RI Briefing, December 21: Microfinance transparency project winds down

RI’s regular round-up of responsible investing news

The Rating Initiative, the microfinance transparency project launched in 2008, is ending subsidies for social ratings, thus effectively terminating its co-funding mechanism for microfinance institutions. A new “exit phase” will last two years. The project was launched by Luxembourg non-profit organisation Appui au Developpement Autonome (ADA) in collaboration with the Government of Luxembourg, the Swiss Development Cooperation, Oxfam and Blue Orchard among others. Link

Olympus, the scandal-hit Japanese camera and medical imaging giant, has been removed from the Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific Index (DJSI Asia Pacific). “A review of Olympus’ position in the regional index was prompted by the recent disclosure of a long-term accounting scandal at the company,” said index firm Dow Jones and its partner SAM in a statement. Olympus had only been in the index since September this year.
Accounting for social value has been identified as one of 10 environmental, social and governance (ESG) trends to watch in 2012 by MSCI ESG Research. “For investors, companies that fail to generate consistent social value represent a clear portfolio risk: as public and political will wanes, these banks are increasingly open to regulatory scrutiny, brand destruction, and even failure,” MSCI says. Other trends include: Arab civil liberties, accounting for natural capital, the shifting debate on climate change, food safety, corporate tax, shale gas, labor in China, water and privacy & data security.

A £10m (€12m) bond issue by UK energy firm Ecotricity has been oversubscribed by 62%, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative. The firm plans to leverage the funds raised to finance more wind farms, green gas and alternative energy projects. Applications for the so-called ‘ecobond two’ closed on December 16 and Ecotricity is already allowing registrations for its next bond.

Rambus, the California-based technology licensing company, has been approved by fund manager Calvert’s Sustainability Research Department to be added to the Calvert Social Index. “The company has strengthened internal controls on options reporting and has improved its governance performance,” Calvert said. If approved, the addition will take place in March. Link*Papers and presentations* from the ‘Finance and Responsible Business Practices: Research, Practice and Policy’ conference, which took place on November 3-4 at the University of California at Berkeley, are now available. The event was hosted by the Haas Center for Responsible Business, together with the European Center for Corporate Engagement (ECCE) at Maastricht University.

Oil major BP is closing down its solar business after than 40 years, according to reports. A company spokesman was quoted by the Financial Times as saying the firm has realised “that we simply can’t make any money from solar”. The move is expected to affect about 100 employees worldwide.
The European Commission has granted approval for around £400m from dormant bank accounts to go into new UK social investment investor Big Society Capital (BSC), according to the Financial Times. This will be combined with around £200m being put up by four banks. BSC Chief Executive Nick O’Donohoe, the former Global Head of Research at J.P. Morgan, told the FT the Commission had given approval far more quickly than he had expected.
The Investor Summit on Climate Risk & Energy Solutions, a high level event sponsored by investor coalition Ceres, the United Nations Foundation and the UN Office for Partnerships, takes place in New York on January 12. Speakers include: Kevin Parker, Deutsche Asset Management; Abby Joseph Cohen, Goldman Sachs; Chad Holliday, Bank of America; Thomas DiNapoli, Comptroller, New York State; Jack Ehnes, CalSTRS; Janet Cowell, Treasurer, North Carolina; Richard Trumka, President, AFLCIO. Link

The University of Southern Queensland is conducting an international survey on responsible investment practice. The goal of the anonymous research, which comprises 30 questions, is to understand the factors that affect participation in responsible investment from a stakeholder perspective. Link

Standard Life Investments, the fund manager, has issued a report looking at the implementation in the extractives sector of the key aspects of Professor John Ruggie’s Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. The report is entitled Business and Human Rights and is available here