This week we attended the UN’s PRI Digital Forum, where many topics related to ESG were discussed. We wanted to share what we think are the highlights of three of the meetings we joined.
SHAREHOLDER ENGAGEMENT IN THE US: POLICY UPDATE (POST-ELECTION)
How do you think changes in US policy in ESG and active ownership will impact your activities? What are your policy priorities and how would a Republican senate affect them?
Peter Reali – Nuveen
- Have not dramatically changed our approach to the ESG integration process nor stewardship activities.
- We are going to continue along the path we’ve been on for a long time.
- We will likely see increased climate transparency and stress testing going forward.
Cory Klemmer – Domini Impact Investments
- Some recent policies, if unchanged, would have a negative impact in the overall ecosystem in the longer term: Proxy voting issues, hindering the development of infrastructure and standardization, pushing small investors around/out, etc.
- The factors that are used to measure a good workforce are the same vs what tthey were in the 90s (when the first guidelines were written). The data has improved, there is more to look at. Factors should catch up.
- Ecological and worker issues are gaining relevance. ESG is now seen as part of systemic risk.
James Andrus – CalPERS
- Pension plans require shareholder engagement in ESG issues.
- The initial impact of poor policy seems small, but it can slowly intoxicate the environment of ESG.
- We deal with rules in the ecosystem where we work: human capital, racial justice, systemic risk.
- The pandemic has given focus to human capital, showing it’s not a political issue, but a humanitarian one. The stress coming from it has pushed employees to be more vocal in telling the truth about their labor conditions.
DRIVING MEANINGFUL DATA
Aaron Bennett – Jarislowsky Fraser
- There is a systemic element with ESG risks, and we need disclosure in more than just emissions
- Substantial group in Canadian asset managers involved with Climate100+ and saw its success, but it only caught some companies. This is a good framework that can be adapted to regional markets.
Catherine Banat – RBC Global Asset Mgmt
- The trend in the US is markets are driving change, coming from investors and customers.
- We as investors are demanding that corps provide a lot of data. In particular, there has been a lot of interest in S data in recent months.
- Even when you standardize inputs, outcomes are different. The needs of each client are different.
- SDG reporting is helping standardize because of its universality.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION: THE MYTH OF MERITOCRACY
- One of the key obstacles to diversity is existing social bias.
- In corporate America, women represent 40% workforce, of which women of color only account for 18% of the female total.
- Studies show that white sounding names have 50% more callbacks in job interviews.
- Discrimination is uniform across all industries, regardless of the companies saying that they are diverse.
Camilla Sutton – Women in Capital Markets
So far, diversity efforts have been focused on training individuals belonging to minorities. This is changing over to address systemic discrimination:
Firms leading the diversity fight are doing 6 core pieces of work:
- Holding themselves accountable, recognizing structural inequities
- Increasing equity literacy (not the same as unconscious bias training), teaching the difference between equity and equality, race, etc.
- Measurement, reporting, and transparency: focusing on getting the right data across gender, race, sexual orientation, and more in the company
- Targets: where do we want to go, be specific.
- Reducing focus on individual: focusing on the system itself. What is creating a structural, systemic barrier, recruiting, feedback, promotions?
- Ensuring firms are free from harassment or discrimination with a zero-tolerance policy.
The recordings of the event will be available soon, and for anyone who wants to dig deeper into any of these topics (or the other topics discussed during the forum), we recommend you see them. Many of these discussions are not new, but the recent US election definitely fine tunes some topics and the most recent views from some of the most relevant participants in the discussion are always interesting to hear. A Joe Biden administration will very likely be more pro-ESG than the Trump administration has been. We should therefore expect that regulations and momentum will be in favor of more ESG reporting. Some further reading on this here.
I hope you found this interesting. As usual, if there is anything we can help you with, please reach out.
Partner, Miranda ESG
Contacts in Miranda Partners