Tyson Dismisses Shareholders’ Human Rights Concerns at Annual Meeting
Updated on February 17, 2021
The 2021 Tyson Human Rights Due Diligence Proposal received 78.7% support from independent investors (excluding the Tyson Limited Partnership) and 18.4% overall. This represents an 19% increase in independent investor support over the last year.
“Once we get injured, we are worthless to the company, they see us as expendable, not as human beings,” stated Magaly Licolli of Venceremos as she presented the human rights due diligence proposal at Tyson’s annual general meeting (AGM) on February 11th. Filed by the American Baptist Home Mission Society and 22 co-filers, the proposal raised workers’ key concerns about Tyson’s insufficient COVID-19 protections and lack of meaningful worker engagement, which has contributed to over 12,500 worker COVID-19 cases and at least 39 deaths.
This presented a stark contrast to the remarks from Chairman John Tyson and CEO Dean Banks, who painted a false picture of how the company treats its employees. Tyson has called its team members “heroes,” yet the company has repeatedly failed to respect its workers’ human rights.
BlackRock and Vanguard, two of the top three shareholders in Tyson Foods, joined the growing chorus as they voted in favor of the human rights proposal after engagement by proponents to make the case on the legal, regulatory, reputational, and investment risks, which Vanguard acknowledges as influential to its voting decision in its Voting Insights piece. Institutional investors including Norges Bank and CalSTRS also pre-declared support for the human rights due diligence proposal this year, which sends a signal about growing investor expectations around human rights due diligence, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and racial justice uprising.
This reinforces and adds momentum to the growing scrutiny of Tyson’s insufficient pandemic response efforts and misleading disclosures, even as Tyson’s lack of transparency and accountability was on full display at the AGM. Tyson failed to address concerns raised in the shareholder proposals on human rights due diligence, lobbying disclosure, and share voting, and the company did not disclose preliminary vote results at the meeting. Vote results were ultimately disclosed on February 17th on Tyson’s website. Investors were disappointed to see voting information withheld that was shared during prior AGMs. Choosing to be less transparent the year the company is facing widespread scrutiny is a concerning, yet unsurprising, move from Tyson.
Coupled with the dual-class share structure which allots 71% of the voting power to the Tyson limited Partnership, Tyson’s meeting format restricted the ability of independent investors to weigh in about severe human rights risks impacting workers and material financial risks to the company and its investors. The meeting provided no avenue for investors or stakeholders to pose questions or engage with management or the board, and it finished in less than 30 minutes. Five faith-based investors submitted questions about workers’ rights and COVID-19 response. Investors await written responses to questions about paid sick leave, wage stagnation, COVID-19 case counts, increased workload, and meaningful worker engagement.
Co-filers of the Human Rights Due Diligence proposal weighed in on their AGM experience:
Cathy Rowan of Trinity Health stated, “A 30-minute virtual shareholder meeting, with no accountability to shareholders and other stakeholders in a pandemic year when tens of thousands of Tyson employees were sickened with COVID-19 and at least 39 have died from the virus, is inexcusable. The company could not spare the time to answer shareholder questions during the meeting about the impact of the pandemic on its workforce and the communities in which it operates.”
Sr. Judy Sinnwell of the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, IA added, “The format of this AGM was itself an affront to and an endorsement of the practiced lack of respect for the dignity of investors, workers and all stakeholders.”