suspension of BHP membership of industry groups advocating policies counter to Paris climate change treaty targets, BHP said. The full result tallying all votes will be declared later on Thursday.

Ethical investors had called for the suspension, arguing BHP’s membership of some industry organisations funds pro-coal lobbying. One of BHP’s biggest shareholders, Aberdeen Standard Investments, part of Standard Life Aberdeen, last month spoke out in favour of the resolution.

At the London AGM, only 22.16% of votes supported the motion. The Sydney gathering represents some 58% of all BHP shareholders, with the remaining 42% in London. “Climate change is a complex problem,” Chairman Ken MacKenzie said at the Sydney AGM. “If we are to successfully develop solutions we need to collaborate. We need to work together. And industry associations provide a vital forum for that collaboration.”

MacKenzie repeated BHP’s view that it is easier to influence from within, and said that industry groups provide many essential avenues including around setting standards and other issues that were not acknowledged in the resolution.

Still, ethical investors claimed the result represented a degree of success, with 29.58% of proxy votes in favour of the resolution. A further 0.62% abstained.

“This is a huge result on a very direct call for suspension, and represents an awakening for the Australian investment community,” said Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility said.

“Lobbying counter to the goals of the Paris Agreement has been tolerated for far too long ... Companies should heed this advice and suspend funding to organisations that undertake lobbying counter to the goals of the Paris Agreement.” (Reporting by Melanie Burton Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)