Daily ESG Briefing: A third of UK staff think financial services firms don’t influence modern slavery, warns report

The latest developments in sustainable finance

Almost half of senior managers in the financial services sector are unaware of forced labour and exploitation in the UK, according to a study led by Dame Sara Thornton, the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and in partnership with with Themis and the TRIBE Freedom Foundation. Preventing Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking was found that 36% of the 1,001 financial services employees surveyed think their organisation has no influence on the topic, with many companies seeing the publishing of a modern slavery statement as “nothing but a tick box exercise”. Dame Thornton said: “I have written to the CEOs of major financial institutions asking them to respond to the worrying findings that this report highlights and let me know what they are going to do to address modern slavery and human trafficking within their organisations.”

Total has become the first international oil company to withdraw from the US lobby group the American Petroleum Institute (API). The French firm stated that it will not renew its membership in 2021 following a review of the organisation's climate positions, which were only "partially in line" with their own. It also claimed that API “gave its support during the recent elections to candidates who argued against the United States’ participation in the Paris Agreement”.

North American insurer Axis Capital has pledged not to provide insurance or investment to projects related to the exploration, drilling or production of oil or gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, making it the third insurer to do so. In its letter, Axis said it is also updating its policies to consider a range of factors including wider Arctic energy exploration activities.

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility has filed a resolution at Scentre Group, which owns Westfield shopping centres, asking it to “implement increased due diligence on their cleaning contracts, to ensure that the cleaners who are responsible for keeping us all safe aren’t subject to wage theft and even modern slavery”. The move is the first in a wider push by the advocacy group on cleaning supply chains and cleaning service procurement. 

NN Investment Partners has said that 10% of firms in the Bloomberg Barclays MSCI Euro Aggregate Sustainable SRI Sector Neutral Index, by market value, do not meet the asset manager’s sustainability standards. In light of the new EU green taxonomy, which will begin being phased in this year, NNIP says the firms in question fail to demonstrate sufficient commitment to climate-related goals or to the Do No Significant Harm component of the taxonomy, which prohibits companies from counting business activities as climate aligned if they undermine other key environmental objectives such as biodiversity or waste. NNIP said the companies were mainly in the financials, chemicals and the energy sector. 

The UK’s Charity Commission is set to consult on revised responsible investment guidance, which is based on the findings from a “listening exercise” undertaken by the regulator last year that found “the way responsible investment is outlined in its current guidance is not giving some trustees sufficient confidence that they can consider, or that the Commission supports, this approach to investment”. The Commission plans to publish draft guidance in Spring for feedback, and a final version is expected this summer. 

Real estate investor Orchard Street Investment Management has committed to becoming a net zero carbon business by 2050, and will publish a 2030 net zero carbon transition strategy this year as well as introducing immediate targets to reduce the carbon intensity from occupiers of its commercial properties by 25% within the next four years.