USA: Human rights shareholder proposal going to vote at Tyson Foods, among high number of worker deaths and ongoing health and safety concerns
In July 2020, more than 120 worker and advocacy groups called on Tyson's top 10 investors to urge Tyson to ensure the safety and well-being of its workers. Global investors with US$2 trillion have supported these demands, calling on meat processors to better protect their workers.
Yet as of January 2021, at least 12,275 Tyson workers have contracted COVID-19 and 39 workers have died - the highest death rate among meatpackers and three to four times the number infections compared to peers. A shareholder proposal, filed by American Baptist Home Mission Society and 22 co-filers, asked Tyson to disclose a human rights due diligence process to assess, identify, prevent, mitigate, and remedy actual and potential human rights impacts in company-owned operations and the value chain.
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the top 10 shareholders to indicate whether they will be voting FOR or AGAINST the shareholder proposal on human rights due diligence at Tyson Foods Inc. AGM on 11 February.
Five investors responded. While none pre-declared their votes, Columbia Threadneedle noted that it “engaged twice with Tyson senior leaders in mid-2020 around the company’s response to the pandemic and treatment of employees.” Blackrock highlighted its support for the proposal in 2020, when it “voted against management at Tyson Foods, a U.S. packaged food company, by supporting a shareholder proposal on supply chain due diligence because we were not satisfied with the company’s disclosures and practices around sustainable working conditions.”
Other investors go further. Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) and CalSTRS pre-declared their votes in favour of human rights due diligence proposal, with NBIM noting that Tyson's "board should account for material sustainability risks facing the company, and the broader environmental and social consequences of its operations ... [and that] sustainability disclosures should ... support investors in their analysis of risks and opportunities."
Such transparency from large investors ahead of (or immediately after) an AGM is crucial to send market signals to both peers and investee companies highlighting the importance of strong ESG governance and risk management.
*Update 11 February 2021:
Blackrock provided additional information and issued a vote bulletin just hours after the 2021 AGM detailing its engagement with Tyson Foods and the rationale for voting in favour of the human rights due diligence proposal.
Proponents of the human rights proposal note that at the AGM, Tyson failed to address concerns raised in the proposal and that the company did not disclose preliminary vote results.
*Update 12 February 2021:
An analysis of the outreach has been published by Responsible Investor.
Vanguard issued a voting insight detailing that, while it had not supported the human rights due diligence proposals in the past, it supported the 2021 proposal and voted against the board director in charge of health and safety following engagement with Tyson and proponents of the proposal and independent research that confirmed legal, regulatory, reputational, and investment risks.
Update 17 February 2021:
Tyson issued its 8-K with the final vote results. Investor Advocates for Social Justice calculated that the human rights proposal received 78.7% support from independent investors (excluding the Tyson Limited Partnership) and 18.4% support overall. This marks an increase compared to previous years: In 2020, 59.68%, and in 2019 22.55% of independent shareholders supported the human rights proposal.
The worker rights organization Venceremos continues to call on Tyson to provide paid sick leave.