Sheila McNulty Exxon and Chevron shareholders focus on returns, not issues

The shareholders of ExxonMobil and Chevron have, once again, chosen to focus on their shareholder returns instead of hot-button issues such as executive compensation, renewables and environmental protection.

While executive compensation and governance issues have taken shareholder meetings in Europe by storm this season, the annual meetings of both Exxon and Chevron were far less reform-oriented.

After company executives recounted the successes of the past year, shareholders had their say. Chevron’s meeting was in California and Exxon’s in Texas, but the end result was the same.

Those who stood up at Chevron’s annual meeting stressed the importance of complying with host country laws relating to environmental protection, with many asides about the $27bn lawsuit facing the company in Ecuador that goes back to when Texaco (which Chevron now owns) operated in the country.

However on the matters relating to climate change, a victory had already been won when the company said it would reduce emissions, invest more in renewables, and monitor its emissions better. In response, the SIsters of St Dominic said they would drop a proposal for Chevron to take action on greenhouse gas emissions, but they still put a similar proposal to Exxon shareholders, saying the two companies “were like night and day” with regard to their responses on the matter.

Despite this, protestors were thin on the ground at the Exxon AGM: Reuters reported a total of three, compared to a turnout big enough to warrant a serious security presence last year, and something that sounded vaguely organised the year before.

There were a few comments at the Exxon meeting about the disparity between executive pay and that of the broader workforce; the importance of addressing climate change; and moving into renewables.

Yet, when it came time to vote, shareholders at both meetings sided with the companies – not the isolated shareholders pushing individual causes.

For, at the end of the day, Exxon and Chevron deliver the goods to shareholders where most of them care most – in their dividends and performance. And, until that changes, it seems, shareholders are not going to complain about much else.