April 20, 2005
Weyerhaeuser To Screen Shareholder Questions at Annual Meeting Tomorrow
by William Baue
Shifting from the standard open-mic Question and Answer format, the CEO will act as gatekeeper for
shareholder questions, a practice viewed by shareholders as restricting their rights.
For the last month, members of the Haida Nation on the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia
have blockaded Weyerhaeuser (ticker: WY) access to two of its
lumberyards in protest over being excluded from decision-making over logging rights on its
ancestral lands. Perhaps to avoid potentially embarrassing questions, tomorrow Weyerhaeuser will
block its shareholders from open access to address management and the Board of Directors at the
company's Annual General Meeting in Federal Way, Washington.
"I called the
company's corporate secretary yesterday and found out that they will break from a long-standing
practice of holding an open-mic Question and Answer period, and instead will require that all
questions be submitted ahead in writing," said Bruce Herbert of Newground Social Investment. "As relayed to me by the
company, no shareholder will be allowed to speak at the meeting--CEO and Chair Steve Rogel will
read and respond to selected questions for 'as long as there is time' and then other questions will
purportedly be answered later in an a written format that has yet to be determined."
Mendizabal, director of media relations for Weyerhaeuser, confirmed this information.
"This change is designed to ensure the meeting is orderly and as many questions as possible are
answered during the meeting," Mr. Mednizabal told SocialFunds.com. "We have received information
that some people may have intended to dominate the Question and Answer period with very narrow
questions to the exclusion of other shareholders opportunity to ask their questions."
Brant Olson, director of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) campaign that seeks to improve
Weyerhaeuser's environmental and social policies and practices, points out that the company is
enacting exactly that which it intends to avoid.
"Limiting the opportunity to speak in
this case is clearly being done by Weyerhaueser," Mr. Olson told SocialFunds.com. "Weyerhaeuser
has a hundred year legacy of disregarding communities and the environment, and this latest move
extends that legacy even to the company's own shareholders."
The controversy between the
Haida Nation and Weyerhaeuser came to a head in February 2005 when the company sold its BC Coast
Group assets, including harvesting rights on Haida lands, to the Brascan Corporation for $970
million without consulting Haida leaders. Both sides advance claims that could be viewed as valid
by an objective, impartial observer. In order to best understand the complicated controversy
between the Haida Nation and Weyerhaeuser and its potential impact on shareholder value, not to
mention many other controversial issues facing the company, shareholders need transparent access to
Larry Dohrs of Newground Social Investments notes the impact of
Weyerhaeuser's new policy on transparency.
"If there are questions from the floor and the
company essentially declines to answer, then that decision is visible to the shareholders at
large," Mr. Dohrs told SocialFunds.com. "If there's a question on a card and the company declines
to respond to it, it's invisible to shareholders that they took that affirmative action to
Mr. Mendizabal of Weyerhaeuser did not respond to SocialFunds.com's
questions about the decision-making process for changing the question and answer protocol, whether
shareholders were consulted, and how the company weighed potential benefits against potential
detriments. He also did not answer where shareholders were informed of the change.
Members of the investment community expressed alarm at the policy change.
"This is not
just troubling, it is completely unacceptable," said Mark Regier, stewardship investing services
manager at MMA Praxis
Mutual Funds, the investment arm of Mennonite Mutual Aid. "Interactivity--being able to see,
hear from, and question your company's leadership on the rare occasion--is the very basis
for live annual meetings and a cornerstone of the concept of shareholder democracy."
"This is the very literal and visual representation of corporate management sticking its head
in the sand to hear only what it wants," he continued.
Damon Silvers, associate general
counsel for the AFL-CIO, expressed the concern
of the country's largest union in a letter to Mr. Rogel, the CEO and Chair.
urges you to conduct the annual meeting of Weyerhaeuser in a manner consistent with your fiduciary
duty to protect the informed exercise of your shareholders' governance rights," Mr. Silvers wrote.
"In our view that includes protecting your shareholders' right to speak candidly and without
management pre-approval to each other and to the board of Weyerhaeuser at the company's annual