Ethical Hub: Ethical Reviews - Ethical Investment Review March 2019

Climate change

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.

Mining

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.

Pooled investment funds

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.

Israel Palestine

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.

Living Wage

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.

Worker rights

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.

Farm animal welfare

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.

Stewardship Code

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.

Corporate governance

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.