Brow Sweat and Bright Lights: Greeenpeace at Kimberly-Clark’s AGM
May 14, 2007
In Rules for Radicals, published way back in 1972, the well-known community organizer Saul Alinsky got really excited about this thing he called shareholder activism. Alinsky saw shareholder activism as being two-fold: organizations and individuals could use their shares (their stocks) in a company to make the company listen to their demands and organizational/individual shareholders could use their shares to help other organizations that wanted to talk with the company.
Fast-forward to this year’s Kimberly-Clark’s annual shareholder meeting (its AGM). The scene is a fancy hotel conference room in Los Colinas, Texas. Enter K-C executives, K-C board members, K-C accountants. Enter Greenpeace Forest Campaigners, a woman who has traveled all the way from Alberta, Canada, a Harvard University student and K-C shareholders. Watch shareholder activism unfold.
Elizabeth Shope, Harvard Student
At this year’s K-C AGM, socially responsible investment firms including Domini Social Investments, Calvert, Green Century Fund, The Basilian Fathers of Toronto and other major shareholders of K-C submitted a proposal on which K-C shareholders were asked to vote. The proposal asks the company to: “…prepare a report…assessing the feasibility of phasing out our company’s use of non-Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified fiber within 10 years” with an emphasis on increasing the use of recycled fiber and avoiding fiber sourced from certification schemes other than FSC. The resolution earned the support of a whopping $2 billion worth of K-C stock. By voting in favor of the resolution, K-C shareholders sent a strong message that K-C’s environmentally irresponsible behavior will not be tolerated.
And what about the “Harvard student” and woman from Alberta, Canada casually mentioned in paragraph 2? Certainly there must have been a point in mentioning them earlier? Where will they come in? Right here. At the AGM, Helene Walsh, a representative of the Alberta Foothills Network spoke about the on-the-ground impacts of KC’s atrocious forestry policies. Harvard student Elizabeth Shope announced to K-C executives, shareholders and board members that she had successfully convinced Harvard to begin a phase-out of K-C products. (Read the article in the Harvard Crimson.)
In that room, on that day, the sweat beads were dripping off the K-C executives’ faces. Did you just ask: Is this shareholder activism at its Saul Alinsky finest? I think you already know the answer.