As a taxpayer, I now own a large portion of Citi – and so do you for that matter. But since I have the dual honor of being a taxpayer and a campaigner trying to get Citi to stop financing global warming – I made the trip to New York to attend the shareholder meeting. Outside, I was greeted by 40 protesters lining the streets with placards and banners decrying Citi’s financing of coal. Shareholders were stopping to say things like: “we’re with you” and pressing tickets to the meeting into the hands of the activists. Inside, the meeting was a long and bloody affair, lasting well into the afternoon and so resembling an angry mob scene that I was surprised not to see pitchforks and flaming torches.
When it finally came time for general questions from the floor, the intrepid Stephanie Pistello from Appalachian Voices, rose and passionately informed Mr Pandit that Citi’s continued financing of Mountaintop Removal was destroying her culture and heritage, not to mention the land. Vikram agreed completely he said. And, he said, “he can assure you that I take this very seriously and that we are holding companies to a very high standard of due diligence”.
” I would be reassured,” Stephanie replied “if Citi would stop financing Mountaintop Removal. Can you promise me that?”
Vikram didn’t appear to have heard the question (or his teleprompter was skipping) because he just repeated what he had said before and then looked helplessly at the meeting chair, who called on the next person. Which happened to be me.
“Hi” I said. “I’m the person who at this very meeting last year, invited you to come on a flyover of Appalachia with me to see the impacts of Citi’s financing“. Vikram said that he remembered me. In fact, he said that it was good to see me. (Really?) “That’s all very well and good” I replied “but you never did come on a flyover with me, and I’m a little worried that this concern about MTR you profess to have doesn’t really translate into action”.
Wait for it…..
“I can assure you” he said (here we go, I thought) “that we are holding these companies to the absolute best practices…..”
At which point I cut him off.
“With all due respect Mr Pandit, I don’t think there is a best practice for blowing the tops off mountains”.
He paused. He looked down at the floor, then up at the ceiling.
“You may very well be right.” he finally said.
The room went silent. But then after a moment he snapped back to attention and started in again with the ‘I can assure you’ routine. For a second there though, I think he knew, really knew, that there is only one acceptable way to deal with MTR. Which is…..to stop it. Which means….stop financing it.
Will Citi stop financing MTR? From that meeting, I don’t feel reassured, despite Vikram’s best attempts to do just that. Since last years shareholder meeting where we first raised the issue with them, Citi has, to their credit, started to investigate their MTR client relationships – which is a start. But as a taxpayer with a 36% stake in Citi, I know that we have an unprecedented opportunity to hold Citi accountable for their destructive financing of dirty energy and to demand in a new era of clean, green investments.
And I can assure you Mr. Pandit, that we will be.