Before activist shareholder Engine No. 1 scored a major victory in forcing two directors onto the board of oil behemoth Exxon Mobil Corp., a preview of the battle played out in Calgary.
Bâtirente, a Montreal-based retirement fund for union members of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), a trade union, submitted a shareholder proposal for Imperial Oil Ltd.’s May 4 annual meeting to demand the Calgary-based oilsands producer adopt a net-zero carbon pledge similar to competitors Cenovus Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.
Exxon Mobil, which is Imperial’s controlling shareholder with a 69.6 per cent ownership stake in the company, sank Bâtirente’s proposal with its vote.
However, if Exxon’s vote is excluded, a majority of the independent shareholders — 58 per cent — voted in favour of the company adopting a net-zero carbon pledge for its emissions as well as interim targets for emissions.
“I feel like Exxon has already suffered one defeat at the ballots,” said Jackie Cook, director of investment stewardship, sustainability research at Morningstar in Vancouver, noting the vote by the minority shareholders at Imperial offered a smaller-scale preview of the proxy fight that would play out at Exxon’s own shareholder meeting May 26.
Cook and other experts contacted by the Financial Post say that investors are developing an activist streak on matters of emissions reduction. The trend has been growing in Europe for years and has led to some pitched battles in the United States — including at Exxon’s and Chevron Corp.’s annual meetings at the end of May.