TORONTO, ON | April 18, 2023 – Coming on the heels of a strong racial equity vote at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), more than 37% of shareholders voted in favour of a racial equity audit proposal at the 2023 Bank of Montreal (BMO) AGM. Filed by responsible investing organization SHARE on behalf of the Atkinson Foundation, and co-filed by the B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the proposal asked BMO to commission a third-party racial equity audit.
A racial equity audit is an independent analysis of a company’s business practices, intended to identify and remediate potential and actual disparate outcomes for Indigenous people and communities of colour. The audit evaluates the merits of a company’s efforts, policies and practices to tackle systemic racism in light of its racial justice commitments.
“The Atkinson Foundation is dedicated to social and economic justice. We believe financial institutions must play a positive role in helping people build inter-generational wealth and grow their businesses,” said Colette Murphy, Chief Executive Officer at the Atkinson Foundation.
“Historically and persistently, banks have exacerbated the racial wealth gap, through overt policies, and unconscious bias. BMO shareholders have joined their peers at Royal Bank in sending a crystal clear message – the status quo is unacceptable.” Murphy added.
Three Canadian banks already publicly committed to conduct racial equity audits, including Toronto-Dominion Bank, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and National Bank of Canada. BMO is lagging behind the new standard set by its peers. During today’s AGM, the BMO CEO expressed a commitment to meeting with the proponents to discuss the proposal.
Though the bank has made public statements in favour of racial equity, BMO has not yet engaged in efforts to evaluate the potential negative impacts that its products and services may have on people of colour or Indigenous peoples. Despite the bank’s assertions that its internal reviews are sufficient to address its racial equity risks, shareholders clearly disagreed.
“Any racial inequity in banking systems, services and practices will have outsized impacts for racialized and Indigenous people across the country, and for our economy as a whole,” said Kevin Thomas, CEO of SHARE.
“The Bank of Montreal should be just as concerned as we are about ensuring fair access to capital for Indigenous and Black-owned businesses, access to inter-generational wealth-building opportunities and effective services for underserved communities.” Thomas continued.
Several analyses have suggested that corporate actions have had limited impacts on historically marginalized communities and, in some cases, have led to increased adverse consequences on these same communities.
Over the past two years, racial equity audit proposals have been commonly filed in the U.S., however, this is the first year that the topic has been brought to Canadian AGMs, with shareholders already showing growing levels of support.
“We are encouraged with the considerable support from fellow shareholders in calling for a racial equity audit at the Bank of Montreal today”, said BCGEU President Stephanie Smith.
“The 37% vote in favour of this proposal, representing 17 billion dollars in company value, sends a clear message that shareholders expect the bank to take meaningful, measurable, and concrete steps to ensure business operations, practices, policies, products, and services do not cause adverse impacts on non-white stakeholders and communities of colour. We expect the Bank of Montreal to heed the voices of shareholders and take decisive action on this critical issue.”
At this year’s RBC AGM, more than 44% of shareholders voted in favour of a similar racial equity proposal also filed by SHARE, BCGEU and the Atkinson Foundation. At the RBC AGM, upon starting the event, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary leaders were denied access to the plenary meeting room, despite their position as shareholders. The events at the RBC AGM further underscored the need for racial equity audits and meaningful equity strategies in the financial sector.
Amanda Watkins, Communications Manager firstname.lastname@example.org, 416 306 2255.
SHARE is an award-winning non-profit organization dedicated to mobilizing investor leadership for a sustainable, inclusive and productive economy. We do this by supporting our investor networks and amplifying their voices to improve corporate sustainability practices and implement better rules and regulations that govern capital markets. For more information on SHARE, visit www.share.ca.
ABOUT ATKINSON FOUNDATION
The Atkinson Foundation is a Canadian charitable foundation committed to social and economic justice. Our highest priority is strengthening movements for decent work and
a fair economy. We collaborate with community organizers, policy innovators and investors to challenge income, wealth and democratic inequality. Learn more about us here: www.atkinsonfoundation.ca.
The B.C. General Employees’ Union represents over 85,000 workers in almost every community and economic sector in British Columbia. Under BCGEU’s capital stewardship strategy, the union has submitted shareholder proposals at some of Canada’s largest companies on topics like human rights, racial equity, and executive compensation. The union’s strategy has succeeded in achieving strong commitments on ESG issues.