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VBDO’s AGM engagement themes 2024

Since 1995 we have been a loyal visitor to general shareholders’ meetings (AGMs). Every year, we ask critical questions to the directors of around 40 Dutch, listed companies, to promote sustainable business operations. During the engagement process, the most material Environmental, Social and Governance issues concerning companies and sectors will be addressed. VBDO will focus on three priority ESG themes in 2024:

Living wage (social, SDG 8) – new engagement theme since 2024

VBDO’s new social ESG theme in 2024 will be “living wage”. This will be the second time this theme is selected as this has been a theme of engagement from 2016 until 2019. Paying a living wage goes further than paying the legal minimum wage. The living wage should be sufficient for a worker to maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and their family. This means that the wage should cover essential needs such as food, water, housing, education and healthcare. Moreover, the living wage is tailored to local conditions as the costs of essential needs differ per area. According to the Living Income Community of Practice1, the concept of a living wage has positive implications for sustainable development and can be linked to a number of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Overall, a living wage contributes to a more just, sustainable, and equitable world. 

VBDO expects companies to pay a living wage to its direct employees. However, the responsibility for payment of a living wage extends beyond a company’s own direct employees. Companies are expected to uphold responsible business practices and this includes respecting the rights and well-being of workers throughout the entire value chain. VBDO’s main focus will be on (1) the company’s policy on living wage in relation to its employees and the value chain, (2) the identification of risks and opportunities on the topic of living wage (3) the implementation of actions that guarantee a living wage in the supply chain and (4) transparency about wage practices. 

Biodiversity (environmental theme, SDG 14 & 15) – engagement theme since 2022

VBDO’s new environmental priority theme in 2022 will be “biodiversity”. We are familiar with this theme as we have focused on this three times in our 27-year history (2003-2005, 2010-2013, and Natural Capital from 2017-2018). We observe an increased interest in this topic from financial markets, companies and regulators, but much more needs to be done to bend the curve of nature loss. WWF’s Nature’s 2020 Living Planet Report states that wildlife populations have declined by 68% since 1970. There is no time to waste to solve this crisis.

VBDO will define a clear vision for corporate action on biodiversity. We want to know how companies take accountability and
contribute to net-zero loss of biodiversity or become nature-positive in the long term. VBDO is aware that biodiversity and the
biological diversity of species are not as material to all companies directly, but all companies rely on goods and services that are
linked to natural capital. Therefore, companies are expected to identify risks and opportunities following topics such as land use, air quality, water use and quality, climate and soil, both for their own operations and in their supply chains. Although reporting of impacts and externalities is key, VBDO’s main focus will be on a company’s nature and biodiversity-related strategy, relevant KPIs and the implementation of mitigating actions.

Advocacy & lobbying (governance, SDG 17) – engagement theme since 2023

VBDO’s new governance priority theme in 2023 will be “advocacy & lobbying”. VBDO expects companies to be transparent about their advocacy and lobby activities and objectives. Companies can influence sustainability-related legislation processes either via directly lobbying with policy-makers or via aligned industry associations.

Whilst lobbying can lead to better regulation, it can also hinder essential legislation. For example, research from InfluenceMap shows that only 26% of the companies, that are included in the Climate Action 100+ benchmark, have policy engagement programmes that are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Moreover, only 11% of their aligned industry associations have climate lobby positions that are in line with the Paris Agreement’s goals.

VBDO expects companies to be transparent about their, and their aligned industry associations, advocacy and lobby activities. Our main focus will be on (1) the company’s and its industry association’s public position on relevant legislation, (2) the company’s advocacy and lobbying policy, (3) the implementation and (4) transparency.

How we engage

Find more information on our engagement process, planned AGM visits and reports.