PETA gaining influence in board rooms
DES MOINES (AP) – An animal-rights group known for sending out scantily clad demonstrators to protest fur and other provocative stunts has gained influence in board rooms with a more traditional tactic: buying company stock.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been buying shares for seven years and now owns a piece of at least 80 companies, including McDonald’s and Kraft Foods. It hopes to influence their animal welfare policies on such things as how chickens are slaughtered or buying pork from suppliers that keep pregnant sows in small crates. By buying stock, PETA is guaranteed the right to present its ideas directly to officials and other shareholders, many of whom would otherwise would likely pay little attention to the group.
”It gives us a new forum in which to present the research we’ve done to company executives, their shareholders and the public,” said Ashley Byrne, a senior campaigner for PETA.
PETA tries to negotiate agreements with companies behind closed doors, but if that fails, the group submits shareholder resolutions with its proposed changes at shareholder meetings.
Companies don’t always change their policies, but Byrne said the effort has paid off. After PETA bought stock, Safeway grocery stores and restaurant companies Ruby Tuesday, Sonic and Burger King agreed to give purchasing preference to suppliers that abide by what the group says are more humane rules, such as not confining chicken and hogs in small cages, she said.
Meridith Hammond, a spokeswoman for Ruby Tuesday, said the company is cooperating with PETA.
Hammond said listening to shareholders’ ideas is a ”normal and necessary part of doing business.”
Burger King said in a statement it is committed to ”maintaining open-dialogue with PETA and various other animal welfare experts.”
Kraft Foods wouldn’t comment on PETA, but said all shareholders are free to express their opinions to management and the board. Safeway didn’t respond to telephone messages.
Byrne said PETA’s attempt to work from within companies didn’t signal an end to its more visible, and often outrageous, protests aimed at improving the condition of animals and encouraging people to stop eating meat.
Hayagreeva Rao, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, said PETA runs the risk of alienating some supporters by working with companies while also protesting their actions.
”If you’re extreme, you draw a certain set of supporters. If you become an investor, you’re moving to a more moderate position and that could change your identity and confuse initial supporters,” Rao said. ”But you could gain new supporters.”
Byrne said she doubted PETA supporters would object, arguing they’re focused on getting results.
That’s how Barbara Hegedus, a PETA supporter from Parkesburg, Pa., saw it.
”I think if they’re able to influence in the boardroom rather than go through the demonstrations, it’s pretty good,” Hegedus said. ”It’s a more progressive way of doing it.”
Michael Lent, chief investment officer for New York-based Veris Wealth Partners, said other shareholders have tried to influence corporate policies from within.
Some high-profile examples include the Rockefeller family, which in 2008 introduced shareholder resolutions pushing Exxon Mobile on climate change issues. Earlier this month, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility introduced shareholder resolutions at a Goldman Sachs board meeting calling for an immediate shift in the way the embattled investment company conducts business on Wall Street.
Under rules established by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, shareholders must own at least $2,000 in stock for at least a year before they can introduce a shareholder resolution.
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