Investors must focus more on human rights, says Anglo American board director

Frustration over lack of investor interest

Investors have to start focusing more on companies’ exposure to human rights risks, says Peter Woicke, board director of mining giant Anglo American.

Woicke, the former Executive Vice President of the International Finance Corp. (IFC), who chairs the sustainable development committee at the company, lamented the lack of interest by large investors in the issues.

“We never get questions on it from investors,” Woicke, a director at Anglo American since 2006, said. “I don’t understand why large investors don’t focus on this much more,” he went on. “Investors have to start looking at this.” Human rights issues are a material risk for a company such as Anglo American, as evidenced by the London-listed company’s announcement earlier this year of a $4bn write down over its Minas-Rio iron ore project in Brazil, dogged by confusion over permits. Just this week there was a strike at its Kleinkopje coal mine in South Africa.

Woicke’s remarks – at an event in London to launch a new guide for on investors on human rights – come as the extractives industry body the ICMM says it has seen increased interest from investors over the past 18 months.The International Council on Mining and Metals reviewed how analysts, research groups – and the investment media – view the social and economic performance of the industry.

ICMM made more than 20 presentations to investment houses in the year and said: “Over the past 18 months, there has been an increased interest in ICMM approaches by the investment community that signals a significant change.” The ICMM’s new Annual Review: Building Trust is available here.

Speaking at the same event, Bennett Freeman, Calvert Investments’ Senior Vice President of Sustainability Research and Policy, said his firm is increasingly looking at how human rights affect fixed income investments.

And Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer at Aviva Investors, said there was a “profound” need for benchmarks to enable investors to assess human rights.

Investing the Rights Way: a Guide for Investors on Business and Human Rights, is published by the Institute for Human Rights and Business, in collaboration with Calvert and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR).