Shareholder and environmental activists have written to investors of Africa’s biggest bank by assets, Standard Bank Group Ltd., asking that they vote against the re-election of seven non-executive directors with ties to fossil-fuel companies.
The letter, prepared by Cape Town-based Just Share and co-signed by 14 other groups, including BankTrack of the Netherlands and France’s Reclaim Finance, comes as South African banks face increasing pressure to follow international trends and take more action on climate-related issues.
“The re-election of Standard Bank’s climate-conflicted board members will entrench a high tolerance for exposure to the fossil-fuel industry for years to come,” the letter reads. “We therefore call on you, as a responsible investor, to vote against the re-election of these directors at Standard Bank’s upcoming annual general meeting.”
Standard Bank recommends the directors, all of whom are non-executive directors, be re-elected, the company said in an email.
“They bring diverse sets of skills and experience, across a range of industries, and are valuable members of the group board with a proven track record of leadership and integrity,” Standard Bank said. “Non-executive directors inevitably serve on boards of different companies. The board is satisfied that these directors continue to fulflil their fiduciary responsibilities to the Standard Bank Group in an exemplary manner.”
The directors objected to by the groups are:
- Gesina Kennealy, who also serves as a non-executive director at oil and chemicals company Sasol Ltd.
- Nomgando Matyumza, who is a non-executive director at Sasol
- Priscillah Mabelane, who in September is set to join Sasol as executive vice president of its energy business. She also serves on the board of Shell and BP South African Petroleum Refineries Pty Ltd., and is deputy chairwoman of the South African Petroleum Industry Association Board of Governors. Until June 1, she was chief executive officer of BP Southern Africa Pty Ltd.
- Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, lead director at coal company Exxaro Resources Ltd.
- Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, CEO of Ichor Coal NV
- Jacko Maree, Standard Bank’s deputy chairman, serves as a non-executive director at Phembani Group, which has investments in coal companies
- Lubin Wang, who represents Standard Bank’s biggest shareholder, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd., which finances fossil fuel projects
Together, the directors represent about two-fifths of Standard Bank’s board. The lender’s AGM will be held on June 26.
At recent shareholder meetings of Standard Bank’s Johannesburg-based rivals Nedbank Group Ltd. and Absa Group Ltd. climate-related resolutions were passed. While Standard Bank last year became the first South African lender to table shareholder-proposed resolutions on climate matters, it declined to consider one this year on its oil and gas financing activities.
The submissions fall outside the scope of what shareholders’ have a right to vote on, signaling an “attempt to usurp the role and function of the board,” Standard Bank said. This “does not suggest that the board is deviating from its environmentally responsible record and path,” with the lender already devising policies for lending to coal-mining and coal-fired power projects, while developing another for broader fossil-fuels financing, it said.
The reason Standard Bank gave for not tabling the resolution is the same as one used by Sasol last year and it has not been tested in court, Just Share said.
Other organisations that signed the letter are based in countries including Poland, Uganda, Australia and the US.
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