ESG Round-Up: P&O Ferries debacle could lead to guaranteed minimum wage for UK ports staff

The latest developments in sustainable finance: Sainsbury’s faces Living Wage shareholder resolution; Kentucky proposes to outlaw fossil fuel boycotts.

UK ministers plan to force all ferry companies operating from UK ports to pay their staff at least the national minimum wage, the BBC reports. It follows the controversy over P&O Ferries sacking 800 members of staff without prior warning and replacing them with agency workers paid less than the minimum wage. The company’s chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, publicly apologised to his workers after he admitted to MPs last week that he had known sacking staff without notice was against the law. The government now plans to close a legal loophole that allows ferry operators using UK ports but registered overseas to pay less than the minimum wage. The UK minimum wage is currently £8.91 ($11.66; €10.63) per hour for workers over 23, while the average rate paid to the external agency staff brought in by P&O Ferries is reportedly £5.50 per hour.

Sainsbury’s is facing a shareholder resolution from a group of investors, brought together by responsible investment charity ShareAction, calling for the supermarket to become an accredited Living Wage employer in the wake of the cost of living crisis. The real living wage, which is higher than the compulsory national minimum wage, aims to ensure wages cover everyday needs, and is voluntarily paid by around 9,500 firms in the UK. The real living wage is currently £11.05 per hour in London and £9.90 for the rest of the UK. The investor coalition includes the UK’s largest asset manager, Legal and General Investment Management, and the largest workplace pension scheme, Nest. It also includes 108 individual shareholders, including Labour MPs Siobhain McDonagh and Helen Hayes. Sainsbury’s said it had recently increased its basic hourly rate by 5.3 percent in recognition of the “extraordinary work” of its staff. The investor coalition will also write to all UK supermarkets next week urging them to take the same step.

The British taxpayer is no longer the majority shareholder in NatWest after the Treasury sold shares in the group worth £1.2 billion. The group, formerly known as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), was rescued at the height of the 2008 financial crisis with a £45 billion government bailout. Following the sale of a chunk of its shares, government ownership in NatWest is now at 48.1 percent. The sale was an “important landmark” in its plan to return the bank to full private ownership, the Treasury said. The government has previously said it intends to sell shares in the bank worth £15 billion by 2023.

Kentucky is the latest US state to put forward legislation to punish financial institutions that have excluded fossil fuel companies from their investments. The proposed bill, which has already passed the state’s senate, would require financial companies working with the state to cease boycotts of the fossil fuel industry. If they don’t, the state of Kentucky would be obliged to divest all public investments from the firm. The bill would also require the state treasurer to draft and maintain a list of financial companies that have engaged in energy boycotts.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has selected six companies for its “Green Finance Subsidy Programme for Tokyo Market Entry” following submissions from 48 companies based in 17 countries and regions. The programme helps support the expenses incurred when overseas asset management and fintech companies engaged in green finance open new businesses in Tokyo. The selected companies are Cogo Connecting Good from New Zealand; Doconomy from Sweden; US-based MaximusLife; Swiss firm RepRisk; RIMM Sustainability from Singapore; and SESAMm from France. The goal is to accelerate the growth of Tokyo’s green finance market, and improve the sharing of ESG expertise in the city in collaboration with local universities, as previously reported by RI.