ESG round-up: NBIM puts Polish energy firm on watchlist over press freedom concerns

The latest developments in sustainable finance: FOI reveals Texas pension pulled $470m from BlackRock fund.

Norges Bank has placed Polski Koncern Naftowy Orlen SA on its observation list over freedom of the press concerns. It follows the Polish state-owned oil refiner’s acquisition of national newspaper publisher Polska Press. In June, Reuters reported that a Warsaw court was looking into the takeover after Poland’s human rights ombudsman appealed an earlier approval of the deal, fearing restricted media freedom. Under ruling right-wing PiS party, Poland has dropped in the rankings from 18 to 66 on the World Media Freedom Index. Thursday’s decision by Norges Bank was based on a recommendation from its Council on Ethics. The company will remain under observation for three years “due to unacceptable risk that the company contributes to serious violations of human rights”, the trillion-dollar-fund said.

The Texas Teachers Retirement System has pulled $470 million from the BlackRock Tactical Opportunities Fund, as well as selling $164 million in shares in nine financial companies designated as fossil fuel boycotters since August 2022. According to documents obtained by Responsible Investor under Texas freedom of information laws, the largest single holding was in BlackRock shares, worth around $52 million, followed by a $37 million stake in UBS and $30 million stake in BNP Paribas. BlackRock still manages more than $4 billion for the retirement system, according to reporting from Bloomberg.

Mining giant Glencore has been accused of not being Paris-aligned, based on research by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR). According to the Australian non-profit, based on current disclosures by Glencore and its stated strategy, the company’s forecast cumulative emissions from coal production do not appear to be Paris-aligned.

Dror Elkayam, Legal and General Investment Management’s (LGIM) global ESG analyst on investment stewardship, said: “The research provides additional context as to why we seek further disclosure from Glencore on their thermal coal production plans.” LGIM is one of the co-filers of ACCR’s shareholder resolution on thermal coal at Glencore, due to be voted on at the AGM in May.

A spokesperson for Glencore said: “In our 2022 climate report due out next month, we will report against our progress on our 2020 strategy and reflect on the feedback that we received last year during our extensive engagement with our major investors.”

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander has urged investors to support the shareholder proposal his office has filed at Starbucks, calling on the coffee giant to undertake an independent workers rights assessment. The call was made via a filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, with the support of co-filers UK proxy advisory PIRC, representing its pension fund clients, Canadian responsible investment body SHARE and US SRI investment house Trillium. Starbucks’ annual meeting takes place on 23 March.

The Pensions Regulator is cracking down on climate and ESG non-compliance among trustees at UK schemes with more than 100 members. The UK watchdog plans to launch a regulatory initiative this spring to check whether trustees are publishing important ESG data. It has warned trustees in scope that enforcement action – including fines of up to £50,000 ($60,215; €56,815)  – could be imposed if they fail to publish their statement of investment principles or implementation statement.

The Hong Kong government has announced plans to set up a green technology and finance development committee. Financial secretary Paul Chan said the government would “strive to develop Hong Kong into an international green technology and financial centre”.

One of Germany’s greatest ESG-related credit risks is its ageing population, according to research from Moody’s. A report found that, with one of the fastest ageing rates globally, Germany may struggle with labour supply and require increased public spending on social care, health and pensions. Moody’s research predicts that, if no policy action is taken, fiscal and debt metrics will begin to deteriorate.