Daily ESG Briefing: Disclosure on working practices hits new high, investor feedback sought on new mental health benchmark

The latest developments in sustainable finance

More than 140 companies disclosed data about their workforce policies and practices via the Workforce Disclosure Initiative in 2020, according to new figures. Set up in 2016 with backing from 52 institutional investors with combined assets of $6.5trn – including Nest, Aberdeen Standard Investments and HESTA – the project is run by NGO ShareAction. It includes an annual survey for listed companies covering pay, contract types, diversity and supply chain transparency, which is expected to help investors with engagement efforts. Nike, Vodafone, Santander and Legal & General were among the companies to report for the first time in 2020, while some firms that had previously disclosed didn’t report last year because they had furloughed their corporate reporting teams. ShareAction will analyse the responses and publish its findings in coming months. 

UK-based asset manager CCLA is seeking feedback on the methodology behind a new Corporate Mental Health Benchmark, which it will launch later this year. “Over the past decade, investors and businesses have placed increasing focus on physical health and safety. This has led to an increasing recognition of the financial, as well as human rationale, for doing work well,” said James Corah, CCLA’s Head of Ethical and Responsible Investment. “However, despite increasing societal attention, and clear data regarding the cost of poor mental health, investors are yet to focus on corporate responses to protecting employee wellbeing.” He said the new benchmark will publicly rate firms’ actions in order to “catalyse a new type of investor engagement”. 

More than 200 US Google employees have formed the Alphabet Workers Union. Writing in the New York Times, leaders of the new union explained: “For far too long, thousands of us at Google – and other subsidiaries of Alphabet, Google’s parent company – have had our workplace concerns dismissed by executives. Our bosses have collaborated with repressive governments around the world. They have developed artificial intelligence technology for use by the Department of Defense and profited from ads by a hate group. They have failed to make the changes necessary to meaningfully address our retention issues with people of color.” The union is open to all US and Canadian workers at Alphabet. 

Nearly two thirds of governments have failed to submit fresh climate pledges ahead of COP26, according to the UN. The international climate negotiations are set to take place later this year in the UK, and will see the first revision of the National Determined Contributions (official commitments to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions) since 2015. However, just 70 of almost 200 governments came up with anything in time for the December 31 deadline. According to Climate Action Tracker, although Brazil, Japan, Russia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Vietnam were among the 70 that did submit plans, the ambition levels are no higher than the previous versions. 

Climate change, governance, and supply chains will be investors’ biggest priorities in 2021, says a poll from Bank of America. Less than a quarter of those surveyed at its Global ESG Conference saw social issues like diversity and community engagement as a big focus, while the Oil & Gas sector was voted the industry with the biggest ESG opportunities.