Shareholders push Exxon for change at Subdued Meeting
May 25, 2005
DALLAS, May 25 (Reuters) - Activists assailed Exxon Mobil Corp.
(XOM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) for its stance on environmental
issues on Wednesday, but shareholders voted down proposals on global
warming and climate change at the No. 1 public oil company's largely
subdued annual meeting.
Unlike years past, only a handful of protesters showed up to demonstrate
on a rainy day in downtown Dallas. Still, dozens of police patrolled
outside the symphony hall venue, where rails and barricades were
set up to keep back any protesters.
As usual, Exxon -- which briefly overtook General Electric Co.
as the world's most valuable company earlier this year -- promised
to look past short-term swings in oil and gas prices as it keeps
its eyes focused on the long term.
Inside, a parade of environmental activists, human rights campaigners
and even a native of Indonesia's troubled Aceh province, where Exxon
operates, took to the podium to complain about the company's stance
on a smorgasbord of issues from climate change to sexual orientation
Most attacked Exxon for not investing in renewable energy sources
like solar and wind energy or for not doing more on climate change
and global warming issues. Occasionally, a few Exxon retirees or
longtime shareholders stepped up to praise the company's strong
performance over the years.
"The company has done well lately," Andrew Logan, program
manager at the CERES Group, which backed the proposals on environmental
issues, said at the meeting.
"But we're worried Exxon is not prepared to thrive in a world
that's very different from today. And the world is changing for
There were almost no theatrics or attention-grabbing stunts by
activists to protest Exxon's policies. But as usual, Chief Executive
Lee Raymond's hallmark bluntness and quick wit were on display.
When one Exxon critic took the podium to say the allotted two minutes
for each speaker were not enough to say what he thought of Raymond,
the veteran Exxon executive shot back immediately with "It
probably goes both ways."
As expected, none of the proposals managed to muster a majority.
Boosted by support from proxy firm Institutional Shareholder Services,
however, a resolution seeking more information on the company's
plans to comply with the Kyoto Protocol in countries where the greenhouse
gas reductions treaty has been adopted garnered 28 percent of the
Exxon says it has already published a list of actions to address
greenhouse gas emissions and is prepared to comply with all laws
in the countries where it operates. Raymond also said he didn't
expect any European countries to be able to meet the requirements
of the Kyoto treaty.
For the seventh year, Exxon shareholders voted down a resolution
asking it to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual
orientation in its employment policy.
The company says its policies ban discrimination of any reason,
including sexual orientation.
None of the resolutions on the ballot were binding -- meaning the
board is not obliged to implement them even if they were passed
with a majority. In any case, activists say their main aim is to
draw attention to their causes.
"Our goal is not to win the vote, but to get Exxon to work
with us on this," said John Wilson of the Christian Brothers
Investment Services, which sponsored the resolution seeking information
on Exxon's position on climate change.
Other shareholders, though, were perfectly content.
"We're very pleased with our investment. The company pays
good dividends and has been doing really well, so we have no complaints,"
said Bill McGill, a retired school teacher from the Houston area
who drove to Dallas to attend his first Exxon shareholder meeting.
Boosted by soaring oil and gas prices, Exxon posted record profits
of more than $25 billion and reported revenues of nearly $300 billion
last year. It sits on a growing pile of cash, which it has vowed
to funnel back partly to shareholders and partly to growth projects.
Following the meeting, Raymond told reporters the company's production
volumes would show a significant shift up in the second half of
the year, when major projects come online.
Exxon said its plans were still to boost capital spending to about
$18 billion a year between 2007 and 2010 from the recent levels
of $15 billion to $16 billion a year. The company also highlighted
its progress on the liquefied natural gas front -- a market it expects
to capture 30 percent of by the end of the decade, from its 20 percent