Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (SMBC Group), one of Japan’s three megabanks, held its annual general shareholders’ meeting on June 29. Takayoshi Yokoyama, a representative of 350.org Japan explained their shareholders’ proposals co-filed by representatives of 4 environmental NGOs to strengthen the bank’s climate policies before a vote on the proposals was held. While the motions failed to reach the two-thirds threshold required to be adopted, one of the proposals did win nearly 30% of all votes, showing that there is a growing sentiment among investors in favour of decarbonisation both in Japan and abroad.
Why Put Shareholders Proposals to Megabanks?
Banks are a central hub for our, at-present, fossil fuel-dependent economy. This gives them a tremendous degree of influence. That is why Japanese environmental NGOs and their representatives put forward climate shareholders motions to Mizuho Financial Group in 2020 and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group in 2021. 350.org Japan has been engaging with the banks since 2016 and later, members of 350.org Japan began taking part in shareholder proposal actions in 2021. In practice, though their policies remain inadequate, we have managed to get the climate policies of the three megabanks revised and strengthened as a result of these actions.
This year, of the three megabanks, we have been targeting Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (SMBC Group). Like the other megabanks, SMBC Group continues to provide enormous amounts of financing for fossil fuels. The bank is contributing to major fossil fuel development projects with significant negative impacts on the environment and on human rights, such as the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
Investors Support the Shareholder Proposals to SMBC Group
The first of two proposals called on SMBC Group to set short and medium-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and to draw up and disclose business plans that include those targets. This proposal managed to get 27.05% of the votes from shareholders. This was an increase in the rate of support that a motion to the same effect achieved when put forward at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group last year.
The other proposal called on SMBC Group to practice financing and investment in line with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario. There is no room for new fossil fuel supply if we are to meet the Paris 1.5℃ target. As SMBC plays an important role in EACOP and other fossil fuel projects, a change of policy direction is needed. This proposal gained 9.55% of shareholder votes.
Climate Shareholder Proposals Put to SMBC Group and Results of Votes
|Content of Proposal||Percentage Vote in Favor|
|Proposal 1||Set and disclose a business plan that includes short and medium-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement.||27.05%|
|Proposal 2||Lending and underwriting in line with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net Zero Emissions Scenario.||9.55%|
The proportion of issued shares held by the civil society organizations and individual 350.org member shareholders who put forward motions this year amounted to no more than 0.002%. That the motions won 27.05% and 9.55% of votes among all shareholders speaks to the strong impact and leverage that the motions had.
“No company can just ignore the views of over a quarter of its shareholders. Investors are calling on SMBC Group’s board of directors to adopt more proactive policies to tackle the climate crisis in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5℃ warming target,” said 350.org Japan’s Representative Takayoshi Yokoyama.
ESG finance specialists admit the impacts of these climate shareholders’ proposals. Yoshihiro Fujii of the Research Institute for Environmental Finance said of the proposals: “the percentage vote in favor of the NGO proposals was of a very high level in the face of opposition from the bank. I expect this support to continue spreading and, in practice, think that it is spreading.”
Question after Question About Climate Change at the General Shareholders Meeting
The shareholder motions were not only the work of 350.org Japan staff and other NGOs but also enjoyed the involvement of volunteers and a university student who had become shareholders.
“At the SMBC Group general shareholders meeting, there was question after question on climate inaction from the megabank. It got to the point where, part way through, the CEO, Jun Ohta, said there have been a lot of questions about the environment, so could we have some questions about non-environmental matters. It showed that there was a strong interest in climate chaos among shareholders” said Takayo Kasai, one of the citizen volunteers, who joined the shareholder proposals.
350.org Japan Senior Campaigner Eri Watanabe was another co-filer of the proposals. At the general shareholders meeting, Watanabe questioned whether there was a contradiction between SMBC Group’s commitments and its actual business practices, citing the example of EACOP. CEO Ohta responded that “in our position as a financial advisor on EACOP, SMBC Group would seek to correct any irregularities.”
Watanabe stated that “there have already been human rights issues around the project, and the tens of millions of tons of annual CO2 increases by the EACOP are not in line with the Paris Agreement. SMBC Group should resolve to immediately halt its support for the EACOP.”
People Power Spurs Climate Change Shareholder Motions
Climate shareholder motions have been spurred by people power in Japan and across the world.
From January to February this year, 350.org Japan volunteers called the customer centers of the three megabanks, asking them to strengthen their measures to tackle climate disruption. Before the general shareholders’ meetings, 350.org Japan volunteers presented the CEOs of the three megabanks with illustrations of soap. These presents carried the “Wash Up Greenwashing” message.
350.org Japan has also been running a petition to call on the three megabanks, including SMBC Group, to cease all funding of new fossil fuels projects and businesses associated with deforestation, without exception. On the day prior to the general shareholders’ meetings, we presented the CEOs of the three megabanks with petitions outlining our demands, signed by 201 organizations from over 37 countries as well as 2,115 individual signatories.
Fossil Free Japan, an international coalition of environmental NGOs, called for the climate demonstrations against SMBC Group and 16 groups responded and conducted actions across more than 10 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, and the Americas. Through these actions, activists called on the Megabank to stop funding fossil fuels, and on the bank’s shareholders to endorse climate shareholder proposals.
Together with citizens’ peaceful actions, 350.org Japan is promoting decarbonization of financial flows of Japanese megabanks and other financial institutions. The eyes of the world are upon the SMBC Group, how the boards of directors will evaluate these results, and what actions they will take against the backdrop of the broader support for shareholder proposals.
Contact: Masayoshi Iyoda (Communications Coordinator)