Cake-throwing, insistent questioning and even invasions have become almost a ritual for certain large groups, who are called upon at every shareholders’ meeting by activists pointing out the inadequacies of the fight against climate change. The latest example was at the BNP Paribas bank’s general meeting in Paris on Tuesday morning, when several scientists from the “Scientists in Rebellion” collective questioned the management on several occasions about their climate strategy, to the point of arousing annoyance and insults from some shareholders.
A week ago, at Volkswagen’s annual general meeting, the auto giant also experienced disruptions, including a cream cake being thrown at members of the supervisory board and the interruption of CEO Olivier Blume’s speech by a shirtless activist with her chest painted with slogans, who was eventually led out of the room by security. Monika Krimmer, a 60 year old psychotherapist, came for the first time to demonstrate on this occasion, with several of her comrades of the movement “Scientists in Rebellion” that she joined a year ago. “This time, I wanted to go directly to the source of the car lobbies,” explains the German woman who is campaigning in her city of Hanover against a freeway construction project that includes the destruction of a green corridor.
More and more tensions
Earlier in the month, it was the AGMs of the British bank HSBC, which was interrupted several times until the executives asked for the expulsion of the activists concerned, and of its counterpart Barclays, which were very heckled. For Lorette Philippot, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, the general assemblies are “a moment where the actors take stock of their action and make new commitments”. “So it’s also our role as a counter-power to, at the same time, tell the truth about their actions and avoid this great moment of annual greenwashing, and push to the highest degree of ambition in the new announcements,” she explains to AFP.
If these disruptions are not new – Greenpeace activists had invaded the AGM of Total in 2018 and some had hung from the ceiling to the surprise of everyone – the “climate topic is rising in a somewhat radicalized way” with “more and more confrontations, sometimes violent”, judges Bénédicte Hautefort, co-founder of Scalens, a fintech dedicated to listed companies, and while, this year, the general meeting of the Dutch bank ING could not even go to its end. Last year, the reaction of shareholders to environmentalists had scandalized a part of the public opinion. In a video published by Greenpeace on Twitter, shareholders could be seen attacking an activist blocking access to the AGM: “die and don’t piss me off”, they shouted at her, while she told them that “we won’t live” if TotalEnergies continues its investments. “It also shows that we are disturbing”, underlines Lorette Philippot. “Our presence plays an important role in influencing the message a group gets across, or not, as well as its agenda,” she adds.
Virtual General Meetings
Often singled out by NGOs, the BNP Paribas Group has chosen to respond at length to the scientists who have spoken. “Do not underestimate the objectives we have taken”, asked Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, CEO of the group, refraining however from drawing red lines with regard to companies investing in new oil and gas fields, as requested by various organizations.
One country, however, seems less affected by this wave of protest: the United States, where large groups continue to hold general meetings in an exclusively virtual format. This is the case of the oil giant Exxon, regularly targeted by activists, of its competitor Chevron, or of the bank JPMorgan Chase. “In a world where boards have very little opportunity for accountability, this is a step backwards,” said Andrew Logan, director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit organization that works to promote sustainable development policies through the financial markets.