Sasol saga: Should protesters have a free pass to disrupt the lives of others – and formal lawful proceedings?
Sasol’s AGM was cancelled on Friday, 17 November, when a group of protesters stormed the stage in the meeting room where Sasol’s chair and directors were getting ready to address shareholders at the group’s headquarters in Johannesburg.
Environmental grouping Extinction Rebellion confirmed to Moneyweb that it staged the protest at the AGM. Organiser of the event Malik Dasoo says the protest action was successful. “It was the first time an AGM in SA was disrupted in such a way. It is significant.”
Sasol vs Extinction Rebellion
Extinction Rebellion is concerned about Sasol’s emissions of greenhouse gases.
Dasoo says Sasol is not doing enough to reduce CO2 emissions and “has missed every single target” it has set for itself.
Legislation requires that companies call a shareholders’ meeting every year with a list of regulations, protocols, discussions and decisions that shareholders must approve by way of voting.
Actually reserved for shareholders, big companies usually welcome other stakeholders too.
However, only shareholders can vote.
Shareholders can also give a proxy to any other party to attend an AGM and ask questions and vote on their behalf.
Dasoo says Extinction Rebellion got 15 shares from a shareholder to get into the meeting, and that it might disrupt the next AGM too “if they let us in again”.
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Not always written down and read out to shareholders, company management and other attendees expect good manners and decency during a meeting where important matters are discussed. After all, Sasol is a R142 billion company generating R290 billion in sales and employing more than 30 000 people.
Sasol says in a statement that its chair accommodated the protesters and went further by inviting them to a meeting with representatives of the board, which was declined.
“Once it became clear that the protesters would not accommodate the effective participation of other shareholders, cancelling the meeting became the only prudent option, as the chairman was inhibited from effectively communicating with the shareholders present at the meeting,” according to the statement.
“The protesters voluntarily dispersed without any incident after the meeting was cancelled.”
Sasol chair Stephen Westwell says Sasol regrets the inconvenience caused to other shareholders by the disruption.
Sasol said in a formal statement that a new date will have to be set.
Bullying from behind a veil
Protesters have made bullying tactics their weapon of choice, whether it is Just Stop Oil protesters glueing themselves to roads to disrupt traffic or 15 Extinction Rebellion activists shouting down a meeting that is required by law.
Dasoo admitted to Moneyweb that he realises that it is a lawful requirement that companies call an AGM and that its protest prevented this.
“There is always an element of breaking the law when protesting,” he says, adding that this is “made clear to all participants”.
The SA grouping of Extinction Rebellion describes itself as a grouping of individuals, apparently avoiding a formal structure.
“We organise in small groups. These groups are connected in a complex web that is constantly evolving as we grow and learn. We are working to build a movement that is participatory, decentralised and inclusive,” according to the group’s SA website.
“We are based on autonomy and decentralisation. We collectively create the structures we need to challenge power. Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Extinction Rebellion,” it says.
:“At the core of Extinction Rebellion’s philosophy is non-violent civil disobedience. We promote rebellion because we think it is necessary. We are asking people to find the courage to do collectively what is necessary to bring about systemic change.”
The group’s informal structure creates an effective barrier to avoid the consequences of the group’s actions.
When disrupting traffic causes the death of a baby, for example, there is no formal entity or any organisational head to take to task.
It is very difficult for a company like Sasol to hold an individual liable or forcibly evict 15 protesters from a meeting, because then big bad Sasol will be portrayed as a violent bully attacking a peaceful mother who cares about the future of her small daughter.
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Products: SA ‘still needs Sasol’
While Sasol admits that its plans to cut carbon emissions are taking longer to implement than planned, it regularly repeats its commitment to doing better.
Its big shareholders are also watching – such as Ninety One, which is using the clout of its R2 831 billion in assets under management to motivate change.
Ninety One stated before Sasol’s AGM that it would vote against the company’s climate report, in accordance with the asset manager’s strategy to engage with companies on climate change issues rather than reducing its investments and not being able to communicate constructively.
SA still needs Sasol. It produces the basic compounds and chemicals that sustain life as we know it.
Sasol’s plastics and compounds are used to manufacture water pipes, toothbrushes and the plastic tubes toothpaste comes in, as well as the 110 millimetre sewage pipe connected to the toilet.
The same goes for water tanks that we use to go green, and earthworm farms to reduce fertiliser use.
Laptops and cellphones used to organise protests and the paint used on protesters’ signs all contain plastic and chemicals, either made by Sasol from coal or by one of its competitors from oil.
Meanwhile, activists are claiming victory for the effect of their disruptive actions. Dasoo says protesting and disruption are necessary to force change. “Sasol does not realise what they are doing. Sasol is preventing change,” he says.
Meeting with Sasol and listening to its experienced chemical engineers will apparently not achieve anything.
This article was republished from Moneyweb. Read the original here.
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