Advocating for Corporate Accountability

With the support of Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), Atkinson’s Executive Director Colette Murphy filed a Restaurant Brands International (RBI) shareholder proposal on decent work practices at the company’s annual general meeting on June 10, 2020. Thirty-six per cent of shareholders voted in favour of the motion — ten per cent higher than a similar proposal received last year. Almost ten per cent voted against the current Board Chair to convey dissatisfaction with the company’s unresponsiveness. What follows are Colette’s remarks.

My name is Colette Murphy. I am the Executive Director of the Atkinson Foundation, the filer of this proposal. Atkinson is a 78-year old charitable foundation. We exist to promote social and economic justice. We make grants, advocate and invest with one purpose in mind: creating decent work and a fair economy.

By decent work we mean many things. Fair wages, safe work conditions, and dignity at work are prerequisites for an inclusive, sustainable, and productive economy. As a shareholder with over $90 million in assets, including a stake in Restaurant Brands International we have an interest in how our investments are delivering a return on these goals. The values and objectives of our philanthropic work are aligned with our investment portfolio.

And we want to see the companies we own succeed.  A responsible approach to human capital management – including board level oversight – is critical to the success of a company like RBI – to any company. Shareholders agree. Last year, we brought this same proposal to this meeting, and sixty-six per cent of independent shareholders supported it, about a quarter of all shareholders.  

The success and reputation of RBI’s business depends on a highly-engaged workforce and strong franchisee relationships.  In the last few years numerous highly public incidents at RBI franchises have raised red flags about the quality of workforce management, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In most instances, RBI franchisees are the direct employer. But RBI is responsible for providing standards, guidance and support to franchisees for consistent human capital management  As an investor, it’s unclear from disclosed information how RBI supports franchisees to this end.

Since last meeting, we have tried to engage the company about the steps the board and management can take in response to shareholders’ concerns.

As an investor in the company, and as a proponent for decent work, I’m disappointed the company has refused to engage in any meaningful way about the issues we’ve raised. That’s why we have brought this proposal back before you today. That’s also why we have recommended shareholders let the board chair know how dissatisfied shareholders are with the board’s inaction.

Fellow shareholders, I so move the proposal. I ask for your support. I look forward to more constructive engagement with the company in the coming months. I’m sure we can all agree that RBI’s future prosperity must be built on a foundation of decent work and responsible human capital management.