RI Briefing, January 11: SAM looks at obesity crisis & investment opportunities

RI’s regular round-up of responsible investing developments

Sustainable fund management firm SAM has released a study looking at the investment opportunities of the global obesity crisis. “Obesity – a Heavy Burden” finds promising opportunities in prevention, mitigation and adaptation solutions. “Companies that offer products, technologies and services that either help prevent obesity, or help mitigate and adapt to obesity-related chronic diseases are poised to benefit from long-term market opportunities,” says Gabriela Grab Hartmann, Head of Consumer Analyst Team, SAM. Link

New research has found that 15 companies in the UK have met the target, set by Lord Davies, of having 25% women directors. Data from the Professional Boards Forum showed that there were almost 100 appointments of women to boardrooms for companies in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250. There are now just 10 firms will all-male boards. Link

This first Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) index, developed by regional governance body Hawkamah and Standard & Poor’s, had its first rebalancing last month. “The data shows that there have been overall improvements in the ESG scores of regional companies,” said Nasser Saidi, Executive Director of Hawkamah.

The new California Transparency in Supply Chains Act came into effect at the start of this month. It obliges retailers and manufacturers with more than $100m (€79m) of business in the state to begin to report on their efforts to eliminate slavery and human trafficking from their supply chains. Link

The UN Environment Programme has published a timetable of major events taking place in the run-up to the Rio+20 summit later this year. “2012 will mark some major milestones in the race to realize sustainable development as nations navigate the final laps on the Road to Rio+20,” it says. This year has been designated as the “International Year for Sustainable Energy for All” by the UN General Assembly.

It’s time to re-engineer the investment system “so that it acts more like our servant and less like our master”. So says Tomorrow’s Company Founder Mark Goyder in an op-ed piece in The Guardian newspaper. He wanted the trustees of big pension funds to understand that fiduciary duty requires them to exercise stewardship.Reminder from the Carbon Disclosure Project: The sign-up period for investors to become signatories for Investor CDP, CDP Water Disclosure or CDP Carbon Action is imminent – January 20. Link

Institutional Shareholder Services, the US proxy firm, has released its final review of environmental and social proposals put forward by shareholders for company annual meetings in 2011. It found that average support for them was 20.2% – up from 18.1% in 2010 and 16.3% the year before.

Aviva Investors has welcomed the news that Brazilian exchange BM&FBOVESPA is recommending that listed companies publish sustainability reports. “We believe this measure will support long term value creation for companies listed on BM&FBOVESPA as the boards improve their understanding of which sustainability considerations they need to integrate into their business strategy,” said CEO Paul Abberley. He said it has global implications as it demonstrates that the host nation for the Earth Summit is at the forefront of the debate on sustainability reporting.

Maplecroft, the risk advisory firm, has released its Child Labour Index 2012; it looks at the frequency and severity of violations worldwide. It finds that 76 countries, out of 197, are classified as posing ‘extreme risks’ to the welfare of children from underage working practices. That figure is up 10% on the prior year figure. The worst countries include: Myanmar, Sudan, DR Congo, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Ethiopia. The Philippines, India, China, Indonesia and Brazil are rated ‘extreme risk’ and pose supply chain risks for companies.Link

An academic look at the concept of fiduciary duty and sustainable investment has been published by Professor Gordon Clark of Oxford University. Clark argues that the design and governance of investment management institutions is more important than honouring an “increasingly empty” fiduciary duty. The paper is called ‘Fiduciary duty, statute, and pension fund governance: the search for a shared conception of sustainable investment’. Link