The developing COVID-19 pandemic and the response to it has dominated events this quarter, and also impacted our ethical work. Many companies are receiving government, ultimately taxpayer, subsidies in the form of grants, including to maintain jobs, and guaranteed loans. Companies’ priorities have been ensuring their survival and the well-being of their employees. We recognise that and so we will not for the time being be voting against the re-election of board chairs and executive directors at AGMs, unless there has been particularly poor performance responding to climate change. This temporary policy will be reviewed at the end of Q2.
Looking further out, there will be greater expectations for companies which receive government support, whether direct or indirect, to be good corporate citizens. This includes paying a fair rate of tax, preventing excessive executive pay, and paying the Living Wage.
We have completed our review of 15 oil and gas companies, examining the extent of the alignment of their business models and investment plans with the Paris Agreement. We assessed climate change scenarios and looked at 25 metrics for each company. The Paris Agreement targets an average temperature rise of ‘well below 2°C’ but we were also mindful of growing calls for a 1.5°C target. A new development was the inclusion of companies’ Scope 3 emissions targets and ambitions in our assessment.
Our assessment was reviewed by the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment. Both our assessment and JACEI’s deliberations have concluded that further oil and gas companies should be excluded from investment on ethical grounds. We will make a further announcement about this soon. We have also committed to further engagement with other oil and gas companies. The Committee’s report will be published in Q2.
During the quarter there were further positive developments in companies’ responses to climate change. The most significant was from BP, with its new CEO announcing an ambition of zero net Scope 3 emissions from upstream operations by 2050. This represents a major step by the company. However, it has yet to provide any details on how it will achieve this aim and it does not currently rank amongst the leading oil and gas companies in our analysis. In the current quarter, Royal Dutch Shell has announced a new ambition for Scope 3 emissions intensity based on a 1.5°C scenario rather than 2°C.
Following the results of the CFB carbon footprint analysis, and in line with our 2009 policy, we have engaged with both Cranswick and Hilton Food Group. These companies were found to have higher than average carbon footprints by Trucost, due to Scope 3 emissions from the meat supply chain. We asked what actions the companies were implementing to reduce supply chain emissions, as well as what measures they were taking to reduce those Scope 1 and 2 emissions within their control. We were encouraged by Cranswick’s response: looking at the impact of animal feed of the animals, steps to reduce waste, and a commitment that all of its owned farms will be carbon neutral by 2030. We look forward to hearing back from Hilton Food Group in due course.
Barclays responded to the shareholder resolution we co-filed through ShareAction by proposing a resolution of its own. The Barclays resolution includes a net zero emissions by 2050 ambition along with a commitment to transition its activities to align with the Paris Agreement. While the management commitment is a welcome step, it does not commit to any targets to phase out lending to fossil fuel industries. We are, therefore, continuing to co-file the shareholder resolution. The AGM is in early May.
In line with our engagement policy on tax justice, we engaged with two of our holdings in the quarter. We spoke to both MJ Gleeson and The Renewables Infrastructure Group about the Fair Tax Mark and encouraged them to seek accreditation. Both companies are considering the Fair Tax Mark and the implications of accreditation further as a result. We look forward to their responses. Separately, our voting policy responds to poor disclosure of management action on tax.
As part of the Healthy Markets initiative, which we support through ShareAction and Access to Nutrition, we attended a briefing on Supermarkets and the role that they play in tackling obesity. We are looking at new ways we can engage on this topic.
We engaged with Segro and DS Smith on the Real Living Wage. ShareAction had contacted both companies previously but they had not become accredited. We asked the companies about barriers to accreditation. Segro told us it paid at least the Real Living Wage to its employees, but to be accredited would also need its supply chain to be Real Living Wage compliant. We look forward to hearing back from DS Smith.
During the quarter we refreshed our voting policy, working alongside the Church Investors Group, in time for the 2020 voting season. This already holds companies to high standards on executive pay, boardroom gender diversity, climate change, and tax justice. We regularly vote against executive remuneration schemes and against the reappointment of directors when pay schemes are particularly egregious. This year, new measures extend expectations on diversity and hold directors to account on Modern Slavery. Mining companies face additional scrutiny on the issue of the management of tailings dams following the Brumadinho disaster that killed 270 people last year.
During Q1 we voted against 64% of remuneration reports in the UK Equity Fund and 86% in the Epworth Global Equity Fund. Our voting policy also led to the Funds voting against a number of directors.
We are nearing the completion of our project to assess the extent to which fossil fuel companies are aligned with the Paris Agreement. The baseline assessment of our portfolio holdings has been completed. We are now engaging with companies and conducting further research. We intend to meet with the largest oil and gas holdings well ahead of Methodist Conference later this year. So far we have had fruitful engagements. We are also encouraged by news that more fossil fuel companies are setting zero emissions targets and moving to publish estimates of Scope 3 emissions. A report will be sent to the Conference outlining the conclusions of the work, which are likely to include recommendations to exclude more oil and gas companies.
Meanwhile, our engagement work on climate change continues to be extensive. We have co-filed a shareholder resolution at Barclays. This resolution is the first at a UK bank regarding climate change and calls for Barclays to set and disclose targets to phase out financial services to those parts of the energy sector which are not aligned with the Paris climate goals. This includes lending to specific fossil fuel projects, as well as to companies themselves. This resolution was organised by ShareAction, and will be voted on at the Barclays AGM in May 2020.
