Monday, 18 May 2015

Where is labour in ESG?

About six months ago I blogged about a PRI report on policy, and the limited mentions of labour issues compared to governance and environmental issues. My belief was and is that the RI community pays significantly less attention to labour issues than other ESG factors, and is more wary of them.

Today's report by Share Action on voting at AGMs in 2014 helps make the point again. If you look at page 15 you can see a comparison between asset managers' votes on three environmental resolutions, and the resolution filed at National Express relating to human capital management. The difference is very stark. I know there are mitigating factors - for example shareholder resolutions are much more commonplace at US companies, so it's seen as less controversial to support them. Nonetheless the picture is pretty clear.

There's a job for unions to do here. Our links with the RI industry need further development, we need to make sure our trustees are not allowing workers' capital to be voted against worker interests, and maybe we need to perform more of an educational role too: explaining why labour issues matter to company success.

But maybe it's one for the RI community to ponder too - why is the disparity so striking? Is this just an area where not enough thinking has been done, or evidence provided? Are RI people more likely to come from a sustainability background and/or lack knowledge of unions/labour issues? Is there greater internal pressures against supporting labour-oriented initiatives?

If people are our greatest asset it's surprising they don't get more investor support!

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