Shareholder Sustainability Activism in the Netherlands

28 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2018  

Anne Lafarre

Tilburg University

Christoph Van der Elst

Tilburg Law School; Ghent University-Universiteit Gent - Department of Business Law

Date Written: April 2018


Corporations play a crucial role in achieving a sustainable world. In achieving corporate sustainability, the current regulatory frameworks generally emphasize the role of the corporate board. However, today’s media suggest that institutional investors are becoming more involved with corporate sustainability. In this study, we explore the actual role of shareholders as an important class of corporate actors in promoting corporate sustainability in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands it is common practice for companies to disclose full transcripts of their meetings on their websites, including shareholder questions. We studied shareholder activism on corporate sustainability in 764 AGMs of Dutch listed companies and found that, despite the lack of mandatory regulation and the use of shareholder proposals, shareholders in the Netherlands, including institutional investors, seem to increasingly care about corporate sustainability issues. We found that the share of questions and remarks of institutional investors related to corporate sustainability matters increased from close to two percent in 2004 to almost twenty percent in 2017. Taking into account the large variety of topics shareholders may ask questions about, including remuneration matters, the corporate strategy, board elections, dividend policies, auditing, and so on, twenty percent is substantial. Despite the increasing interest of institutional investors regarding corporate sustainability matters, institutional investors’ use of the forum right in AGMs is still low. Since these investors and larger shareholders often make use of other, private activist tools, further research as to whether the use of other shareholder tools for advocating corporate sustainability goals has increased too is important.

Keywords: shareholders, shareholder activism, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance question right, general meeting

JEL Classification: A13, D22, D23, G34, G38, K22, M14, O16

Suggested Citation

Lafarre, Anne and Van der Elst, Christoph, Shareholder Sustainability Activism in the Netherlands (April 2018). European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) - Law Working Paper No. 396/2018. Available at SSRN: or

Anne Lafarre

Tilburg University ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
Tilburg, DC 5000 LE

Christoph Van der Elst (Contact Author)

Tilburg Law School ( email )

Tilburg, 5000 LE

Ghent University-Universiteit Gent - Department of Business Law ( email )

Universiteitstraat 4
Gent, B-9000

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