We have engaged with successfully engaged with Anglo American on its lobby activities, on behalf of the Climate Action 100+, and in collaboration with the Church of England Pensions Board. Anglo American had previously released an independent audit of its lobbying activities in 2018, however there was a feeling amongst investors that there was further for the company to go to assure that it is has robust governance and oversight procedures to monitor its trade associations. Following meetings with the company, a statement was released by Anglo American outlining its response.
It has committed to ensure that there are no fundamental misalignments between industry associations’ policy positions and the Paris Agreement. It will also publish a full list of membership of industry associations including any fees paid and the rational for the membership.
We were signatories to a letter sent to all EU heads of state and governments on the 2050 net-zero emissions target, noting our support for a net-zero emissions target for the EU and the alignment of all relevant EU legislations to the temperature reduction goals set out in the Paris Agreement. This was coordinated by IIGCC and noted the urgent “need to act” in the face of the climate emergency and how “the costs of inaction will be catastrophic”.
Without greater action, projected losses from a 4°C global temperature rise are €21 trillion over the next 80 years. Greater action on climate change could deliver €23 trillion in global economic benefit to 2030. The estimated benefits of adopting the target include an estimated two percent boost to GDP across the EU through to 2050 and the creation of 2 million new jobs. Importantly, this does not include the additional benefit of avoided climate change and adaptation related costs.
We participated in a conference call with GlaxoSmithKline as part of the Access to Medicine initiative. The Access to Medicine Foundation ranks, stimulates and guides pharmaceutical companies to do more for the people living in low- and middle-income countries without access to medicine. GlaxoSmithKline is scored as the top company in the 2018 ranking of the index; however, as with all of the companies in the index, there is room for improvement. A good discussion was had between investors and GSK representatives around the opportunities and complexities the company faces.
We participated in the Church Investors Group conference in November, where work done on our behalf on modern salvery was discussed. A report on the topic has been published outlining the engagement work that has been undertaken over the last 2 years. The report outlines the engagement that began in 2016 on behalf of all members of the Group. Letters have been written to a total of 265 companies to encourage greater awareness and action around ending modern slavery.
The engagements encouraged companies to develop better policies, processes and procedures for identifying and then addressing modern slavery. One of the main causes of modern slavery is debt bondage, and companies were pressed to adopt the ‘Employer Pays Principle’. This is a provision which prohibits employers from charging recruitment fees. In addition, there were attempts to increase awareness of modern slavery amongst stakeholders and call for increased global legislation and regulation aimed specifically at tackling modern slavery.
In the UK, we voted at 13 AGMs in the quarter. We opposed 75% of remuneration votes, including those for ABFoods, BHP Group and Ferguson. The Epworth Global Equity Fund voted at 22 AGMs, opposing 82% of remuneration votes.
We voted in favour of the shareholder resolution at BHP Group to approve the suspension of memberships of industry associations that are involved in lobbying inconsistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. This gained 22% of votes, despite being opposed by the board, and we anticipate a response by the company in due course. Full voting reports are available on request and a summary is published on our website.
Our project to examine the extent to which fossil fuel companies are aligned with the Paris Agreement has made further progress. Following a review of the indicators we are using, we have analysed more companies. We have also extended our work from oil and gas to mining companies. We remain on track to make judgments on oil and gas, and coal, companies in the first half of next year. We are assessing these companies in the round and over time because a snapshot of current information does not reveal which companies appear committed to change in practice. It is clear considerable further change is required in this sector.
We analysed Fortis, a Canadian utility company according to our electricity generation policy. We decided to exclude it because it had a high exposure to power generation from coal.
We supported a shareholder resolution at the BHP Billiton AGMs, calling for membership of lobbying groups to more clearly reflect the need to support transition to a low carbon economy. This followed the news that the company remained a member of the Minerals Council of Australia which has spent significant sums on pro-coal lobbying and advertising.
Our work on low carbon transition across portfolios continues, including in collaboration with other investors. We have joined the IIGCC Paris Aligned Investment Initiative, focusing on listed equity and corporate bond assets.
Over the summer months we have been engaging with some of our investors around the issue of investments in fossil fuels. It is clear that some of our investors would like to proceed more quickly and disinvest from oil and gas producers now. Following those discussions we held a successful client conference, Beyond fossil fuels, to discuss how a new fund avoiding oil and gas producers would look.
This discussed the investment focus of a new fund, the investment implications of disinvesting from oil & gas and whether investors were comfortable remaining invested in heavily polluting industries such as airlines or cement. Following the conference we have consulted further and we are now engaging in detailed fund design.
We are committed to managing portfolios with carbon footprints that are relatively low and measurably declining. We commission Trucost to analyse our portfolios annually. The emissions allocated to each company include Scope I & II emissions (direct and energy) and the supply chain elements of Scope III, though not the customer use elements of Scope III. In particular, the emissions released by burning fossil fuels are not allocated to the fossil fuel companies.
The data for 28 February shows the carbon footprint of the UK equity portfolios rose over the year and is above the market. One reason for this is that our ethical approach excludes the relatively lower carbon intense tobacco sector and is therefore more likely to have a higher weighting in utility companies. In addition, much of the difference between the portfolios and the market can be explained by the fact that the portfolios hold Cranswick and Hilton Food Group. These are food production companies involved in the meat industry. Trucost attributes to their footprint the carbon emissions from the animals in their supply chains.
