AkademikerPension Holds Tech Firms to Account

Amazon and Meta are among the companies targeted by 14 recent shareholder proposals by IAHR members, citing social harms including misinformation risks. 

Investors have heightened their focus on tech companies’ failure to address human rights risks inherent to their business models, with as many as 14 shareholder proposals filed ahead of the 2024 proxy season. 

Among these was Danish pension fund provider AkademikerPension, which co-filed an investor proposal against online retail giant Amazon, and was among the lead filers on a series of proposals against social media platform operator Meta.  

“The tech sector consists of many very large and highly influential companies whose products touch a very large part of the world’s population every day,” Anders Schelde, CIO of AkademikerPension, told ESG Investor. “The potential for both extensive negative impacts to workers and consumers, as well as the opportunity to improve conditions of life, is therefore immense.” 

AkademikerPension led the proposal requesting a report on steps taken by Meta to mitigate risks of disinformation and hate speech inciting violence on Facebook and Instagram in non-US markets.  

While Meta has implemented content moderation measures against those risks in the US, they have not been applied to the same extent in non-Western, non-English speaking countries, leaving them more vulnerable. 

“This proposal is an important one, and feels even more crucial in a mega-election year,” said Anita Dorett, Director of the Investor Alliance for Human Rights (IAHR) – a non-profit whose members represent US$13.5 trillion in assets under management (AUM), and includes AkademikerPension. 

Elections are due to be held in more than 64 countries this year. In this context, IAHR has highlighted the threat that unchecked technology could pose to democracy, with risks of misinformation campaigns in the US and elsewhere. 

Multi-pronged attack 

AkademikerPension was also a co-filer on a shareholder proposal at Amazon concerning rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining for its workers. 

The pension fund had previously engaged with Amazon on the issue as part of a 12-strong coalition of Danish pension funds formed in 2022, and representing approximately DKK5 trillion (US$724.2 billion) in AUM. The coalition aimed to collectively engage on employees’ right to unionise and bargain on wages and working conditions. 

AkademikerPension was recently given a gold award, alongside eight other finance sector firms, in an assessment of net zero action by the Imperial College Business School. 

Last year, it was part of a group of investors representing US$1.5 trillion in AUM that called out five European banks – Barclays, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale and Deutsche Bank – for their continued funding of fossil fuel expansion.  

AkademikerPension recently divested from all fossil fuel companies in its portfolio. The decision followed a multi-year divestment strategy that ended with the sale of its stake in oil major Eni, which had failed to improve its climate strategy despite several engagement attempts, underlining the pension fund’s willingness to divest should engagement prove unsuccessful. 

“Both Meta and Amazon have been associated with human and labour rights risks, which these various proposals seek to mitigate,” said Schelde. “The companies’ continued underperformance and insufficient reporting on these topics threaten long-term value creation and their social licence to operate.” 

Investor duties 

The three tech behemoths – Amazon, Meta and Alphabet, parent firm of Google – targeted by the 14 shareholder proposals filed ahead of the 2024 proxy season represent a collective US$4.72 trillion in market capitalisation. IAHR noted their crucial role in facilitating financial services, healthcare, education, and freedom of expression.  

However, without adequate oversight, the three companies can also contribute either directly or indirectly to human rights abuses – through data privacy violations, censorship, hate speech and discrimination, the investor alliance warned. Last year, IAHR members filed 15 proposals across the three tech giants. 

“With these 14 shareholder resolutions, investors are pushing for Big Tech’s accountability towards taking action to prevent harms,” said Dorett. “Investors have a responsibility to ensure that investee companies continue to respect the rights of consumers, workers, communities and other stakeholders in their operations and value chain relationships – including end-use of their products and services.” 

To limit the risks associated with their holdings, investors should also engage with companies on ways to improve their governance and business practices, Schelde suggested, adding that the high number of proposals filed at tech companies this year spoke to increased shareholder focus on the subject. 

“Investor engagement has continued to escalate,” Dorett agreed. “We have noticed heightened attention on the unchecked power of tech, and a rise in regulatory and other policy measures being discussed and implemented in the US, the EU, and globally.” 

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