Why Shareholder Resolutions Aren’t Effective In Fighting The Fossil Fuel Industry

One common argument that I hear against divestment is: “if Harvard owns stock in a company, why not use the voice of Harvard to introduce shareholder resolutions? You own it, you have sway.”

To this I say:

1) If you own something, you’re responsible for it. Harvard cannot be responsible for climate change.

2) Harvard in the past has voted against shareholder resolutions that have proposed to introduce environmentally responsible practices to large fossil fuel corporations. FOR EXAMPLE, in 2011, the Harvard Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility voted on a resolution that targeted Exxon Mobil and proposed to “establish a Committee of independent and Company experts in climate and technology to make recommendations…on how ExxonMobil…can become the recognized industry leader in developing and making available the necessary technology and products to become an environmentally sustainable energy company at every level of its operation.”

Sounds hopeful, yes? Well, the committee voted AGAINST this resolution. One reason for this decision was that  the resolution was “unreasonable in asking the company to address such a major shift in its business focus ”

That is why we must divest–because we are challenging the fundamental business model of an entire industry. Shareholder resolutions won’t push these companies to change. Divestment, public pressure, and political action will. 

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One Comment

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  1. You’ve got to be kidding me. Yale’s not any better when it comes to being in the thrall of fossil fuel interests, sadly.
    I do think that there is perhaps room for some institutions to pursue shareholder resolutions demanding carbon/climate risk disclosure. The Unitarian Universalist Association has just recently begun pursuing this strategy along with As You Sow:

    http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130307/investor-shareholders-activism-as-you-sow-carbon-bubble-climate-change-global-warming-fossil-fuels-consol-alpha

    Unfortunately, it comes on the heels of the UUA treasurer/CFO penning a terrible anti-divestment op-ed to date in HuffPo:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-brennan/climate-change-divestment_b_2768852.html

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