This result raises some interesting issues. Animals do release greenhouse gasses yet we have not taken the view that meat consumption is unethical. It highlights that there are trade offs for society. We are reviewing the result nevertheless. It should also be noted that there is no consensus about how a portfolio carbon footprint should be calculated and other methodologies produce different results.
Alongside other investors, we are engaging with the Marine Stewardship Council to encourage it to reference ‘ghost gear’ in its sustainable fisheries standard. ‘Ghost gear’ is old fishing gear that can be lost or abandoned in the ocean, significantly contributing to the level of plastic pollution.
We supported an investor response to a UK government consultation, entitled Transparency in the supply chain. The response called for mandatory reporting to be expanded from the private to the public sector, noting that Modern Slavery is a risk in all organisations. It recommended improved reporting on the outcomes of actions companies take. Separately, we engaged with Watkins Jones and The Renewables Infrastructure Group about their policies and approach towards combatting Modern Slavery.
We are participating in the Access to Medicines engagement programme, which will be engaging with 19 listed pharmaceutical companies on both access to medicine and the third Sustainable Development Goal, which focuses on healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all ages. The purpose is to encourage companies to continue their efforts to improve access to medicines in low and middle income countries.
Healthy and adequate nutrition has long been an ethical investment concern of ours. Our policies on children’s issues and on the food industry highlight it as an area for engagement, noting both the challenges of childhood obesity and malnutrition. We have joined with an initiative run by ShareAction which aims to engage with companies about childhood obesity. ShareAction is working with Access to Nutrition, an initiative with which we are already involved. We are likely to sign a supportive investor statement later in the autumn.
The quarter marks the end of the main voting season. We voted at 14 UK AGMs, opposing 67% of remuneration votes, including those for Berkeley Group, BT Group, Burberry, Cranswick, Experian, SSE and Vodafone. Insufficient boardroom gender diversity prompted votes against Nomination Committee chairs at BT Group, DS Smith, National Grid and SSE. The Epworth Global Equity Fund for Charities voted at 10 AGMs, opposing all three remuneration votes.
Full voting reports are available on request and a summary is published on our website.
Climate change continues to be one of the main areas of our ethical work. We co-filed a shareholder resolution at BP’s AGM, calling on the company to explain how it will align with the Paris Agreement. The resolution secured the BP board’s backing and was passed with 99.47% of votes. We also supported a resolution organised by the activist group ‘Follow This’ calling on BP to go further, including publishing Scope 3 emissions targets; unfortunately, this only secured the backing of 8.35% of investors.
We attended the Anglo American AGM, where we made a statement on behalf of the Climate 100+ investor coalition; we co-lead on engagement with Anglo American. This is part of an ongoing dialogue being lead by the CFB and Hermes in regard to Anglo American’s transition to a low carbon economy. This involves biannual meetings with the company to raise issues related to climate change, including climate linked remuneration, scope 3 emissions, and the reduction of coal mining. We look forward to the next meeting with Anglo American.
We continue to work on our project to evaluate the consistency fossil fuel companies’ business models with the Paris Agreement. We remain on track to draw final conclusions in 2020. With the launch of the new Global Equity Fund for Charities, we had to undertake an interim judgement on a number of global oil companies and decided that some would be highly unlikely to meet the criteria and so excluded Chevron, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil from investment.
We have already excluded several other fossil fuel producers under our existing policies and it is likely we will exclude further companies in future. However, we are aware that some clients want to move faster so we are consulting on the potential for launching a fund which excludes all companies with significant involvement in fossil fuel extraction.
The approach banks have been taking with their lending policies and climate change has been another area of focus. We have engaged directly with the Canadian banks to which we have exposure with respect to their lending to companies involved in tar sands projects, and found their responses to be disappointing. We are reflecting on the next steps. We have also joined other investors in writing letters to Barclays and Unicredit regarding their lending to fossil fuel projects.
The tailings dam disaster near Brumadinho in Brazil earlier this year remains very much in the minds of investors. We are part of an investor coalition organised by the Church of England which engages with mining companies on their tailing dams. This initiative has seen letters sent to 651 listed mining companies, in order to create a global register of tailings storage facilities. This is designed to raise awareness of the tailings facilities that the company owns or operates in order to see which company has responsibility for the facilities, and the scale of the risks that it faces. As of 5 July 2019, 31% of companies contacted have responded, and we were pleased to see that included 34 of the top 50 mining companies. We continue to be active in this coalition.
The Mining and Faith Reflections Initiative (MFRI), of which we are part, organised a conference in the Vatican on Mining and the Common Good. Delegates included church, NGO, and local community representatives along with mining CEOs and other executives.
We have been engaging with tea producers for some time, recognising the abuses that can take place within the sector. We wrote to Unilever to ask for greater transparency on the estates from which it sources tea and requesting this to be disclosed publically. We were pleased to receive a response from Unilever, which confirmed that the company will now publish the tea estates it sources its UK and Ireland tea from on its webpage.
We continue to monitor investment issues with respect to Israel Palestine, applying our dedicated policy. We had engaged for some time with Heidelberg Cement; however for unconnected reasons our funds no longer hold shares in this company.
