November 7, 2019 / 9:16 AM / 15 days ago

Shareholders at BHP AGM vote to stay in industry lobby groups

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - BHP Group’s (BHP.AX) (BHPB.L) Australian shareholders on Thursday voted against a resolution to axe the global miner’s membership in industry groups that advocate policies counter to Paris climate change treaty targets, backing the board’s call and echoing the stance taken by BHP investors in London.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A BHP executive is silhouetted against a screen projecting the company's logo. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

Votes tallied after BHP’s annual general meeting (AGM) in Sydney showed 72.93% rejected the resolution, BHP said in a filing. At the London AGM, only 22.16% of votes supported the motion. The Sydney gathering represented about 58% of all BHP shareholders, with the remaining 42% in London.

Ethical investors had called for the suspension, arguing BHP’s membership in some industry organisations funds pro-coal lobbying.

One of BHP’s biggest shareholders, Aberdeen Standard Investments, part of Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA.L), last month spoke out in favour of the resolution.

The vote occurred as an influential lobby group for Australia’s multi-billion dollar coal mining industry in September launched an advertising blitz to rally public support for an overhaul of state planning laws after a commission blocked new projects, citing climate change concerns.

“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.

“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 and Christian Schmollinger

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