Are you playing your part in the 'Shareholder Spring'?
In recent weeks, we've seen a number of encouraging victories for shareholder democracy, most recently the 60% vote against the remuneration report at advertising giant WPP (LSE: WPP).
While it's yet unclear what impact the vote will have on Sir Martin Sorrell -- the vote isn't binding -- the current so-called 'Shareholder Spring' has certainly seen such protests prove terminal for the jobs of other chief executives.
At insurance and investment firm Aviva (LSE: AV), for instance, chief executive Andrew Moss fell on his sword. At Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI), it was the turn of Sly Bailey to go. And at AstraZeneca (LSE: AZN), David Brennan.
Elsewhere, as at Barclays (LSE: BARC), for instance, shareholders delivered a bloody nose, but those at the top kept their jobs. In the case of Barclays, one well-known Fool was actually interviewed on television, expressing disquiet. All credit to shareholder action group ShareSoc for its role in this, too.
At which point, I have a confession to make. And it's a confession prompted by a recent post on our discussion boards.
Namely, that in these and other shareholder revolts -- such as the recent defence of shareholder rights and value at Lees Foods (LSE: LEE) -- significant numbers of private investors, myself included, haven't voted. And not necessarily through apathy.
That's because many of us hold our shares through 'nominee holdings' at execution-only online stockbrokers and the like. And, as such, we don't receive voting papers.
In fact, I'm ashamed to say, apart from my direct holding in investment trust Scottish Mortgage (LSE: SMT), where I'm physically sent voting papers in the post, I haven't voted in years.
In short, I've resolved that this should change. Not that I expect my holdings in giants such as GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK), Tesco (LSE: TSCO), Unilever (LSE: ULVR) or BAE Systems (LSE: BA) to be big enough to be able to influence matters one way or another.
But because -- as with democracy in general -- it's not necessary for there to be a majority for those at the top to pick up a groundswell of opinion.
And while most of the time there isn't a great deal to have an opinion about, with votes often being concerned with matters such as the re-election of directors, I did have an opinion at Aviva, but wasn't able to express it, despite being a shareholder.
What to do?
Individuals' circumstances vary, as do the workings of their online execution-only brokerages. I can only tell you what I've done, based on what I've found out from my principal broker.
Simply put, one has to register to vote, in the same way that one has to register for shareholders' perks. Register, and you'll get the vote, along with the relevant papers. Don't, and you won't.
And for those of you who use the Motley Fool Share Dealing Service, I can tell you that those provisions apply there, too.
Elsewhere, there's excellent guidance and advice contained on this handy ShareSoc page -- along with an online 'e-petition' seeking an improvement in the way these things are managed.
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> Malcolm owns shares in Aviva, AstraZeneca, Scottish Mortgage, GlaxoSmithKline, Tesco, Unilever and BAE Systems. The Motley Fool owns shares in Tesco.