As part of our work with ShareAction, we engaged with Reckitt Benckiser and Intercontinental Hotels Group in June to encourage both companies to become Living Wage accredited. We look forward to hearing their responses in due course.
We have continued to engage with companies on the issue of plastic pollution. We contacted Ted Baker about the use of plastic micro fibres used in the clothing industry. These can end up in oceans. In its response, Ted Baker highlighted its commitment to using sustainable fibres where possible and it noted that natural fibres can also have negative impacts from the use of natural resources such as water. We co-signed a letter to 50 global consumer goods companies organised by As You Sow, an American NGO, encouraging them to complete a survey on plastic packaging, to allow an assessment of their approaches.
The PRI annually undertakes an assessment of its members’ approaches and activities with respect to responsible investment. We achieved A+ ratings for our overall ESG strategy and governance, A+ for our approach with indirect holdings, A+ for our incorporation of ethics into our management of our equity holdings, and As for active equity and corporate bond ownership.
Q2 was a busy quarter for voting with many companies holding their AGMs. Our voting policies resulted in voting against three quarters of remuneration reports in the UK, in many cases because of excess levels of remuneration. We oppose the election of directors where policies or outcomes on remuneration, board diversity, tax transparency, climate change or corporate governance are particularly poor. This resulted in opposing 14% of directors in the quarter. Our voting policies are applied to all of our holdings in the new Global Equity Fund as well as our UK Funds.
Our work evaluating fossil fuel companies’ alignment with the Paris Agreement has made considerable progress. We are assessing the extent to which the business plans of these companies are aligned with ‘well below 2C’. Our project looks at companies’ current asset mix, capital expenditure plans, climate strategy & governance, transition plan and direct emissions. We have developed methodologies for all five assessment areas and have begun to apply them to companies. Overall, we are examining 29 metrics on each company. Our next steps are to refine our approach and engage with the companies we are assessing.
We continue to be active in investor coalitions such as Climate 100+. This includes co-filing a shareholder resolution at the BP AGM later this year, calling on the company to outline how it will align with the Paris Agreement.
In January a tailings dam near Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, in Brazil, collapsed, almost certainly killing over 300 people. The mining company responsible for the dam was Vale, which had operated the Samarco dam which collapsed in November 2015. Our portfolios did not hold Vale but the disaster highlighted the risks associated with such tailings dams.
We are part of an investor coalition organised by the Church of England to put pressure on mining companies to reveal more information about their use of tailings dams and to adopt independent standards. We participated in an investor roundtable in March with investors and mining companies. We have been encouraged by the acknowledgement of some leading mining companies of the need for change and have been engaging on this issue with companies held in our portfolios. We are working to encourage disclosure from mining companies on their exposure to tailings dams as there is very little information available and the risks to life are considerable. We will be working as part of the coalition on engagement around the tailings issues.
We continue our work helping church and mining leaders discuss what mining for the common good means in practice, especially for communities directly affected. The Methodist Church, Church of England, and the Vatican continue to explore ways we can share perspectives and engage with mining companies.
Investment in pooled investment funds, also known as collective investment schemes, raises some challenges for ethical investors. Pooled funds are used to provide access to specific asset classes, thematic investments or strategies that could not otherwise be accessed cost effectively or in the appropriate size without a heightened risk of liquidity becoming unbalanced. However, there can be a risk that owning stakes in such funds can indirectly expose portfolios to business activities and companies that would otherwise be excluded on ethical grounds. This is similar to owning shares in a large company with a small division involved in activities which would disqualify it from investment were it the main business.
On JACEI recommendation, we have published a policy on investment in pooled funds. The policy acknowledges the advantages of pooled funds when specialist expertise or geographical exposure is required. We will seek pooled funds with a similar ethical investment approach to our own where possible and we will engage with the fund managers. We will avoid pooled funds with significant exposure to companies in which we would avoid direct investment. The policy is available on our website.
Continuing the long running engagement that we have had with Heidelberg Cement regarding a quarry in the West Bank, the company has told us that the quarry is to be sold to a private party, and that production at the site has ceased.
We engaged with BT Group last year to encourage it to become Living Wage Accredited. We continued engagement through to February 2019, when it became clear that the company would not become accredited, which was disappointing. We will continue to monitor this situation, and will engage again in the future. The engagement was part of a larger effort, where we encouraged seven companies to become Living Wage accredited. We continue to work with ShareAction on this issue.
Our letter to the Chairman of Ted Baker, a clothing retailer, following allegations of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, received some publicity. The CEO later voluntarily suspended himself from duties and in March the company announced that he had resigned.
In collaboration with FAIRR, we joined other investors engaging with Whitbread regarding antibiotic use in its supply chain. Although Whitbread has now sold its Costa Coffee division, it still owns other restaurants and food outlets. Questions were asked around the development of targets and a timeline for implementation to encourage suppliers to report the quantity and type of antibiotics used in different species of animal. There was also a detailed discussion around the audits that take place with regard to animal welfare. Whitbread was forthcoming on the subject and we look for progress during the year.
Our 2019 Stewardship Code Statement is now available. Our Statement continues to be rated Tier 1. In future the Code is expected to place more emphasis on environmental, social, and governance considerations.
In association with other Church Investors Group members we revised our voting template in time for the 2019 voting season. The standards we expect on remuneration and boardroom gender diversity remain high and we made some small adjustments this year. We extended the boardroom diversity requirement beyond the UK where possible and we added an element on tax transparency.
