Yearly Day of Listed Companies 2021 - is ESG the new face of activism?
On 25 October 2021, GUBERNA and VBO FEB organised their Yearly Day of Listed Companies. The seminar, which was dedicated to the different forms of activism, was a great success, with over 100 participants. Various leading speakers presented their analysis of these emerging societal phenomena and proposed regulatory and corporate governance approaches to deal with this new reality.
Professor Alex Edmans first proposed a taxonomy of the different possible forms of activism within the company: specialised activism (i.e., focused on a particular company by concentrated investors), generalised activism (i.e., a particular issue targeted across different companies by diversified investor) and activism by the company or its CEO. The London Business School professor explained the effects of these different pressure mechanisms on the creation of long-term value.
In the second presentation, Roger Cox, lawyer at Paulussen Advocaten, explained the ins and outs of the landmark case that led to the Shell oil company being ordered to reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% over nine years.
Bert De Graeve then shared his experience of dealing with various activist campaigns as chairman of Sibelco and Telenet. He recalled the importance of dialogue with shareholders, transparency and the traceability of board decisions.
The European Commission's initiatives in the field of sustainable finance and governance were then discussed in a panel, moderated by Sandra Gobert, Executive Director of GUBERNA, and composed of the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, the chairman of GIMV, Hilde Laga, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier de Schutter, and Michelle Edkins, Managing Director Investment Stewardship at BlackRock. Different panellists stressed the value of a legal framework on sustainable corporate governance to provide legal certainty to companies. On the other hand, the need for a proportionate approach was emphasised, considering the diverse realities faced by companies and the many corporate initiatives already taken regarding ESG.
Thomas Leysen concluded the study afternoon with a reminder of the importance of the principles of the Belgian Corporate Governance Code 2020 in terms of regular dialogue with shareholders and taking into account the interests of the company's stakeholders. The chairman of the Corporate Governance Committee ended his speech with a call to seek and pursue sustainable value creation within the board.