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2020 Proxy Voting Season Review: Beyond ‘business as usual’

Executive summary

  • The global COVID-19 pandemic brought disruption to voting season across Europe, North America and Japan. Companies struggled to host in-person meetings, but many quickly moved to hold virtual AGMs, aided by technology. We believe that a hybrid system – where physical meetings are enhanced by full online capability – could boost shareholder participation, particularly for international investors.
  • The pandemic has forced many companies to ask themselves what they stand for beyond profit – what their ‘corporate purpose’ is and how this is integrated into every facet of business.
  • COVID-19 has also highlighted the importance of board oversight of management. Executives have been forced into quick decisions to cope with the short-term impact of the pandemic but thoughtful consideration must be given to the longer-term implications, and to the need to keep shareholders informed.
  • We expect two trends to gain prominence as we move past the crisis. First, a rise in employee activism, where staff take their companies to task on human rights, environmental issues, social concerns, and employee relations. Second, the question of pay ‘fairness’ as more companies disclose data on the ratio between CEO pay and median employee pay.

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