Ethical Hub: Ethical Reviews - Ethical Investment Review September 2018

Climate change

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.

Plastics

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 (PRI)

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.

Human and labour rights

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.

Living Wage

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.

Farm animal welfare

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.

Corporate governance & executive remuneration

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.