There were relatively few company meetings this quarter. Full voting reports are available and a summary is published online.
We have been engaging in considerable work to evaluate the extent to which the operations of fossil fuel producers are consistent with the Paris accord. This involves five pieces of analysis: companies’ current asset mix, capital expenditure plans, climate strategy & governance, transition plan and direct emissions. JACEI reviewed the first fruits of this work in December when it considered papers on Asset Mix Methodology and assessments of companies’ asset mix. Further work will be presented to JACEI in the spring.
The IPCC produced a report on limiting climate change to 1.5 °C and this will feed into our work, as will our involvement with IIGCC, TPI, Carbon Tracker and the CA100+ initiative during the quarter. Our Montréal Pledge disclosure for 2018 has been published online.
We signed a collaborative investor statement to support a Just Transition on Climate Change.
We wrote to the large Canadian banks to which we lend through our Deposit Fund: Bank of Montréal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto Dominion. The engagement was as a result of analysis which showed that these banks lent substantial amounts to the tar sands industry. We have asked each company to join the TCFD initiative, and to explain how their tar sands finances is consistent with their climate change policies.
We attended a sustainability day hosted by BHP Billiton led by senior personnel. The company is progressing compensation and resettlement following the Samarco disaster, and updates on climate change emissions targets and health & safety were discussed.
We wrote to Nutrien which sources phosphate from disputed Western Sahara, and has thus been excluded from investment. The company was able to provide assurances that following a review, the company would be self-sufficient in North American phosphate from early 2019, thereby ceasing to source from Western Sahara.
We contacted AB Foods, Tesco and Ted Baker regarding the presence of micro-fibres in clothing ranges. Tesco replied encouragingly, stating they are working with suppliers to understand the science and have part-funded a pan-industry initiative ‘Industry Action on Micro-fibres’ to drive a coordinated response. As part of our ongoing engagement with a range of companies on plastics, we are now focussing on the risks arising from micro-fibres and their long-term impact on the marine environment.
We engaged with Vodafone Group to encourage them to become an accredited Living Wage employer. We were disappointed that they declined, despite stating they are committed to paying all employees the Living Wage. Accreditation requires full time employees and third party contractors to be paid the voluntary enhanced rate, and Vodafone expressed an inability to ‘track’ third party reward structures. We are now working with Share Action and the Living Wage Foundation to re-engage Vodafone in discussion.
Ted Baker, a clothing retailer, faced allegations of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. The company has appointed a committee of non-executive directors to review the allegations as well as an external law firm to lead an inquiry. We wrote to the Chairman to express our concern, ask when the inquiry was expected to be concluded, and to call for a commitment to implement any recommendations promptly.
We are signatory supporters to the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) which ranks food manufacturing and processing companies for welfare risk. Cranswick has been ranked as a Tier I leader, and we wrote to the company welcoming its strong stance on animal welfare and asking the company to support a new Global Coalition for Animal Welfare spearheaded by Nestlé and Unilever. A response is awaited.
We divested our shares in Danske Bank following the allegations that it allowed €200bn of potentially laundered money flow through its Estonian branch, and removed the bank from the list of banks to which we will lend through our Deposit Fund. The scandal resulted in both the Chair and Chief Executive being dismissed. We reviewed the currently available information about the scandal, its systemic nature and the alleged culpability of senior executives and decided to divest from the Bank as a shareholder and to cease its suitability as an approved lender.
The December quarter was very quiet. During the quarter we voted at four UK meetings opposing five resolutions; three against the re-election of directors and two against executive pay: MJ Gleeson and AB Foods. We wrote to Eco Animal Health regarding the company’s irregular governance arrangements and were pleased to learn at a subsequent meeting with the Executive Chair, that the Board had agreed moves to improve governance practice.
In Europe, we voted at seven meetings, and took action in 14% of cases. Re-election of directors and opposing the Financial Report & Accounts on climate change grounds were the main issues of contention.
In 2018 as a whole, we voted in total at 93 meetings in the UK comprising 1,537 resolutions, opposing or abstaining 17% of proposals. Remuneration accounted for 30% of all action taken in the UK and the re-election of directors 56%. Of 96 remuneration proposals (reports and policies) in 2018, we opposed or abstained 86%. In Europe we voted at 234 meetings comprising 3,785 resolutions. We opposed or abstained 21% of all proposals, with the re-election of directors accounting for 37% of action, and executive pay 42%. Just under 60% of all remuneration proposals in Europe were opposed.
Our full voting reports are available on request, whilst a summary is published online.
We once again asked Trucost to provide a carbon footprint assessment of our UK portfolio, which we first commissioned in 2009. According to their analysis, the UK Equity Fund’s carbon footprint amounted to 288 tonnes of CO2 per million pounds of market capitalisation. The carbon intensity of the Fund has fallen by 3.4% pa since 2009. The gap between the Fund and the Index (FTSE All Share) has narrowed since 2009, which indicates the level of improvement in the market overall towards greater decarbonisation.
We are members of IIGCC (Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change) and actively participate in public policy initiatives in a collaborative way. During the quarter we supported an IIGCC led campaign lobbying MEPs to adopt an ambitious approach to reducing car and van engine emissions including a target of at least 40% CO2 emissions reduction by 2030.
