A shareholder rebellion against the board of Shell secured a fifth of votes at a stormy annual general meeting on Tuesday where climate protesters tried to rush the stage.
Security staff linked hands to shield chairman Sir Andrew Mackenzie and chief executive Wael Sawan as a handful of activists made for the top table.
Fossil Free London later claimed responsibility for the rush, while several other groups also sang songs and chanted slogans.
“Shut down Shell,” dozens of protesters chanted through most of the first hour, making it almost impossible for Sir Andrew to kick off the meeting on time.
The chaotic scenes at the Excel conference centre in London came as shareholders were asked to vote on Shell’s environmental report.
Most did, but an alternative plan which was proposed by activist investors at Follow This secured 20.2 per cent of the votes, Shell revealed.
“Considering that up to 99 per cent of shareholders voted along with the board on the other 25 resolutions, 20 per cent of support and a significant number of abstentions in spite of a negative board recommendation clearly indicates shareholder discontent,” Follow This founder Mark van Baal said after the meeting.
There were heated exchanges throughout the four-hour event, not just between the board and the protesters, but also with shareholders who wanted the company to do more to cut its environmental impact.
Dozens of protesters were carried out of the room, one still shouting “climate criminals” as three security guards held his arms and legs.
After the stage was stormed around 50 minutes into the meeting, one woman appeared to faint as she was escorted out by security. Another screamed that the three men carrying her out of the room were hurting her.
“Obviously that last incident went a stage further than we experienced in the first part of today,” Sir Andrew said after protesters had been escorted out. He added that people would be removed if they tried to get onto the stage again.
However, the protesters – who had to own Shell shares to get into the building – also managed to frustrate other shareholders in the room. Some shouted “shut up” and “get a job”.
It was not until well over an hour into proceedings that the meeting was able to continue as planned.
Security repeatedly escorted protesters out one at the time. However, one protester was replaced by another, continuing the interruption.
In the confusion, Sir Andrew also mistakenly asked security to remove a non-protesting shareholder who had got up to ask for the meeting to push ahead.
“Are you asking us to start the meeting? I apologise,” he said, to laughter from the room.
Early in the meeting, a group of protesters sang: “Go to hell Shell and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more” to the tune of the Ray Charles song “Hit The Road Jack”.
The first protester to get up shouted: “Welcome to Shell… complicit in the destruction of people’s homes, livelihoods and lives. Welcome to hell.”
He added: “I refuse to accept your hell on earth. Board members, directors and shareholders, I’m here to demand that you shut down Shell.” He also said: “The sea levels are rising, and so are the people.”
As the meeting wore on the audience thinned out as protesters were removed.
After a couple of hours shareholders were able to ask questions, many focusing on Shell’s history of pollution and what they argue are its insufficient plans to lower emissions.
Turning his back on the board, Follow This’s Mr Van Baal said that his plan would make Shell’s climate ambitions clearer and stronger.
“I will not waste any more time, I will not waste anyone’s time today in trying to convince the board,” he said, with his back to Sir Andrew and Mr Sawan.
“Instead I will address our fellow shareholders: Dear shareholders, your board is only determined to cling to hydrocarbons because you, shareholders, allow them to do so. Because you shareholders continue to vote against change.”
But Sir Andrew argued that Mr Van Baal’s plan would harm, rather than help, Shell’s ability to “help the world”.
The targets it contained would “weaken our business”, he added. “It would force us to reduce the numbers of customers we serve, and most important who we hope to decarbonise,” he told shareholders.
“It would reduce our ability to help the world through our decarbonised products to cut carbon emissions.”
He asked shareholders to vote against the resolution.
According to the results, they heeded his advice, yet a not insignificant number of them voted to kick him off the board.
Shell said that 6.9 per cent of shareholder votes had been cast against Sir Andrew’s re-election, while 5.3 per cent voted against the pay packages that the top executives were handed last year.