RI Briefing, Feb. 29: Study says SRI and shareholder activism are important tools of social change

RI’s regular round-up of responsible investing news

A survey of more than 600 sustainability experts says SRI and shareholder activism are viewed as important tools of social and corporate change. The study surveyed experts from 77 countries. It found that shareholder activism is more effective at driving changes in corporate strategy and behaviour than most other activist tactics, including public criticism through social and traditional media, dialogue with companies and civil disobedience. Only product boycotts and preferential purchasing are deemed to have a slight advantage in effectiveness over shareholder activism.
Link to survey

Union Bancaire Privée, the Geneva-based private and institutional asset management group with CHF72bn (€59.7bn) in assets under management, has become a signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI). Among other new signatories are Portobello Capital (Spain), W.P. Stewart & Co. (Netherlands) and Luxcara Advisory (Germany).

News and data firm Thomson Reuters has published research showing that corporations are doing more to track the number of women they employ – and that those with more women in management benefit from “healthier share prices in times of market turmoil”. The Women in the Workplace study provides an overview of the latest trends in gender equality within large and mid-cap listed firms globally.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has published new guidance it says will help companies in the oil and gas sector report their sustainability performance on issues such as environmental management, health and safety and emergency preparedness. The new Oil and Gas Sector Supplement was developed via a multi-stakeholder process, with experts from oil and gas companies and stakeholder institutions.

Albert Stanley, the former chief executive of KBR Inc., has been sentenced to 30 months in prison under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for his role in a scheme to bribe Nigerian government officials to win contracts, according to reports. KBR was previously a unit of oil services firm Halliburton but was spun off in 2007. In 2009 it agreed to pay $579m to settle bribery charges.

Vancity, the mutually owned Vancouver-based financial institution with C$14.5bn in assets, has launched the Good Money Impact Venture Challenge. It is for students and recent graduates building businesses that create positive change. Prizes range from $$50,000 to $15,000 and the deadline for applications is March 16.

The Conference Board, the New York-based business group, has published a survey of European executive pay. Executive Remuneration across Europe: A Handbook of Design, Disclosure, and Enforcement Rules covers Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. It includes a chapter on European Union initiatives.

Georgetown, the private Jesuit university in Washington, has expanded the scope of its Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility (CISR) to consider investment proposals from members of the university community, according to campus paper The Hoya. “Our Catholic and Jesuit mission compels us to help ensure our investments are consistent with our basic values,” the paper quoted the university saying in a statement.The European Fund and Asset Management Association (EFAMA), which represents around €14trn of assets at its member associations, says Europe’s proposed Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) would put many money market funds out of business and reduce the attractiveness of long term savings in equity, bond and balanced funds. It requested the European Commission to re-examine its proposal, saying if applied at the start of 2011, the FTT would have cost €38bn.

Dutch construction firm BAM Group, consulting firm Ernst & Young ShinNihon of Japan and UK retailer Sainsbury’s have become the latest companies to join the Integrated Reporting Pilot Programme. They join a list of over 60 global organizations and associations.

Almost 500,000 individual investors have used Broadridge Financial Solutions’’ new mobileproxyvote.com smart phone and tablet proxy voting solution, according to a speech by company chief executive Richard Daly to the National Press Club in Washington recently. Of that number, around one-third were first-time voters.

Microgenius, a “crowdfunding” service dedicated to community-based renewable energy projects, has been launched. The not-for-profit company is the brainchild of Emily Mackay, who has been supported by Anglia Ruskin University with a £10,000 grant. Crowdfunding refers to when people pool funds for a particular project. Link

The 2011-2012 issue of the Moral Report on Money Worldwide (“Le Rapport Moral sur l’Argent dans le Monde”) has been published with the support of French state investor the Caisse des Dépôts. Published by the Association of Financial Economics (AEF) with the support it covers the fight against criminality and financial offences. Link (French)

Transparency International has written to the Financial Times to defend country-by-country reporting. Without it, writes Karen Egger, “It is impossible to know how much profit is generated and what, if any, special arrangements governments may have entered into”. It follows FT reports that Royal Dutch Shell and other extractives firms have boosted their efforts to block planned rules forcing them to disclose payments to governments in countries where they operate.

NGOs have raised concerns about oil industry lobbying to change the wording of Section 1504 of the US Dodd-Frank Act, which requires extractive companies to disclose their tax, royalty and other payments to governments. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the American Petroleum Institute and oil companies to respond:

The financial position and performance of RBS is “almost totally obscured” by faulty accounting standards, with millions of pounds worth of bonuses still missing, according to PIRC, the shareholder voting group. PIRC said RBS’ bad book of investments was also overvalued by at least £10bn, due to defective IFRS accounting standards used by the bank.