Corporate disaster: A Steinhoff International Holdings logo on display outside the company’s offices in Stellenbosch, in 2016. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Corporate disaster: A Steinhoff International Holdings logo on display outside the company’s offices in Stellenbosch, in 2016. Picture: BLOOMBERG

The Federation of Unions of SA (Fedusa) and its largest affiliate, the Public Servants Association (PSA), is to visit the Stellenbosch offices of troubled global retailer Steinhoff on Friday, to demand access to the company's records in terms of section 26 of the Companies Act.

The two organisations have an interest in protecting the pension fund investments of their members, the majority of whom are public servants and members of the Government Employees Pension Fund, which invested in Steinhoff through the Public Investment Corporation.

"The Companies Act determines that any person who holds or has a beneficial interest in any securities issued by Steinhoff has a right to inspect and copy the information contained in the records of the company, as well as any other information to the extent granted by the memorandum of incorporation,” Fedusa general secretary Dennis George said in a statement.

“Our attorneys already informed Steinhoff in the prescribed manner and in writing according to the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 about our intended inspection."

He noted that the Companies Act also provided for an inspection of the register of members and register of directors of a company free of charge.

"It is an offence for Steinhoff to fail to accommodate any reasonable request for access, or to unreasonably refuse access, to any record that a person has a right to inspect or copy in terms of section 20 of the Companies Act. The act also makes provision that Steinhoff may not impede, interfere with, or attempt to frustrate, the reasonable exercise by any person of the rights in the Act," George said.

"Since December last year, Steinhoff has been responsible for the biggest corporate scandal to beset our country and the alleged gross lapses in corporate governance, ethics and proper board oversight, have destroyed the company’s share-value to the detriment of creditors, investors and asset managers. Steinhoff’s response to concerns from stakeholders like organised labour, who have substantial amounts investments in the company through worker’s pension funds, at best, has been opaque.

George said: "Fedusa and the PSA believe it is precisely because of corporate arrogance and the lack of transparency and disclosure that Steinhoff now is the subject of investigations into alleged instances of massive fraud, corruption, gross negligence and accounting irregularities by domestic and international regulators.

“We believe it is in the interests of our members’ pension funds, other investors, and in the interest of good corporate governance that Steinhoff and its former and current directors should be properly held to account. All remedies in domestic law must be explored so that we can independently establish the truth about Steinhoff."

PSA assistant GM Leon Gilbert noted that the Companies Act entitled them access to the following specific documents: the memorandum of incorporation, the register of directors, the annual financial statements and reports to annual general meetings, notices and minutes of annual general meetings and the securities register.

"Once we have the documents we will determine what course of action to take," Gilbert said.