By Jessica DiNapoli
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Environmental groups are asking Procter & Gamble (NYSE:) investors to vote against its chief executive’s re-election as chairman, as well as opposing two other directors at next month’s annual meeting, according to one of the documents. He claims that the company uses a lot of virgin wood pulp in its paper products.
Environmental nonprofits, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), have targeted maker of Bounty paper towels and Charmin toilet paper for the past few years, and are also advocating for the consumer products company to clean up how it sources palm oil from tropical rainforests.
NRDC, Friends of the Earth and Rainforest Action Network now want investors to vote against CEO John Mueller as chairman of the board, according to a US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing. They also oppose corporate directors Angela Braley, chair of the Committee on Governance and Public Responsibility, and Patricia Waters, a member of that committee.
Investors are set to vote on reelecting P&G’s corporate directors at its annual meeting on October 11. In the filing, environmental groups requested that Moeller be replaced with a stand-alone seat, a structure that some investors prefer.
“Procter & Gamble’s actions were insufficient to mitigate deforestation,” the filing said, adding that “the company’s leadership team lacks the skills, perspectives and experience” to deal with the environmental risks it faces.
A Procter & Gamble spokeswoman said the company’s managers had 90% support from investors last year. She added that Procter & Gamble has released reports summarizing its efforts, which include revealing more data and eliminating sources from some forests.
Environmental scientists have been urging Procter & Gamble to make changes in the forestry sector for several years.
“These proposals are more robust because they get more support,” said Neil Mino, vice president of corporate governance advisory firm ValueEdge Advisors, adding that recent regulatory changes make it easier for activist investors to appoint their managers.
“There is an important next step and it will intensify these conversations,” Mino said.
The Cincinnati-based company said in an update in July that it has created and is testing two new Charmin products, one made from plant fibers and one from bamboo, efforts supported by environmentalists.
The Consumer Products Group has also pledged that by 2030 it will buy exclusively wood pulp that meets certain standards.
Two years ago, a majority of investors supported a decision by Green Century Capital Management asking Procter & Gamble to release a report on how to ramp up efforts to eradicate deforestation and the degradation of its supply chain.
“After two years, they’ve basically done nothing,” said Jennifer Skin, director of policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council also urged investors to vote against Braley, and she received far fewer votes than other directors to re-nominate her to the board, according to a securities filing.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has the support of two contributors who are descendants of Procter & Gamble founders, Christopher Matthews of New York and Justin Epstein of the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Matthews and Epstein told Reuters they had asked Mueller for a meeting this month, but as of Monday had not received a response.
Matthews said P&G “is laser-focused on shareholder values and company value from an asset perspective.”
“The investment community sees it as lagging behind in terms of sustainability,” he said.
Environmental groups said Braley’s role as chair of the Committee on Governance and Public Responsibility, which oversees environmental concerns including forests, “has not been successful in mitigating” risks in P&G’s forest resources.
The groups said Wirtz’s role on the same committee was “questionable”, because she worked for the oil and gas exploration company. chevron Corp (NYSE:) for nearly 30 years, the nonprofit said.
Braley did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Woertz cannot be reached immediately.
Environmental groups said Mueller worked with them Monsanto (NYSE:), owned by Bayer Corporation (OTC :), “is incompatible with prioritizing corporate responsibility or scientific integrity.” Bayer agreed in 2020 to pay billions of dollars to settle lawsuits by people who claimed they were harmed by the Roundup weed killer, and is defending itself against thousands of lawsuits by Roundup users.
A Procter & Gamble spokeswoman said Mueller left Monsanto’s board of directors in 2018.