ShareAction and refugees at the Astra Zeneca AGM

Here’s Tom’s report of the Astra Zeneca AGM on 29 April 2016, which he attended on behalf of ShareAction. 

‘Companies work and live in the societies they serve’ is a good maxim for corporate giants to remember. It was, word for word, part of the Chair of Astra Zeneca’s board, Leif Johansson’s, response to my question on helping refugees at the company’s AGM in April, 2016.

Representing ShareAction, I asked how the company could best help communities across Europe respond to the current crisis. Could they provide medicines and kit to help organisations serve destitute refugees with nowhere else to turn? Could they recruit appropriately skilled and properly settled refugees into their talent pool? Specifically, would they engage positively with a UNHCR initiative to coordinate corporate responses to the challenge that those fleeing Syria now present?

‘Yes’ was, in short, their answer. The Swedish Chairman stated that Sweden had accepted more refugees per head of population than any other European country to date, and that Astra Zeneca was already involved in initiatives both there and in France. After the meeting I touched base with a couple of senior people before handing over to ShareAction to take the relationship forward – and make sure that the UNHCR invitation gets sent.

Earlier, I’d congratulated the company on adopting the UK Living Wage. Whilst possibly few of their UK workforce needed that boost it was good to see a company make such a commitment just as Government is demanding a lower standard of pay, dignity and engagement than the ‘official’ Living Wage campaign advocates.

Another questioner raised executive pay; later, I voted on ShareAction’s behalf against the doubling of senior executive salaries (which had been endorsed by a previous AGM). The final 5 of the 13 largely technical questions opposed a new research centre in Cambridge where drugs could be tested on animals, also the subject of a two-person demonstration outside the west end hotel where we were meeting.

Astra Zeneca makes a commercial success out of developing a wide range of medicines which modern society needs. That commitment links to a wider appreciation of corporate responsibility which they can afford to discharge positively, not least in helping those who are arriving in Europe in such numbers, fearing for their lives.