Unilever shareholders to get vote on climate transition plans

Unilever, the consumer goods company, has announced plans to let shareholders vote on its climate transition plans, in a first for the UK’s blue-chip companies.

The maker of consumer goods ranging from Dove soap to Hellmann’s mayonnaise will share its climate transition action plan with investors in the first quarter of 2021, before a vote at its annual meeting on 5 May.

The company, listed on London’s FTSE 100 index, said it was “the first time a major global company has voluntarily committed to put its climate transition plans before a shareholder vote”.

Executives and shareholders are focusing increasingly on companies’ plans to report and cut their carbon emissions, spurred on by the threat of tighter government regulation as well as pressure from consumers. Countries including the UK, China and Japan have pledged to produce net zero carbon.

Unilever has already pledged to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from its own operations completely by 2030. In June it pledged it would cut the emissions produced by its products by half by that point compared with their 2010 level, and Unilever products will produce net zero emissions by 2039.

Alan Jope, the Unilever chief executive, said “climate change is the most pressing issue of our time”. Unilever’s plan will require it to decarbonise its raw materials, move to renewable energy and eliminating deforestation.

Investors already systematically request disclosures of carbon dioxide emissions from large companies, but Jope said investors were increasingly requesting more information on Unilever’s climate plans.

“We welcome this increased transparency and in the plan we present, we will be clear both about the areas in our direct control where we have a high degree of certainty of our route to net zero, as well as more challenging areas across our value chain where systemic solutions will be required to achieve our targets,” he said.

Unilever said its climate plans will be updated “on a rolling basis”. The company will hold an advisory vote every three years on changes or proposals, and it will report on its annual progress against the plan starting in 2022.

Shareholders could theoretically reject the policy, but any vote will be non-binding. In practice it is unlikely that large shareholders would band together to vote against a relatively ambitious climate resolution put forward by a company.

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