We attended and took part in a series of meetings on climate change including the TPI (Transition Pathway Initiative) and a conference call with Royal Dutch Shell. We co-signed a letter that appeared in the Financial Times encouraging the corporate sector to accelerate the transition towards a low-carbon economy.
We are continuing our considerable work preparing a detailed reassessment of fossil fuel companies in the light of the Paris Agreement. Scoping such a systematic approach is taking time, but our detailed work will ultimately provide a robust means of looking at fossil fuel companies from the perspective of the transition to a low carbon economy.
We have devoted some time over the summer to researching the issue of plastics and our investments’ exposure in greater depth. We will be engaging with companies over the winter months, and are considering to joining As You Sow, an investor coalition focussed on plastics.
Principles of Responsible Investment conducts an annual assessment of how asset managers consider issues relating to responsible investment. We have once again achieved top ratings cross the major modules including receiving A+ in the overarching Strategy & Governance section and in how we incorporate our ethical approach into our equity portfolios.
We contacted Compass Group following reports that one of its subsidiary companies contracted to the All England Lawn Tennis Championships had allegedly been paying employees insufficiently, including not being paid an agreed night shift rate. The company has robustly denied the allegations and provided a response asserting that all rates were agreed and were at levels above the National Living Wage. Some of these roles subsequently attracted further wage uplifts.
We contacted the UK arm of French hotels group Accor owing to the absence of a Modern Slavery Statement on its UK website. All companies with revenues greater than £36m and operating in the UK are required to publish a Statement. Correspondence with the company produced a comprehensive Statement, however we have continued in dialogue as this was not signed by a director and has not been uploaded to the Accor UK website.
Working once again with Share Action, we have led a further round of engagement with seven companies pressuring them to seek accreditation to the Living Wage. The response from Berkeley Group was encouraging as the company is a Living Wage employer across its own directly employed staff. BT Group has taken steps to ensure reward is targeted at or above Living Wage levels, but does not wish to be ‘constrained’ by accreditation. Reckitt Benckiser Group also provided an encouraging response, suggesting it pays all UK employees the Living Wage with this extending to contractors.
We also challenged IHG Group, which as part of being made a preferred partner to the London Olympics in 2012, had agreed to accredit to the Living Wage. The company has reneged on this commitment, but justified this to us as due to the ‘rapidly changing environment’ including introduction of the National Living Wage. This was disappointing and we continue in dialogue with the company around its commitments.
We supported a collaborative FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) initiative focused on reducing antibiotic use in the food chain. An investor letter was sent to Whitbread seeking more information from the company on how it manages antibiotic use in respect of its supply chain.
The September quarter traditionally marks the end of the voting season in the UK and Europe. During the quarter we voted at 17 UK meetings opposing or abstaining 17% of resolutions. Action was taken in the main against executive remuneration and the re-election of Board directors. Remuneration was opposed at BT Group, Burberry, Experian, Vodafone and National Grid Group among others.
Diversity has been fully integrated into our UK voting policy. Since 2017 the percentage of women on FTSE Boards has increased from 27.7% to just over 30%, however at executive level progress remains slow. We oppose the re-election of Nomination Committee Chairs where progress to improve Board diversity remains poor. During the quarter, directors were opposed at BT Group (four directors), SSE (four directors), Experian, Cranswick and DS Smith.
In Europe, we voted at eight meetings, and took action in 35% of cases, where re-election of directors and executive pay were the main issues of contention.
Our proxy voting partner, ISS, votes our shares in accordance with an agreed CIG policy, which is reviewed and approved by the members annually. Our full voting reports are available on request, whilst a summary is published online.
We are working on applying our recently agreed climate change methodology to our fossil fuel company shareholdings. Our first task is to critically examine the data and analysis available for each of the five criteria we are using to assess companies. Our intention is to complete preliminary assessments of four companies (BP, Equinor, Royal Dutch Shell, Total) by the turn of the year. These will be subjected to a lengthy review process and we will also engage with the companies. At the same time, we expect further climate change scenarios to be published, which we will need to factor into our work.
Climate change remains at the forefront of our work and we are active in several initiatives, including attending an IIGCC meeting where we heard from Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) ; We have signed an IIGCC Investor Statement to the G7 and a supporting letter published in the Financial Times. We continue to play an active part in the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI).
We voted to support the shareholder resolution at Royal Dutch Shell brought by ‘Follow This’, a Dutch NGO. The resolution called on Shell to set and publish targets for reducing GHG emissions aligned with the Paris Agreement, with such targets including Scope I, II & III emissions. The resolution attracted around 5.5% support, with Shell arguing its published Scope III emissions ambitions represented sufficient progress.
Concern about the impact of plastic waste on the environment and in the oceans is concentrating investor attention. We have joined a collaborative initiative called the ‘Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance’ which intends to engage actively on plastic pollution and on the design and sustainability of plastic packaging. The Alliance is planning focused engagement in the UK with food retailers and consumer staples groups on reducing exposure to plastic waste and making waste streams more environmentally sustainable. It is encouraging that over 40 companies, including Tesco, Unilever and Nestlé have signed up to the UK Plastic Pact initiated by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) which has four ambitious targets including 100% plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
On behalf of the Church Investors Group (CIG) we have now completed our initial engagement work on water stewardship. Using the CDP water survey, we engaged with nineteen UK and European companies to encourage greater governance, disclosure and oversight of systemic water risk. Sixteen companies responded with positive outcomes, four expect to contribute to the CDP survey in future, and a further four are actively reviewing participation. Five companies provided detailed responses on their own water management programmes. We will now review the results with CIG.
