April 17, 2015 / 6:59 PM / 3 years ago

Barrick Gold's board faces backlash over executive pay at AGM

TORONTO, April 17 (Reuters) - Barrick Gold Corp faces a fresh backlash over executive pay at its shareholder meeting this month, with some big institutions planning to vote against its compensation plan and withhold votes for directors to express their unhappiness.

Two major Canadian pension funds, the British Columbia Investment Management Corp (BCIMC) and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, said on Friday that they plan to withhold support for the entire board in light of their concerns with Barrick’s executive compensation package.

Closely followed proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis last week recommended shareholders vote against an advisory vote on Barrick’s executive pay plan, but recommended voting in favor of its directors.

Barrick introduced a new compensation program last year after a shareholder outcry in 2013, but the company’s recent disclosure that Executive Chair John Thornton was paid $12.9 million in 2014 unleashed fresh complaints.

“We have now lost confidence in the ability of the directors to effectively exercise their duties to our level of satisfaction,” Ontario Teachers’ said in a statement, adding it was unhappy with the compensation program and lack of operational mining expertise on the board.

BCIMC, based in Victoria, British Columbia, said it was registering its concerns by voting against all nominees, as it believes the board has not been responsive.

Barrick spokesman Andy Lloyd downplayed the decision of the two pension funds, noting that they own less than 1 percent of Barrick’s shares.

“We’re measuring our leaders against a long-term scorecard designed to drive superior returns for the company’s owners under wide-ranging market conditions,” he said.

Barrick contends that with its new pay structure, its senior leaders' personal wealth is directly tied to the company's long-term success. (bit.ly/1GUbZ9I)

But other investors have expressed discontent. A source at a third pension fund, who declined to speak on the record, said the fund was considering whether to hold the board or compensation committee accountable by withholding votes.

The shareholders meeting will be held April 28.

In addition, a fund manager holding Barrick shares, who asked not to be named as it is against his firm’s policy to comment on these matters, expressed concern that some shareholders may start exiting the stock.

The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Canada’s second-largest pension fund, this week disclosed that it had exited the stock. Caisse, which had publicly slammed Barrick back in 2013, declined to comment on the stock sale. (Reporting by Euan Rocha, Susan Taylor and John Tilak in Toronto, and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Leslie Adler)

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