Shareholder groups are increasingly going beyond the decision to invest, not to invest, or to divest by proposing and voting on company specific corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues at annual shareholder meetings. This activity is joined by an increasingly sophisticated ‘strategy of engagement’ by both shareholders and companies. In the process, a model of investor capitalism based on ‘responsible ownership’ is being forged that addresses social and environmental issues previously outside the domain of most shareholders. This paper traces a historical perspective on the growth and spread of shareholder activism, describes the key actors currently involved in this activity, illustrates the CSR issues being raised, explains the process of preparing resolutions and entering into dialogue, assesses some of the results gained so far and lays a conceptual foundation to help analyse the effectiveness of shareholder activism and assess the viability of models of ‘shareholder democracy’. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.