We received responses from Unilever and Associated British Foods to our concerns around labour conditions on tea plantations. These remain an acutely complex socio-cultural challenge, and one in which we have engaged in the past. Unilever’s priorities are housing and sanitation in Assam and it assured us that it is ‘driving the industry to make time-bound improvements’. AB Foods (via its subsidiary Twinings) is also leading a step-change by ‘introducing a new framework to evaluate human rights risk’. We are encouraged that parts of the industry is showing commitment to improving the lives of estate workers, and we will continue to engage pro-actively for change, albeit this remains one of the more intractable challenges for investors.
We remain actively committed to the ecumenical process known as the Mining and Faith Reflections Initiative. The churches have led fruitful conversations with mining executives over time, and are now reflecting on potential next steps that support mutually beneficial dialogue between the churches and the mining sector, and which will include shared theological principles for engagement.
During the quarter we formally joined a new partnership with FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return). FAIRR has led investor efforts that draw attention to the overuse of antibiotics in the farm animal supply chain, and which we have supported. FAIRR is also leading new research and engagement into the effects of protein and animal husbandry on climate change. We expect to work with FAIRR as they develop collaborative efforts around other relevant farm animal issues.
The June quarter traditionally marks the peak of the voting season in the UK and Europe. 2018 has been relatively quiet with few major pay revolts. However, the Investment Association has noted a sharp increase in shareholder protest more generally and in particular against the re-election of directors incurring 20% or more opposition. In the second quarter we opposed the re-election of 228 UK directors or 19% of the total.
We remain focused on opposing excessive executive pay but we have also strengthened our approach towards workplace fairness, boardroom diversity and climate change. Where boards have insufficient gender diversity we routinely vote against Nomination Committee chairs. Instances this quarter included Rio Tinto, BP, Smith & Nephew, WPP, Anglo American, Standard Chartered, Centrica and London Stock Exchange Group.
During the quarter we voted at 62 UK meetings, opposing or abstaining 16% of resolutions. We opposed over 60% of votes on remuneration policies and reports. In Europe, we voted at 187 meetings, and took action in 21% of cases, where re-election of directors and executive pay were the main issues of contention.
We have been focused this quarter on our climate change project. We are focussed on determining the extent to which fossil fuel company business investment plans comply with the Paris Agreement to keep the average rise in temperature to “well below 2C”. We already exclude a number of companies on climate change grounds under our three existing climate change policies. We have now developed a methodology for analysing companies.
For temperature rises to be limited, levels of coal, oil and gas consumption will have to be considerably lower than today, even though some fossil fuel use will continue up to and beyond 2050.
Our methodology, recently agreed, will include examining:
It will take some time to evaluate our existing holdings using this approach to our direct holdings and we will conduct an extensive round of engagement as we do so. We will assess new climate change scenarios and company data as they are published. Royal Dutch Shell has recently published data on its Scope 3 emissions (emissions from use of its products) and ‘ambitions’ for reducing them.
As founding members of the Transition Pathway Initiative we have welcomed the TPI’s developing thinking and planned updates on sector analysis for oil, gas, and electric utilities.
The financial sector has an important role to play in terms of business commitment to financing the transition to a low carbon economy. We have therefore begun to consider the role banks play in their lending decisions and to what extent these are consistent with the transition to a well below 2C world.
We apply our Christian approach to ethical investment to all asset classes. However, bonds and equities differ with respect to the types of instruments in which we might invest and their issuance. We now have a policy for this area to guide us through the nuances of applying our overall approach to this asset class. The Policy sets out how we address ethical challenges when investing in Gilts (government debt), supranational, sub sovereign, agency, and corporate bonds. The new Policy is available on our website.
Supply chain risks dominate in terms of the potential for complicity in human rights violations. We contacted Berkeley Group following reports of child labour in the Indian granite market. The company confirmed it sources no granite from the regions at risk in India, and has comprehensive supply chain mapping in place to manage potential risks arising from child, forced or bonded labour. We have also written to Associated British Foods and Unilever to ask how they assess labour and human rights conditions on Assam tea estates. Labour conditions in particular appear to have deteriorated since our last round of engagement with wages among the lowest in India and allegedly falling below the State minimum. This remains a complex socio-cultural challenge.
The payment of tax is an important corporate responsibility. It is important therefore that companies are transparent about how they pay tax and how they arrange their affairs to minimise tax payments. We have been working alongside the wider Methodist Church on this issue and have now published a policy on tax justice. We have focused on Biblical principles, current issues around fair tax, recent activity and the approach to engagement with companies. We have published our thinking on tax in a Position Paper, and the new Policy, on our website.
Plastic waste can substantially damage the environment and urgent action is required across different sectors. We are looking at how companies tackle the issues around plastic waste. Our focus is on single-use plastic (bottles, cups, straws etc.) where these are seldom recycled, and micro-plastics (used in cosmetics and cleaning products). Further analysis will focus on key companies, looking at their policies and processes for reducing plastic use and how they work with packaging companies in terms of innovation and design.
