Barrick CEO ‘can’t see any reason’ for in-person annual meetings

Barrick Gold Corp.’s chief executive officer says the gold miner will continue to host virtual-only annual general meetings despite calls for public companies to return to an in-person format.

After Barrick hosted its latest virtual-only AGM on Tuesday, CEO Mark Bristow said he “can’t see any reason” to return to in-person sessions. Back when the company was holding in-person annual meetings, they were routinely attended by activists and non-governmental organizations, such as MiningWatch Canada, that have accused Barrick of human rights abuses in Africa.

“This is a hysterical, anti-mining group we’re talking about,” Bristow said Wednesday in an interview. “Our AGMs are first and foremost for our shareholders.”

Dozens of Canada’s largest investors have urged major companies to safeguard shareholder rights by maintaining the in-person component of AGMs amid a rise in remote meetings that began during the Covid-19 pandemic. None of the 60 largest companies on the Toronto stock exchanges held virtual-only annual meetings in 2019, but 57% do now, according to an April open letter from a group of institutional investors, advisers and portfolio managers.

Heated exchange

Barrick, the world’s second-biggest gold mining company, hosted both an in-person and a virtual meeting last year. The in-person meeting included a heated exchange between Bristow and an activist protesting the company’s Reko Diq copper project in Pakistan. On Tuesday, a handful of protesters gathered outside Barrick’s headquarters in downtown Toronto.

“I’m a big believer in open dialogue. I engage with these people,” Bristow said. “But there’s a whole cottage industry built on beating up on international business. No one checks the facts.”

Virtual meetings give executives the chance to vet queries from shareholders, proxy holders and guests. Barrick’s meeting this year required attendants to submit questions via online chat portals, rather than ask executives directly.

Proxy adviser Glass Lewis has raised concerns about the format, warning in a 2021 memo that a shift from traditional to virtual meetings “could lead to the disenfranchisement of shareholders unless companies develop and disclose clear procedures to enable the participation of all shareholders in the virtual meeting and allow for meaningful engagement with the board.”

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