Corporate Critics Go Direct

If you want to beat them, join them. That's the basic approach of pressure groups who buy shares in corporations to gain access to annual meetings. Once inside, however, the tactics vary, from the typical -- venting anger and asking awkward questions -- to the creative and sometimes bizarre.At the recent meeting of the British bank Lloyds, for example, protesters demanding debt reduction for developing nations stripped naked to reveal slogans on their bodies. Another group, protesting the arms trade, parked a tank outside a shareholders meeting while one person gained entrance dressed as a pink panther. At other direct actions, demonstrators have rushed stages and handcuffed themselves to microphones.In Britain, the big companies targeted this year include Shell, Rio Tinto Zinz (RTZ), British Aerospace, Lloyds, and the Midland bank. Due to its mining activities in Madagascar and Indonesia, RTZ's May annual meeting was overrun by groups including Friends of the Earth, Survival International, and the World Development Movement.Although most corporate infiltrators harbor little hope of influencing decisions, protests sometimes do lead to private talks or damaging publicity. However, confrontations can also turn nasty. When RTZ protester Phil Rule took his chance to speak out, he recalls, "I got right in front of the chairman and shouted, 'You murdering bastard!' Then about five security guards dragged me away and shoved my head through a partition wall.

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