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How to be a shareholder activist

Through the ownership of a single share, ordinary people are joining the shareholder activist movement and effecting corporate change on pay, climate change, diversity and more. 

In this short guide, Jake Kroeger from ShareAction explains why you might want to become a shareholder activist, and how.

Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s was in the news in March 2022, as a group of its shareholders filed a ‘resolution’ demanding that the company pay all of its workers the real Living Wage.

Whilst the big institutional investors made the headlines, the campaign would not have been possible without the support of 108 individual shareholders. Distinct from the actors we stereotypically think of as making up the financial system, like banks or investment funds, these individuals play an equally important role influencing some of the biggest players in the global economy.

Shareholder activists are any individuals or organisations with a stake in a company looking to make a difference to the way it’s being run.

Every share counts

Whether knowingly or not, everyone has an impact on the financial system and vice versa.

Companies rely on investment to fund new projects, such as building a wind farm or drilling an oil well. This investment comes from several places, including your pensions, savings accounts, and insurance payments, which are overseen by banks, pension funds and asset managers working to increase their value.

What this means is that we are all linked to the investment system and, by extension, to the companies it invests in. The companies having the biggest impact on the world are funded by us. So, whether you have lots of savings or not, we all live in a world where the consequences of decisions made within the financial system massively affect us and our planet.

Even the largest corporations like BP or Tesco are accountable to their shareholders, including you. That means that we can all push them to do more to protect the environment, reduce poverty, or improve public health.

How do I become a shareholder, and what do I do next?

Having a pensions or savings account isn’t quite sufficient for becoming a shareholder activist: technically the asset manager or bank owns the shares, which doesn’t afford you the same privileges as a shareholder. You can contact your pension scheme and tell them that you expect them to push companies to do more on the issues you care about. But you can also go further by becoming a direct shareholder.

One way to do this is to set up a dealing account and purchase a share. However, even if you’re not in a position to formally buy a share in a publicly listed company, you can borrow one from an organisation such as ShareAction, which holds shares across the businesses that make up the FTSE100.

Holding even a single share in a company gives you the right to attend their Annual General Meeting (AGM). AGMs are a legal requirement for businesses where key decisions are made about a company’s future. At these events, shareholders can ask questions to the board of directors, vote on the re-appointment of directors and their pay packages, and vote on proposals put forward by other shareholders, like the one filed at Sainsbury’s.

This makes AGMs the prime opportunity to put the issues that matter to you on the corporate agenda.

AGM activism

A key campaigning tactic of shareholder activists is to attend meetings and ask the CEO and Board questions that hold the company to account, whether on carbon emissions, healthy products, or gender diversity.

The results speak for themselves: thanks to the pressure of AGM questions, ShareAction and the activists they work with successfully pushed companies like Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey to pay their staff a real Living Wage and convinced organisations like Vodafone and BT to purchase all of their electricity from 100% renewable sources.

Asking AGM questions is effective because of the level of access these meetings provide to the most powerful decision makers in a company. Activists, who are often the only ones asking questions, set an example for the biggest investors – such as our pensions schemes –, which pushes both them and the businesses in their portfolio to do better.

Lianna, Sainsbury’s co-filer said:

“Setting up a dealing account and buying shares was a new experience for me, but it was fairly straightforward. Shareholder activism has what I’d call pretty good ‘bang for your buck’ – a good ratio of effort to impact. You get to put your question directly to executives at the top of a company, who can be quite insulated from other forms of campaigning.”


Hundreds of people can also come together to co-file a ‘resolution’ with a company. This is where all the shareholders get to vote on a new, legally binding company policy, for example to pay all staff a real Living Wage, like with Sainsbury’s, or to pull investments out of fossil fuels.

In the UK, you need at least 100 shareholders to force a vote at a company. Given the logistical challenges of building a coalition from 100 institutional investors like pension funds or asset managers, individual investors are crucial for making these a possibility.

The impact of collective shareholder action cannot be underestimated: in 2021, 117 people filed a resolution that forced HSBC to reduce its fossil fuel investments, and 101 activists filed one that compelled Tesco to set targets to increase its sales of healthy food.

While the 2022 AGM season has just gotten started, this year has already seen remarkable wins for shareholder activism. In March, a resolution backed by 101 individual investors secured an industry-leading commitment on nutrition from global food manufacturing giant Unilever.

David, Tesco and HSBC co-filer said:

“Involvement in shareholder resolutions is one of the greatest impacts I have been able to have. Outside of my purchasing choices, I have little way to ask these big, wealthy multinationals to improve. ShareAction gave me an outlet for my voice, my desire to see companies improve and meet the needs of society and the planet.”

How can you get involved?

If you’d like to have your voice heard by the leaders of the world’s largest companies on the environmental and social issues you care about, you can find out more on the ShareAction resource hub.

You can sign up to receive training to become a shareholder activist and take questions to senior company executives, or register your interest in co-filing a resolution through the ShareAction website.

Our future is being shaped by the financial system, whether we participate in it actively or passively. We all have the power to take up its tools to demand better for our children, communities, and the planet.