Recently, Harrington Investment Inc., an investment advisory firm with a long record of shareholder advocacy, alerted me that Harrington, along with certain other Monsanto shareholders, presented a socially-conscious shareholder resolution to Monsanto’s Board of Directors for a vote at the company’s 2013 Annual Meeting of Shrareholders slated for the up-coming January.
The proposed shareholder resolution would have the company admitting that, among other things, “[g]enetically modified crops have been found to contaminate conventional (non-GMO) and organic farms, threating farmers’ livelihoods, and, affecting critical food supply, and imposing a significant financial burden on farmers seeking to satisfy markets for GMO-free products.”
The resolution, while unlikely to pass, would require Monsanto to prepare a report that would assess any material financial risks or operational impacts on the company, from GMO seed contamination to loss of pollinators to soil and water contamination and the associated costs of mitigation and remediation.
In other words, Monsanto would have to publicly document and study the damaging ecological and economical impacts of their business practices.
A similar resolution was presented at last years’ annual shareholder meeting and received nearly 6% of the votes. Jack Ucciferri, Harrington’s Advocacy Director, noted that while this six percent figure “sounds small to people who do not understand the intricacies of corporate governance/shareholder activism, … it is in fact a respectable vote that we hope to build upon this year.”
Here is a link to a transcript and hidden camera videos of the exchange between Adam Eidinger, the coordinator of the Right2Know March for GMO Labeling, who represented Harrington Investments and the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) at the 2012 Shareholder Meeting, and Monsanto’s CEO, Hugh Grant, that took place during proceedings. PANNA, among other things, “works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.” The organization worked closely with Harrington on drafting the language of the shareholder resolutions. Needless to say, Mr. Grant dismissed any concerns raised.
Harrington Investments has a long term commitment to challenging Monsanto’s unsustainable business practices. In 2007, for example, it introduced “a binding amendment to Monsanto Corporation’s corporate bylaws that could bar corporate indemnification of directors who fail to adequately oversee corporate activities that cause ‘harm to the natural environment, public health, or human rights.’”
The goal of the current resolution, as Jack Ucciferri told me, is to “engender further media and investor attention to public health and long term food security issues that are raised by Monsanto’s business model.”
Not surprisingly, Monsanto’s Board of Directors recommended to the shareholders to vote against the proposal.
Here is the full list of all risks or operational impacts that the resolution would have Monsanto report on:
- Seed contamination, including costs of seed replacement, crop and production losses and clean up, decontamination and continued testing of affected seeds;
- On-going buffer zone control, including production acreage losses and on-going maintenance required to secure or maintain access to contamination-sensitive markets,
- Crop, production, and post-harvest losses and associated costs of market rejections, including temporary or permanent market losses resulting from GMO contamination;
- Loss of organic or other third-party certification due to GMO contamination and any costs associated with additional, record-keeping, testing or surveillance required to regain certification or retain certification on impacted operations
- Well water testing and/or groundwater cleanup contamination if found.
- Removal and destruction of contaminated GMO plants;
- Pollinator losses and related damages e.g. to non-target organisms;
- Soil contamination and on-going related mitigation and remediation costs; and
- Damage to farmers’ reputations, livelihood, and standing in the community.