Climate Activists Lodge ASIC Complaint Over “Misleading” Comments At ANZ AGM

Sydney, Australia - September 12, 2019:  A pedestrian walks past a retail branch of Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) in Chatswood, Australia on September 12, 2019.  ANZ is currently the sixth largest Australian company and fourth largest financial institution listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, as of September 2019. The bank is one of the

Environmental activist group, Market Forces, has lodged a complaint with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) alleging that it misled investors at its AGM last year over a resolution about divesting from fossil fuels.

Market Forces said that a resolution tabled at ANZ’s AGM in December that would have sought to disclose information showing how its financing would not be used for new fossil fuel projects or expansion of existing ones.

At the meeting, ANZ chairman Paul O’Sullivan said in prepared remarks that, “It is clear that those who have lodged this resolution are seeking an immediate withdrawal of financing for companies that continue to have any exposure to fossil fuels.”

The resolution was opposed by ANZ’s board and was rejected by 90.75 per cent of proxy votes.

However, the day after the AGM, ANZ published an ASX announcement conceding that “the resolution did not seek an immediate withdrawal of financing” for fossil fuel companies and it was confined to new or expanded fossil fuel projects.

The announcement also said that “any mischaracterization” by ANZ was “unintentional.”

As a result, Market Forces is asking ASIC to investigate the issue saying that the bank’s comments at the AGM could have misled shareholders. In a letter, Market Forces has asked ANZ to republish its AGM results with “appropriate qualifications and warnings.”

“I think the comments at the AGM taken in conjunction with statements made in the notice of meeting and even the annual report really suggest more of a pattern of mischaracterisation of the resolution,” said Will van de Pol, acting executive director of Market Forces.

An ANZ spokesman did not provide new comments but referred to the bank’s clarification on 16 December, which also said ANZ’s notice of meeting included the full resolution written by Market Forces.

ASIC and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) are tightening the screw on environmental claims. Earlier this month, ASIC announced that it would be taking the Mercer Superannuation fund to court over its sustainable investment options, for example.

Sustainability is a top priority for Aussie consumers at the moment, with Andrew Therkeslen from The Lab revealing that “More than a third of consumers have made definitive ethical choices because of the perceived goodness of a brand” at the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ RESET conference last week.




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