Despite defeats for shareholder rebellions at the ExxonMobil’s annual general meeting (AGM) yesterday, the results showed clear evidence of shareholders’ desire for change, said Edward Mason, head of responsible investment for the Church Commissioners for England.

The AGM defeated a shareholder resolution calling for the roles of chief executive officer and chair of the board – currently held by Darren Woods – to be separated, with 32.7% supporting the proposal.

The meeting also defeated a shareholder resolution requesting an annual report on the company’s lobbying activities, supported by 37.5% of the votes.

And all directors nominated for re-election were approved, with an average of 93.6% of the votes in favour.

The Commissioners, together with the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) had written an open letter to shareholders before the AGM, asking them to support the rebellion, as part of Climate Action 100+, an international coalition of over 450 key investors with more than $40trn (€36trn) in assets.

Last year’s ExxonMobil AGM had seen similar rebellions fail over the same three issues, but the vote for an independent chair was higher, at 40.7%.

However, the Commissioners said this was still a strong result for the coalition, given that proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) had recommended a vote against the resolution, having supported it in 2019.

ISS did, however, supporte the lobbying proposal.

Edward Mason, head of responsible investment for the Commissioners, said: “Today’s AGM shows the blatant disregard Exxon has for meeting the expectations of Climate Action 100+. Faced with Exxon’s repeated failure to address concerns about climate strategy and governance, the results are clear evidence of shareholders’ desire for change.”

He told IPE: “The Church Commissioners are ready to use all the shareholder tools at our disposal to effect the necessary change at Exxon. We will be discussing next steps intensively with partners now that the AGM has passed.”

Supporters of the rebellion included Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), which voted for both shareholder resolutions, and against Woods’ re-election.

BlackRock also voted for the independent chair proposal, and against the re-election of two directors, for insufficient progress on reporting aligned with Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and related action.

Eli Kasargod-Staub, executive director of Majority Action, a shareholder advocacy organisation, said: “BlackRock’s votes at ExxonMobil are important moves in the asset manager’s new commitment to hold companies accountable to climate action.”

But he added: “While these votes are important steps towards BlackRock fulfilling its new climate commitments, [it] must comprehensively change its voting strategy to promote climate-competent governance across key sectors, including oil and gas, electric power, transportation, and finance.”

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