Our annual in-depth meeting with Nestlé UK took place during the quarter. We received updates on BMS (breast milk substitutes) issues, human rights in the cocoa and coffee supply chains, Nestlé’s response to the debate on single use disposable plastic, Modern Slavery, and health & safety across its global operations.
We continue to be active participants in the Mining and Faith Reflections Initiative and attended two half-day meetings facilitated by Anglo American. These debated the role of mining in development and also heard a NGO perspective on the role mining can play in local communities. We continue to work ecumenically with church denominations on developing common ground in our approach to mining.
Prior to the beginning of the peak voting season in the UK we published our 2018 UK Stewardship Code Statement. We have been rated ‘Tier I’ by the FRC (Financial Reporting Council) in recognition of our commitment to transparency. The Statement is available on the website.
Our new voting policy, developed with the Church Investors Group, was launched during the quarter. We remain focused on executive pay but have ratcheted up our approach towards workplace fairness, boardroom gender diversity, and climate change. Where boards are less than 25% female, we will vote against the chairs of the Nomination Committee.
We wrote to the Chairman of housebuilder Persimmon which has been heavily criticised for an executive incentive scheme that has delivered excessively. The Chairman had resigned over the scandal, recognising the Scheme had been poorly designed. We sought assurances that the scale of awards would be reduced and that a moratorium on future pay-outs be imposed pending a review.
We have launched a new policy on farm animal welfare. The policy outlines how we will engage with food producers and processors, hospitality, and food retail companies that use animal related products. We have been a long-standing supporter of the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) and our policy supports strong corporate disclosure around the way farm animal welfare issues are managed. We have published the policy alongside a position paper on our website. During the quarter we became an investor signatory to a global investor statement on antibiotic use facilitated by FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return).
Our project to re-evaluate fossil fuel companies continues apace. We already exclude a number of such companies on climate change grounds under our three existing climate change policies. Where we have holdings in the sector we engage extensively. Our new project, accelerated after a Methodist Conference motion in the summer, will examine how well companies are aligned with the Paris Agreement. The agreement aims at keeping the average temperature rise to “well below 2C”.
The task is not straightforward and while we are collaborating with other investors where we can, we have not encountered any other investment institution undertaking the same analysis. For temperature rises to be limited, levels of coal, oil and gas consumption will have to be considerably lower than today. However, most scenarios outline a period of transition and some fossil fuels will still be used.
We have reviewed a range of climate change scenarios and more closely examined a shortlist of scenarios which have particular relevance. The next step will be to develop a methodology for assessing companies. Our first take on this will be discussed by JACEI in the first quarter of 2018.
We continue to keep abreast of industry thinking, especially through our membership of the IIGCC and the Transition Pathway Initiative.
We attended a presentation by Shell in November, which emphasised the management’s interest in building a portfolio of technologies including biofuels and hydrogen. Shell confirmed it will progressively provide more information on its transition to a low carbon future and it has begun to produce ‘Scope 3’ information on the use of its products.
During the quarter we became signatory members of the Workplace Disclosure Initiative. Investors have often been slow to recognise responsible investment issues associated with the workplace such as the growing pressure from low wages, the gig economy and automation. We have long engaged with business on the adoption of the Living Wage and this new initiative, led by Share Action, aims to secure improved disclosure on workforce reporting, modelled on initiatives such as the CDP. The Workforce Disclosure Initiative will target the FTSE50 and seek to enhance investor insight into a range of employment issues.
The deteriorating situation in Rakhine State, Burma, has resulted in very significant human rights violations carried out against the Rohingya minority. We engaged with Telenor as the contracted company responsible for rolling out the mobile telecom network across Burma to understand the impact of the conflict on its operations and how it has responded. The company has provided comprehensive information on its human rights due diligence and confirmed it has no agreements “commercial or otherwise” with the Burmese military.
In November we engaged with 19 selected UK and European companies on water issues on behalf of the Church Investors Group (CIG). We have begun to assess responses to this engagement as we seek to improve companies’ risk management and measuring.
We participated in a roundtable on tax convened by the Joint Public Issues Team of the Methodist Church, United Reformed Church, and Baptist Union in October that brought together delegates from interested stakeholders including the Methodist Tax Justice Network. We are working on formalising a policy on tax. Tax is a particularly complex and technical issue for investors to engage with and the Policy will set out a methodology for effective engagement on transparency and disclosure.
We continue to be active participants in the Mining Faith Reflections Initiative and attended a roundtable meeting held in November at Lambeth Palace. We value the role we play in helping to bring together the three facilitating denominations; Roman Catholic, Church of England and Methodist, and help them witness to the need for mining companies to pursue the common good.
We launched a Screening and Engagement Policy during the quarter. This sets out, in high level terms, our overall approach to assessing and engaging with companies. It explains why we regard engagement as important, the circumstances in which engagement is pursued, and how we engage both collaboratively and alone. The Policy is designed to help clients better understand our responsible investment process.
Together with our CIG partners, we agreed a refreshed voting template ready for the 2018 proxy voting season. This seeks to reflect emerging best practice and from 2018 will tighten voting criteria further on executive pay, gender diversity in boards, and climate change.
The final quarter is traditionally quiet for proxy voting in the UK and Europe; we voted at nine UK meetings and 18 meetings in Europe. In the UK we opposed or abstained 19% of resolutions including eight remuneration reports and policies. In Europe we opposed 6% of resolutions.