The Sisters of Mercy of Newfoundland lost a vote at the May 11 Annual General Meeting of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, Inc., but they won attention from the mining giant’s management.
The community of 95 Catholic sisters were asking the company, currently valued at $14.7 billion on the Toronto Stock Exchange, to undertake a human rights study of its operations in the Western Sahara. The proposal garnered just 6.7 per cent of the votes at the 2015 AGM, but it attracted support from 31.6 per cent of the outstanding shares — including the votes of major institutional investors this year.
The sisters’ motion was backed by the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, which handles pension funds for BC public servants, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan among others — totalling 159,593,972 shares voting for the motion, versus 344,850,348 shares against.
As soon as the vote came in, senior PotashCorp managers came down onto the floor of the meeting to speak with the sisters and their supporters. The Sisters of Mercy had co-ordinated their efforts with mutual fund manager Oceanrock Investments and its Meritas Janzti Social Index funds. The campaign to bring in votes in favour was co-ordinated by SHARE, a labour-backed responsible investor and pension fund organization.
There have been very few investor-sponsored motions at annual general meetings that have outright won a vote for any motion that lacks management backing. But whenever a motion wins votes from more than 10 per cent of outstanding shares, boards of directors and senior executives sit up and take notice, said Sisters of Mercy general superior Elizabeth Davis.
The sisters already have the attention of PotashCorp’s major rival in the agricultural minerals business with a similar motion put to Calgary’s Agrium Inc.’s annual general meeting last year.
“A victory would be if both Agrium and Potash actually had the public, independent assessment of their human rights responsibilities with respect to sourcing phosphate rock in the Western Sahara,” Davis told The Catholic Register.
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