• TotalEnergies and Carrefour are organizing their general meeting this Friday. A resolution of minority shareholders, calling for more ambitious climate objectives, is expected in each of the AGMs.
  • However, this scenario assumes that the General Assemblies take place. Several activists want to prevent that of TotalEnergies.
  • As for these two groups, the ecological issue has now become unavoidable in almost all general meetings of listed companies.

This Friday, TotalEnergies plunges into a paradox. While the group has experienced record profits in 2022 - 21 billion euros all the same - rarely a general meeting of the oil giant had seemed so (at) tense. Several NGOs and climate activists signed a platform by warning: "Total's general meeting will not take place." Already last year, activists had prevented access to some members. And even within the assembly, it promises to be electric. Because 17 investors, holding 1.5% of the company's shares, announced their intention to file this Friday a consultative derogation for the oil giant to "align its reduction targets" of greenhouse gas emissions with the Paris Agreement for 2030. An idea that is also persistent. In 2020, a first binding resolution on climate change had already been tabled, receiving 17% of the votes. Last year, TotalEnergies refused to allow such a text to be put to the vote. Atmosphere...

And it is not the general meeting of Shell on Tuesday that should reassure the group. The pension fund of the Church of England voted against the reappointment of the leaders, blaming them for an insufficient ecological transition. Add environmental activists who came to disrupt the event, and this is a possible foretaste of what Total will experience today.

"A sequence where it is important to show yourself"

Long taboo or avoided, the ecological question has now become inevitable during the AGMs of oil and gas and banking groups, and well beyond. On 17 May, Ugandan activist Hilda Flavia Nakabuye challenged the CEO of Crédit Agricole during the group's AGM, the largest bank supporter of TotalEnergies: "I am here to talk to you about the destruction that is taking place at home and to which you are contributing. The Eacop pipeline that TotalEnergies is building is building will displace 100,000 people in Uganda and Tanzania. The activist had asked Philippe Brassac to take a stand to stop Eacop, so that TotalEnergies stops oil and gas expansion and aligns its activities on a 1.5 degree scenario.

Let us also mention in early May the throwing of cream cake towards shareholders at the high mass of Volkswagen, and the speech of the CEO interrupted by a shirtless activist, her chest covered with slogans. Or the case, on April 26, of the British hydrocarbon giant BP, which saw its share of rebellious shareholders promise to vote against the re-election of the chairman of the board of directors.

An unavoidable subject, therefore. And "an issue that has transformed the current context so profoundly that large groups have every interest in taking up the subject," notes Clémence Knaebel, Director of Innovation and Sustainable Development at Publicis Sapient, a strategic consulting firm. Not only because it is unlikely to disappear, but also because there is more to gain over time by voluntarily seizing it than by dodging it."

"General meetings are a strategic sequence where it is important to show oneself," confirms Lorette Philippot, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, a climate association that is very present in the AGMs: "We come to highlight the reality of the company's activities, trying to open the eyes of shareholders." For this, scientists are often invited by activists, in order to expose the most accurate facts possible. "These are moments when the company's strategy is presented, and the future trajectory is charted. We just remind the truth beyond the beautiful speeches of greenwashing."

A non-mandatory presentation of climate issues

Actions that Lorette Philippot wants to believe effective: "Our goal is not to change the result of the current AGM. But it is important that companies are held accountable. And above all, over a longer period of time, shareholders can think about their support for these large groups. The same observation of slow evolution for the Forum for Responsible Investment (FIR). The association, created in 2001, brings together investors and civil society actors, and aims to encourage listed companies to commit to sustainable development. A long way to go: "Only three CAC40 companies presented a climate strategy at the AGM last year. There is no legal obligation to do so, nor to organize a vote, "regrets Nathalie Lhayani, president of the association.

A lack that the FIR would like to remedy. Together with other stakeholders, the forum asked the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, to add to the "Green Industry" bill the obligation to present a climate strategy to shareholders at least every three years, as well as the possibility for them to vote on the subject. Pending the verdict, the FIR is already noting some improvements. Nathalie Lhayani: "More and more investors are concerned about climate issues, and demand accountability before approving companies' plans."

Shareholder activism

Some shareholders have even made it a specialty. In particular, Ecofi, a management company that leads a strategy of "shareholder activism". Understand: it invests in many companies - count 292 participations in General Meetings last year - and votes according to several ESG criteria - Environmental, Social and Good Governance. On the climate issue, Cesare Vitali, head of ESG analysis, gives two examples: "We will always vote against a project that says it wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 or 2050 without giving precise figures. Or if the company is talking about compensation and not decrease." On average, Ecofi votes 41% "no", compared to 19% for all shareholders.

It comes back to resolutions. "You have to hold 5% of the company's capital to be sure that the resolution is presented to the AGM. We are therefore meeting with several committed shareholders to demand more climate ambitions. This Friday, the Carrefour group has the right to its resolution, notably proposed by Ecofi, on a more efficient ecological transition. "These actions and votes can be considered as spurs to take this great turn, with the need to combine ecological ambition and economic ambition, which the company cannot abandon," pleads Clémence Knaebel. Beginning of response this Friday.

  • Economy
  • Climate
  • CAC 40
  • Enterprise
  • Energy transition
  • Vote