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Proposal tabled at Tyson Foods’ AGM following 39 employee deaths from Covid-19

BlackRock and Vanguard have voted in support of a human rights due diligence proposal, tabled at the recent Tyson Foods AGM.

Filed by the American Baptist Home Mission Society, the proposal raised concerns that employees were being insufficiently protected from Covid-19 by the company.

Out of Tyson Foods’ workforce there have been 12,500 cases and at least 39 deaths from the virus.

The asset managers, as two of the top three shareholders in the company, voted in favour of the proposal, which was still dismissed by management. However, this support will likely be welcomed by investor advocacy groups, who have previously criticised large institutional shareholders for failing to follow through with claims on corporate governance.

Investor Advocates for Social Justice said it appeared to be the first time Vanguard had supported a human rights proposal.

Compounding concerns around health and safety of its employees, Tyson Foods has also come under criticism for poor standards of corporate transparency.

According to Investor Advocates for Social Justice, the company withheld voting information prior to its AGM and failed to address concerns raised in shareholder proposals around the issue of human rights.

In addition, the format of the AGM provided no avenue for investors to pose questions or engage with management, the group said. Investors now await written responses to questions raised about paid sick leave, wage stagnation, Covid-19 case counts, increased workload and meaningful worker engagement.

The duration of the meeting, which lasted half an hour, also attracted criticism.

Trinity Health’s Cathy Rowan, one of the co-filers of the human rights proposal, said: “A 30-minute virtual shareholder meeting, with no accountability to shareholders and other stakeholders in a pandemic year when tens of thousands of Tyson employees were sickened with Covid-19 and at least 39 have died from the virus, is inexcusable.

“The company could not spare the time to answer shareholder questions during the meeting about the impact of the pandemic on its workforce and the communities in which it operates.”

Companies have come under increasing pressure to demonstrate employees are being properly protected. Recently, the Investor Alliance for Human Rights called upon the EU to introduce mandatory human due diligence rules for corporates.

Last Updated: 18 February 2021
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