World's biggest fund will use its power to end boardroom greed

Norway's sovereign wealth fund - which has billions invested around the globe - will break its silence on excessive salaries. Photo / Getty Images
Norway's sovereign wealth fund - which has billions invested around the globe - will break its silence on excessive salaries. Photo / Getty Images

The world's biggest fund is to use its huge influence to vote against fat cat pay and boardroom bad behaviour.

Norway's sovereign wealth fund - which has £595bn ($NZ1,240 billion) invested around the globe - will break its silence on excessive salaries at major companies and plans to shame the top payers.

It is a highly important move as the fund holds a stake in most of the world's biggest firms.

Last week the fund took the first steps towards a more active role on pay when it voted against a bonus plan at mining firm Weir that would have seen directors get a huge pay-off regardless how the company performed. It also voted against the £7.2m pay of Anglo American boss Mark Cutifani.

Now, in a sign it is planning more revolts, its chief executive Yngve Slyngstad has said: 'Due to the way the issue of executive remuneration has developed, we will have to look at what is appropriate.'

However, the fund voted in favour of the £13.8m pay packet of BP chief executive Bob Dudley, despite almost half of other shareholders rejecting it.

If the Norway wealth fund, which was built up from the billions the country has made from its oil reserves, switched its position it would be a major fillip for investment groups trying to rally support ahead of next year's annual general meeting season.

Of the revolts by shareholders this year, only the one by Weir has been binding on the company. This is because investors only get to turn down the pay packages of executives once every four years.

In intervening years the vote is not binding. In 2017 the majority of FTSE 100 firms face a binding vote.

Meanwhile, the politician who masterminded the last series of shareholder reforms, Vince Cable, has called for further action, including employee approval of executive pay and the publication of shareholder voting decisions.

Cable who led governance changes when he was business secretary in 2012, hit out at recent pay awards.

He said: 'What we have seen - with the example of Dudley's pay - is that companies are putting two fingers up to their own shareholders. Investors have more power now. They can block the pay policy. But there are further steps that should be considered.'

BP Group Chief Executive Bob Dudley. Photo / AP
BP Group Chief Executive Bob Dudley. Photo / AP

He said measures that he considered but did not pursue back in 2012 should be looked at again.

Employee votes on executive pay should be reassessed. He said: 'This could obviously be difficult as some UK-listed firms have many employees overseas, such as mining companies, but it could certainly be looked at.

'The European model, such as a works council, shows it is possible. These large companies should consult their workers.'

Some investors agree with Cable. At BP's annual meeting earlier this month, independent shareholder Grace Smith said: 'We know that the executive directors and non-executive directors belong to the same elite.

'I would challenge the board to take a leap.

'Will you open up the remuneration committee to include meaningful workforce representation?'

High Pay Centre director Stefan Stern said: 'Any bonuses should be tied to a much broader range of indicators and based on the discretion of the remuneration committee.

And, of course, having "normal" people in the room, i.e. employee representatives, would help keep the discussion grounded and based in reality.'

Cable also said other measures could be taken.

He added: 'I would like to see that it becomes obligatory for shareholders to register how they vote online.

'I would like to see it a requirement for corporate governance.

'If investors had to declare how they voted it would put pressure on fund managers to be held to account. This would give an added twist to get investors engaged.'

- Daily Mail

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