Eleven institutional investors, including the Candriam and the UK’s largest local government pension fund, have filed a shareholder resolution at consumer goods giant Unilever calling on the company to increase the share of healthy foods in its sales.
Dutch asset manager Actiam and UK asset manager CCLA are also co-filing the resolution, which is also submitted in the name of more than 100 individuals co-ordinated by campaign group ShareAction.
In a statement, Councillor Gerald Cooney, vice chair of Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF), told IPE that the £27.7bn pension fund was co-filing the resolution “because there is a clear link between public health and nutrition”.
“One of the biggest contributors to obesity is the unhealthiness of food environments – the availability, accessibility, affordability of healthy food,” he said.
“As it stands, two in three adults, and one in three children, are now overweight or obese in the UK. Therefore GMPF supports initiatives working to improve nutrition, ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being in line with SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) 2 and 3.”
Cooney, who also chairs pension asset pool Northern LGPS, said investee food and drink companies bore the risks associated with failing to adequately address concerns about the link between public health and nutrition within their business activities.
“We recognise that in order to protect value, companies involved in the development, production and sale of food and drink should work to mitigate risks posed by government regulation and the modelled shifts in consumer demand for healthier food,” Cooney said.
“As the world looks to drive economic development building out of the pandemic, a focus on developing and maintaining a healthy population is essential.”
The resolution asks Unilever to disclose the current proportion of sales linked to healthier products (as defined by government-endorsed nutrient profiling models), set targets to “significantly increase” that share by 2030, and publish an annual review of progress.
According to ShareAction, the filing of the resolution represents “a marked escalation in the investors’ engagement”.
Last year a group of investors – not including most of this year’s institutional co-filing group – at Unilever’s AGM requested that the company develops a long-term plan to ensure a majority of its sales are derived from healthier products in the future.
Last year ShareAction co-ordinated the first health-based resolution filed at a FTSE100 firm when it made similar demands of supermarket chain Tesco. The resolution was withdrawn after Tesco agreed to the requests.
The news of the institutional investors’ shareholder resolution comes as Unilever said it would not increase its latest, £50bn bid for the consumer healthcare arm of GlaxoSmithKline.
GSK previously rejected two other bids from Unilever and said that the latest bid, like the other two, “fundamentally undervalued” its consumer healthcare business and its future prospects.