We have been campaigning hard to persuade British Airways to stop selling trips to SeaWorld and on 18 June, we took our message to the heart of the company by attending the annual shareholders meeting of BA’s parent organisation, IAG, in Madrid.
Approximately 200 shareholders attended in person with many more participating by webcast to hear WDC’s Rob Lott and WDC supporter and change.org petition starter, Kathleen Haase ask two questions of the IAG Board which included its CEO, Willie Walsh and its President, Antonio Vazquez Romero.
Our strong message went out to the influential Board members and shareholders with a combined stake in the company in excess of €1 billion.
Both Kathleen and Rob were allowed five minutes to directly address the Board and IAG’s shareholders. Kathleen spoke first and addressed the public opinion and reputational argument. This was followed by Rob’s question outlining SeaWorld’s disastrous financial and PR performance since the launch of the BAFTA-nominated documentary, Blackfish.
Rob finished his question by asking the Board to reconsider IAG’s ongoing business partnership with SeaWorld in the same way other corporations have done such as Southwest Airlines, Mattel and Virgin America which have pared back or ended their sales and marketing initiatives with this outdated and failing organisation.
Some applause from the gathered audience resonated well as Kathleen and Rob were two of only five shareholders who took to the floor with questions. There was no doubt in their minds that if there were any people in the room unaware of IAG’s controversial partnership then they were now informed and educated on the issue.
The President of IAG – after earlier talking about the company’s Social Responsibility Policy - then addressed our concerns directly. Having had no longer than an hour to digest our transcript, Rob and Kathleen were surprised at the detailed reply they received. Rob reported that,
'whilst thanking us for bringing this issue to the attention of IAG’s senior management and shareholders (and also praising us for the research that had gone in to our work), Senor Romero stated that SeaWorld hasn’t captured a wild orca in over 30 years and that the business today exceeds minimum standards for keeping whales and dolphins captive. He also referred to ABTA’s guidelines which, of course, WDC strongly refutes as evidenced in our current petition.'
The President did go on to say that they will continue to keep the issue on their radar and will, of course, look out for any future developments.
The meeting ran for approximately two hours and then the Board departed through a separate exit to attend a Board meeting and Willie Walsh was kept away from all shareholders and our request for further dialogue with some potential onside Directors was reluctantly denied due to other pressing company engagements.
On exiting the venue, Rob and Katy had the opportunity to engage with other private shareholders and distribute our flyers with the salient points from both questions.
Thank you to all our supporters who so generously provided the funds for us to do this work, and thank you to the 271,000 of you who signed our petition.