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RPT-Tyson Foods to face investor pressure over lobbying, human rights at shareholder meeting

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Tom Polansek
·2 min read
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(Repeats story published on Wednesday.)

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Tyson Foods Inc facespressure from nuns, the Teamsters union and asset managers todisclose more about its lobbying and human-rights policies,after meatpacking workers were ravaged by COVID-19 last year.

Investors at Tyson's annual meeting on Thursday will vote onshareholder proposals asking the largest U.S. meatpacker bysales to prepare separate reports on political contributions andworker protections. Another shareholder proposal calls for aplan to end a dual-class share structure under which the Tysonfamily has voting power over about 71% of the company'soutstanding stock, according to regulatory filings.

The family's voting power will likely mean the proposalsfail, but the meeting to be held after Tyson earnings arereleased on Thursday highlights widening calls for meatcompanies to answer for complaints brought about by thepandemic.

Influential proxy advisory firms Glass Lewis andInstitutional Shareholder Services recommend investors supportall three measures.

Twenty-two religious organizations and BMO Asset Managementare pushing the proposal for a report on the human-rightsimpacts of Tyson's business, according to filings with theSecurities and Exchange Commission.

Among the supporters is Sister Judy Sinnwell, chair ofsocially responsible investing for the Sisters of St. Francis inDubuque, Iowa. She said she believes Tyson workers did notreceive adequate warnings about COVID-19 or protection from thevirus.

"COVID made it really, really visible that workers were nottaken care of," Sinnwell, 78, said in a phone interview.

Tyson said employee health is its top priority and that italready has policies to protect human rights, making anadditional report unnecessary. The company said it spent $540million on COVID-19-related costs in fiscal-year 2020, includingabout $300 million on bonuses for workers, and has taken stepsto protect them from the coronavirus.

The company was sued last week for allegedly defraudingshareholders about its ability to combat the spread of thevirus.

In December, Tyson fired seven managers at an Iowa porkplant after investigating allegations that they took bets on howmany employees would catch COVID-19.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which representssome Tyson workers, submitted the shareholder proposal urgingTyson to expand lobbying disclosures.

The union wants more information about Tyson's payments totrade organizations, after an industry group lobbied the Trumpadministration to waive limits on slaughtering speeds in chickenplants last year, said Louis Malizia, assistant director of theTeamsters' capital strategies.

The meat sector also supported an order from formerPresident Donald Trump last year to keep slaughterhouses open,despite concerns about coronavirus outbreaks.

Tyson said trade associations address issues that canbenefit the company and that its political contributions arereported in accordance with applicable laws.

The company said its dual-class share structure increasesthe Tyson family's interest in the company's long-term success,providing stability during the pandemic and other crises.

Institutional Shareholder Services said equal voting rightswould make Tyson's board more accountable.(Reporting by Tom Polansek in ChicagoEditing by Matthew Lewis)