In the Loop: Standards solidarity, a Swiss mystery and a PRI puzzle

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One for all and all for one?

Superheroes Stacking Hands Together

As the saying goes, you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. At a time when straining the alphabet soup is a key goal, it appears the three big sustainability standard bodies think it pays to be mates.

We’ve previously written about the public displays of affection between the ISSB, the GRI and EFRAG (despite clear disagreements between them on what sustainability reporting should entail and what is material).

This week showed that the ISSB’s Emmanuel Faber’s recent fierce criticism of double materiality has not come in the way of the interoperability-based friendship.

Faber and impact-focused GRI’s CEO Eelco van der Enden were snapped showing off a dance move (or similar) together at an event in Singapore this week, and Faber thanked van der Enden for “lending deliberate and solid support” to the ISSB.

Also this week, EFRAG Sustainability Reporting Board chair Patrick de Cambourg and Carol Adams, chair of the GRI’s technical standards board, told a webinar about their organisations’ continued support for one another.

Asked how different the ESRS is from the GRI standards, de Cambourg insisted that “the goal is the same” despite “minor differences in terminology”. He also revealed that the two standards bodies are preparing a new MoU “to continue to co-operate closely”.

It made for some slightly awkward conversation as well, however.

Reflecting on mandatory and voluntary reporting differences, Adams said that a standard “is only voluntary until someone makes it mandatory”.

Perhaps interpreting this rather literally, de Cambourg responded that the difference between voluntary and mandatory is whether the standards are embedded in the legislative system – to which Adams replied: “Of course I understand that.”

As we’ve said before, behind the scenes of the various statements of co-operation, MoUs and public praise for each other, the materiality issue is likely to remain a key cause of friction for the three players.

Commenting this week on a LinkedIn post sharing an article about planned ISSB adoption in Africa, Adams said: “Shouldn’t countries with several sustainable development concerns be seeking accountability for the most significant impacts (GRI 3) of private and public sector organisations? Large global companies should [be] making a positive contribution.”

Quote of the week

“The short answer is no. We can’t be everything for everybody, so we’re going to focus on the entities that are aligned with how we like to invest and how we see the way forward.”

Johanna Lasker, CEO BNP Paribas Asset Management US, on whether the US backlash would make getting new ESG business more difficult

The week in RI

ESG ratings were top of the agenda this week – more specifically, the impact of regulation on the sector.

On Monday, we reported on plans by the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU to propose ditching legal separation rules in upcoming EU regulation. And on Thursday, RI exclusively revealed that Sustainalytics will exit India next month in response to new rules on ESG ratings and data.

In other EU news, a European Parliament report urged the ECB to limit bank exposure to high-carbon firms, and BNP Paribas AM said reforming Article 8 and 9 labels would be preferable to implementing a new system.

For asset owners, a UK review found growing stewardship misalignment with managers. Research also showed that many are uncertain that their target-setting frameworks lead to real world impact.

Elsewhere, sustainability advocates in Canada gave a cautious welcome to the government’s Fall Financial Statement, financial firms pushed back against their ranking in a modern slavery benchmark and investors criticised proxy adviser ISS for insufficient action on climate.

RI also revealed that a long-awaited announcement from GFANZ on the start of work on incorporating nature into transition plans is expected in the coming month.

And finally, our senior reporter Khalid Azizuddin produced a must-read interview with Jamie Allen, outgoing head of the Asian Corporate Governance Association, on two decades of ground-breaking work in the region.

The case of the vanishing CA100+ investors

Has the curse of the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance afflicted Climate Action 100+? Has the ESG backlash sparked a rush for the door at one of the most successful engagement initiatives on the planet?

RI noticed this week that around 85 members of CA100+ had been delisted from its website, raising the spectre of a quiet exodus prompted either by some unknown scandal or the overbearing threat of US attorneys general.

An investigation of which investors were missing from the list, however, revealed they were mainly Swiss pension funds – and it seemed unlikely that the provider of retirement savings for Bern’s teachers would have been deterred by investigative demands an ocean and a legal system away.

Further enquiries revealed the truth was much less sinister.

Many of Switzerland’s pension funds are and have been engaging collaboratively via an engagement pool hosted by Ethos, which leads or co-leads CA100+ engagement with Holcim, Nestlé and ThyssenKrupp. Their names were removed from the CA100+ website to reflect this consolidation.

Interestingly, the pool also represents something of a Trojan Horse for joining the initiative.

While entries to CA100+ itself were paused as it designed and launched its second phase, applications to the Ethos engagement pool were not. It has added 26 new members since CA100+ paused entries, giving them access to collaborative engagement on climate.

The PRI DE&I puzzle

Team connecting a jigsaw puzzle

The PRI has reportedly been struggling to get engagement from signatories on DE&I-related topics.

A recent consultation on its board diversity policy received zero responses from members – which came as a surprise to RI, since we know Conor Kehoe’s nomination as chair raised a few eyebrows across the industry back in September.

A spokesperson for the PRI told RI that the policy has been updated using “best practice language and to align with our DE&I strategy”.

Oddly, the strategy also failed to generate any feedback from signatories when it was put out for consultation in 2022.

PRI’s spokesperson commented: “Signatories are not compelled to respond to every request for consultation, and have a number of channels and forums to provide feedback, which the PRI welcomes on an ongoing basis.”

So the question is, are members a) not concerned about DE&I at the PRI, or b) too overwhelmed with other reporting requirements to have time to engage?

If you have an answer, or any other thoughts on the topic, please contact us at edit@responsible-investor.com.

SOC vs Starbucks

This week it emerged that a worker rights-focused proxy contest is being mounted at Starbucks under the aegis of SOC Investment Group.

The union-backed US investment house is seeking to get three independent nominees – including the former chair of the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – onto the board of the coffee giant.

Citing the 120 complaints issued against Starbucks since November 2021 by the NLRB, SOC Investment Group said it is “only a matter of time until the share price reflects the cost of this failed oversight”.

In March, an impressive 52 percent of shareholders backed a proposal calling on Starbucks to undertake an independent assessment of its labour practices. It was reportedly the first time a workers’ rights proposal achieved majority support.

A few months before the vote, New York City comptroller Brad Lander, whose office co-filed the resolution, told RI that Starbucks had “not engaged in good faith negotiations” with it over anti-unionisation concerns.

Given the degree of shareholder concern about Starbucks on the issue – as reflected in support for enhanced disclosure, which is expected soon – could we be looking at an Engine No.1 style victory in 2024?

In a statement, Starbucks said that it will “review SOC Investment Group’s proposed director nominee[s] in accordance with its normal process” and will make its formal recommendation in its proxy statement.


Today’s letter was prepared by the RI editorial team.