SHARE raises health and safety and forced labour concerns at Brookfield’s annual meeting

By July 13, 2016News

Through our engagement program, SHARE enters into constructive and focused dialogue with companies on key environmental, social and governance issues, allowing shareholders’ views to be heard and resulting in improvements in corporate policies and practices.

Most companies welcome this dialogue. For boards and management, it allows for useful feedback and brings new ideas and concerns to the table. We believe boards and management should be responsive to respectful engagement by shareholders, and sometimes when that is not forthcoming, participation in an Annual General Meeting (AGM) can be the key to a productive company engagement.

This quarter, SHARE was at the AGM of Brookfield Asset Management Inc., a global alternative asset manager, inquiring about the company’s management of human and labour rights risks in its construction projects – via Brookfield Multiplex – in Qatar. Reports of widespread injuries and deaths in the sector, as well as the use of forced migrant labour, require expanded due diligence by companies operating in the country. A recent report from Amnesty International showed that even well-intended companies with strong policies and codes of conduct have found themselves coming up short on the effective implementation of international labour standards.

Although Brookfield responded to SHARE’s earlier inquiries with a letter summarizing Brookfield Multiplex’s policies and practices, many questions were left unanswered. Yet our request for further dialogue about employee access to passports, the effective role played by workers in worksite health and safety committees, ongoing subcontractor due diligence, and better disclosure of OHS performance metrics received no response.

At the company’s AGM in Toronto, SHARE raised a question from the floor about health and safety and forced labour in the company’s Qatar operations. Both the CEO and CFO responded, stating that its subsidiary Brookfield Multiplex upholds the highest international standards on health and safety and that the company is very attentive to these risks in all of its operations.. After the meeting, SHARE spoke with the Chair of the board’s Risk Management Committee and the CEO, who asked his staff to provide a more substantial response to our questions.

While SHARE welcomes private dialogues between boards, management and shareholders, at times shareholders also need to exercise their right to speak at company AGMs and, in some cases, to file shareholder proposals, to move those dialogues forward.