Sustainability at shareholder meetings in France, Germany and Italy

The Bank of Italy today publishes 'Sustainability at shareholder meetings in France, Germany and Italy', the new issue of the series 'Markets, infrastructures, payment systems'.

This paper explores the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues discussed during shareholder meetings held in 2021 and 2022 by major non-financial listed companies based in France, Germany and Italy. We examined shareholder meeting documentation in order to identify the questions, requests to supplement meeting agendas, draft resolutions and countermotions (forum rights) submitted by shareholders, as well as the responses provided by the companies. The analysis covers the entire sample of companies for 2021, while for 2022 it focuses on business sectors most exposed to climate transition risks and the effects of geopolitical tensions on energy supplies. For the 2021 shareholder meetings, the qualitative survey is complemented by a machine learning textual analysis (Latent Dirichlet Allocation, LDA) used as an aid to detect the most recurring themes addressed in the meetings.

ESG factors were discussed in all shareholder meetings in the three markets examined for this study, albeit with varying emphasis. Shareholders mainly focused on the company's environmental policy, including transition plans, alignment with international climate agreements, and the effects of business activities on the environment. As for social issues, the attention was largely on gender equality in the workforce, human rights, and the protection of health and wage conditions. As for corporate governance, there was a recurring interest in gender equality in management bodies, as well as in the opportunities to attend shareholder meetings remotely.