South African Unions to Protest Against Steinhoff Ahead of AGM

(Bloomberg) -- South African labor groups plan to protest against Steinhoff International Holdings NV on Friday after being barred from the embattled retailer’s annual general meeting, which is being held in Amsterdam and screened in Cape Town.

The Public Servants Association and the Federation of Unions of South Africa say they represent workers whose pension funds lost billions of rand when Steinhoff’s shares crashed more than 90 percent in December. They wrote to Chairwoman Heather Sonn asking to take part in the AGM to raise their concerns, but the request was denied, according to an emailed statement.

Steinhoff’s AGM marks the first time that the owner of Conforama in France and Pep clothing stores across Africa will face investors since reporting a hole in its accounts. The Public Investment Corp., which manages South African government worker pension funds, was the second-biggest shareholder at the time with a 9 percent stake. Steinhoff has since said it will have to restate financials going back to 2015, while ex-Chief Executive Officer Markus Jooste has been referred to an anti-corruption police unit.

“We have been speaking to the PIC after the chairwoman refused our request that we take part in the meeting,” PSA spokesman Tahir Maepa said by phone. “We want board members to be removed as they are also implicated. The PIC needs to get board seats equal to the equivalent of its shareholding in the company.”

The AGM will be broadcast live at a conference center in Cape Town, and the unions plan to protest outside the building for two hours before the screened event starts at 1 p.m. Steinhoff plans to give an update on the actions taken since December to stabilize its cash position and strengthen corporate governance, according to the agenda. There will also be a review of Steinhoff’s business and strategy, followed by a questions and answers session.

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