What just happened?

Elsevier quit organising defense exhibitions, that much is sure. But was it due to boycott (ScienceBlogs) or shareholder revolt (The Independent)? As far as I was aware, neither of those factors was involved directly, but how can I be sure? Symon Hill gives his low-down on it at the Guardian Comment Is Free blog.

5 replies on “What just happened?”

It occurs to me this might suggest a new kind of ethical investment strategy. Currently, ethical investment means putting money into ethical companies. Instead, it could mean putting money into shares into companies with ethically dubious practices, with a proportion of the ethical investment company’s profits paying for well-informed and articulate shareholder activists to go along to AGMs and make trouble.

Currently (I presume) you’d have to simply hope that a shareholder might take up some ethical points with a company out of the goodness of their heart, or that (e.g. with Tesco and various campaign groups) someone thinks its important enough to buy shares to get a point across.

Could face the problem of ‘oh yeah, I’m buying campaigning shares’ when in fact the investment company in question is doing nothing of the sort, but I guess it would have to have good reporting methods.

In fact, it could work well as a partnership: e.g. co-op ethical investments working with e.g. Christian Aid on Tesco’s supply chain problems. Co-op sells ‘campaigning shares’ and Christian Aid heads up the campaign group.

Dan, I think this has actually been tried, with mixed results – see the final scene of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, where Moore (as a shareholder) gets up to talk at the General Motors AGM and they abruptly call an end to the day’s sessions, leaving him standing alone (and possibly in the dark) at the pulpit. It’s a good film.

I think Mark Thomas has done this as well, as for some arms companies you only need one share to entitle you to attend and contribute to the AGM. It was in his book about the arms trade anyway… But what a good idea!

The interesting next step is to hold shares in a company that makes donations to any ruling political party. As I understand it, the board of directors of a public company is legally bound to pursue higher profits and therefore better dividends for the shareholders. If a company makes a large donation to a ruling party, as a shareholder you could, presumably, sue them on the ground that a donation – given that it can’t legally effect government decision making – is a waste of money and won’t aid the company’s profit margin. The board of directors would then need to explain in court exactly how the donation would, in fact, improve their profits. This, I suspect, would be messy.

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