More US firms hold virtual annual shareholder meetings

Duke shareholder Danielle Fugere of the nongovernmental organization organisation As You Sow saidadded: “We do not believe it is in the company’s interest to insulate itself from the interested public.”

The group has proposed a shareholder resolution to require the company to report on the public health impacts of its use of coal.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who oversees investments under the city’s $170bn billion public pension system, has declared war on virtual meetings, sending a letter to almost 20 companies demanding they go the traditional way.

“It’s one of the great markers of American enterprise — whether you own one share or a one million, you can speak at a company’s annual meeting,” Stringer said. “Except now, in this interconnected world, companies are using technological tools to whittle away at investors’ rights and hide from accountability.”

However, the companies rebut this point, with Ford saying “any pertinent questions that cannot be answered during the meeting, due to time constraints, will be answered and posted online”.

Virtual meetings became possible following changes in law in a number of US states, including Delaware, where many companies are based.

The annual events are not usually a major occasion for the biggest shareholders, who are typically in an ongoing dialogue with corporations.

But the annual meetings has traditionally offered a unique forum to the individual investors who lack the clout of large institutional investors. By going  virtual, big large companies can avoid sometimes pointed  criticism over shareholder pay, their environmental performance or any number of controversial matters.


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