During Procter & Gamble’s annual shareholder meeting earlier this month, a vocal minority of shareholders indicated to the company that its leadership must improve its environmental commitments. While re-electing board members is historically almost guaranteed in the U.S. corporate world, a significant number of P&G voters used their ballot to express dismay on how the corporation is handling this issue.
Director Angela Braly received at least 55,000 fewer votes than each of the other directors and her overall vote total was the lowest she’s received since joining the board of directors in 2009. This is notable because Braly is the chair of the company’s Governance and Social Responsibility Committee. In that role, she is primarily responsible for overseeing P&G’s sustainability efforts, which environmental groups claim have been sorely lacking.
Her relatively lackluster vote count comes in the wake of Environment America, along with other environmental groups, pressing Procter & Gamble to effectively respond to a shareholder proposal which passed at last year’s meeting, called on P&G, the maker of such brands as Charmin, Bounty and Head & Shoulders, to better address deforestation and forest degradation in its supply chains.
Considering the insufficient progress in improving the company’s palm oil and wood pulp supply chains, Environment America specifically encouraged shareholders to vote against Braly’s reelection.
Braly has been a P&G director since 2009 and previously played a similar role at ExxonMobile. While sitting on the ExxonMobile board in 2018, a major investment company voted not to re-elect her, citing a lack of action on climate change-related issues. Then, as now, Braly was re-elected. However, such a large number of shareholders casting ballots to oust her in the recent P&G vote indicates that not all investors are satisfied with P&G’s forest policies.
Shareholders should be concerned with the forest degradation in P&G’s supply chains. Because forests absorb and store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, preserving forests is crucial to maintaining one of our best naturally occurring climate solutions. Forest ecosystems are also incredibly essential to biodiversity. In Canada, for example, fragmentation in the boreal forest has endangered more than half of the iconic woodland caribou herds. Many more species are on the brink of extinction due to deforestation in the tropics, such as the Indonesian orangutans. Furthermore, forests are sources of shelter, clean water and food to communities across the globe.
Photo: Dan Minkin via. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Beyond the historic vote, the shareholder meeting’s Q&A segment also reflected an increasing concern about the company’s supply chain sustainability. P&G CEO David Taylor was inundated with questions on this subject. Unfortunately, his responses were similar to the information listed on the company’s website, in that they didn’t fully address the commitments that environmental groups called on the company to make.
Environmental groups’ efforts at this event capped off a year of pressing P&G to increase the amount of forest-free fibers in their tissue products, which are currently made from trees in the boreal forest. This is unacceptable because these trees are critical for absorbing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.
Environmental groups have also urged P&G to develop and enforce protocols that require its palm oil suppliers in southeast Asia and its wood pulp suppliers in Canada to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous communities who live on lands where these goods are being extracted.
For the sake of our climate, our wildlife and communities that rely on our forests around the world, Environment America will continue urging Angela Braly and the entire board of directors to step up to the challenge of moving P&G in a more sustainable direction.