Barclays is braced for a stormy annual shareholder meeting on Thursday with protesters pledging to question its role in tax havens, funding of coal mines and the £9bn of bonuses paid out to its investment bankers since the financial crisis.
Amid warnings from the business secretary, Vince Cable, that major companies need to do more to improve their public image over pay deals, Barclays is expected to face scrutiny from shareholders over its decision to increase bonuses by 10% to £2.4bn in 2013 even though its profits fell by 32%.
Figures compiled by the Robin Hood Tax campaign, which wants a tax on financial institutions, showed that Barclays had paid out £9bn in bonuses to investment bankers since 2009.
David Hillman, spokesman for the campaign, said: "It is stomach-churning to think that in the five scandal-ridden years since the crisis Barclays has doled out such grotesque levels of pay to their privileged few."
Tom Fyans, head of campaigns for ActionAid, said: "The winners at this year's AGM are likely to be Barclays' hugely expensive fleet of investment bankers who plan to award themselves millions of pounds in bonuses. But the losers will be people in some of the world's poorest countries."
Barclays is disputing ActionAid's assertions that it promotes the use of tax havens. The bank faces three votes on pay: one on its remuneration report which covers last year's £2.4bn payments, one on its pay policies for the coming three years, and a third to comply with the EU's cap on bonuses – which forces banks to get shareholder approval to pay a bonus worth more than a single multiple of salary. With approval the bonus can be double.
Barclays is the first UK bank to test investors' appetite for such payouts at its annual meeting, but it will be followed by all its rivals, including Royal Bank of Scotland which is expected to set out how it will tackle the bonus cap.
Last year just 6% of investors failed to back the remuneration report at Barclays after the new top team that was brought in after the Libor-rigging scandal pledged to cut back on bonuses.
This year the vote on the remuneration report is thought to be the most contentious.
Sir David Walker, the chairman, who is expected to leave next year, had pledged to crack down on pay. But for 2013 he and the chief executive, Antony Jenkins, have been criticised for increasing bonuses again, a move Jenkins claimed was necessary to avoid a "death spiral" that would be caused by its bankers defecting to rivals.
Barclays has already announced that the board director who chairs the remuneration committee, Sir John Sutherland, is being replaced by City veteran Crawford Gillies from next month. Some investors had threatened to protest against Sutherland continuing in the role. The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum questioned why he was leading the search for a successor to Walker, who was parachuted in as chairman in the wake of the Libor scandal.
Cable singled out Barclays when he told the BBC this week that trust in companies had been lost because of high pay deals.
"This is an opportunity for these companies to make peace with the public," said Cable, who has written to the chairs of remuneration committees to urge them to rein in pay.
His calls came as the body that oversees corporate governance codes began consulting on ways to encourage remuneration committees to put more emphasis on linking pay to performance.
The Financial Reporting Council also asked for views on companies being able to recover or withhold bonuses from top directors and to explain when publishing the votes at annual meetings how they intend to head off any rebellions in the future.
Stephen Haddrill, head of the FRC, said: "These proposals, which reflect the views of investors and others on earlier consultations, are intended to encourage boards to focus on the longer term, and increase their accountability to shareholders."
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