ShareAction is a responsible investment charity helping to bring about change from inside major corporations
This piece is part of our Hope 100 series, telling the stories of the people and organisations creating hope for 2020 and beyond
You can buy shares in Barclays for the price of a cup of coffee. Being a shareholder of a corporation such as that means you are permitted to attend the annual general meeting – and fire questions at members of the board.
Volunteers working for ShareAction, a ‘responsible investment’ charity, do just that, using company AGMs to take businesses to task on environmental, social and governance issues.
ShareAction volunteers receive training so they are confident asking questions of boards. “We take a positive approach to engagement,” explains Catherine Howarth (pictured above), ShareAction’s chief executive. “A polite but firm question that is fact based but asks something demanding is a thousand times more effective than something sarcastic.”
One of ShareAction’s biggest achievements was helping persuade oil giant, Shell to stop investing in carbon-heavy Canadian tar sands. The company has since flogged most of its tar assets. ShareAction has also pressured dozens of UK firms into paying the living wage – 38 of the FTSE 100 are now accredited with the Living Wage Foundation. “That has helped put a lot of money into the pockets of people who haven’t done too well out of capitalism,” says Howarth.
Whether addressing fair pay, gender diversity or the climate crisis, Howarth insists that volunteers’ questions frequently fall on fertile ground, though she concedes some corporations have a long way to go. “There are often debates going on inside companies about these subjects and our questions help bring extra power to the progressive side of that debate,” she notes.