Just a quick point I think is worth developing. Many asset owners now use passive management for at least a sizeable chunk of their assets, usually equities in developed markets. This seems likely to grow due to a mixture of disillusionment with active management and growing pressure to reduce the fees paid to intermediaries.
So we should be clear that, in going passive, those asset owners are at least implicitly making the choice to hold certain equities on the basis of their inclusion in an index rather than because an asset manager has analysed the company and selected it for investment.
Now, one of the arguments against asset owners directing their own votes is that asset managers know or understand the companies better, and that their corporate governance activity is bound up with this. But if you go passive you are rejecting the idea that asset managers can make you money by analysing companies and trading on the basis of that analysis. If that is the case, it is not obvious why you would think they are going to be any better at knowing what corporate governance outcomes are most beneficial or the best way to vote your shares.
If that's the case, then I think there is a good argument for voting in a way that supports a consistent set of values. Obviously for asset owners that are linked to charities, NGOs and similar those values are going to suggest themselves. But even for others, why not build a policy around existing global standards? Clearly my interest would be in getting investors to vote to promote standards like ILO principles (this in itself would be a straightforward way to stop the S in ESG being silent) but there are plenty of others.
If you don't believe that asset managers can make you money through their analysis, why not use the rights that have landed in hands through investing in equities to promote the kind of corporate behaviour you think beneficiaries would like to see? Adherence to existing and widely accepted global standards seems like a pretty low bar. Why compromise?