RI Briefing, October 15: ACSI, US SIF, Toyota, UBS, Triodos, MSCI, Ceres, IFC, Novethic

RI’s regular round-up of responsible investing news

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, the body which advises superannuation funds on environmental, social and governance (ESG) has found the number of female directorships has been “flat-lining” since 2003. ACSI said it welcomes the new ASX Corporate Governance Guidelines which require companies to plan for more women in senior roles.

Australia provided the highest number of responses to the PRI annual reporting survey from any country: 70 in 2010, up from 50 the previous year, reports Investment & Pensions Asia. The ‘PRI in Progress’ report singled out Christian Super, an A$500m pension fund, and Industry Funds Management, an A$23bn infrastructure and private equity specialist. ARIA, the A$19bn government employees’ fund, was highlighted for its work on climate risk and investment strategy.

The US Social Investment Forum has rebutted an appeal by the US Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable for a legal review of the SEC’s new proxy access rule. The business groups argue the rule is “arbitrary and capricious, and that the SEC failed to properly assess the rule’s effects on ‘efficiency, competition and capital formation’ as required by law”.

Car giant Toyota Motor has announced that its trading partner Toyota Tsusho (TTC) has divested its stake in Myanmar Suzuki Motor. TTC jointly controlled a plant with the Burmese military regime and Suzuki Motor Corp. A coalition of US investors including Trillium, Domini Social Investments, Boston Common and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have been engaging with Toyota on the issue for three years.

Indonesian biodiversity foundation Kehati may fire two of its three remaining global external asset managers as it shifts back to index investing for its US$21.75m endowment after abandoning actively managed alternative funds. “Research and history have shown that few fund managers can beat the index,” Kehati’s director of finance and administration, Gustaaf Lumiu, told Investment & Pensions Asia.

UBS, the Swiss banking group has formed a new Renewable Energy and Cleantech Group under James Schaefer as global head and David Dolezal as Americas head.

Sustainable bank Triodos has excluded Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche over clinical trials with transplanted organs in China. Triodos said: “Since the company no longer meets our human rights minimum standard, it has been excluded from the Triodos sustainable investment universe and will be removed from all Triodos investments within the short term.”Lindsay Tomlinson of the UK’s National Association of Pension Funds told the NAPF’s annual conference that pension funds are the ultimate long-term investors and so needed to contribute to the “hot topic” of short-termism in capital markets, reports Professional Pensions. He said the pensions business was “overloaded with trivial short term information”.

MSCI Inc. has become a signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. “Investing in companies who exhibit principles of strong corporate governance and who are committed to sustainable environmental and social practices is becoming increasingly important for our clients,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Henry Fernandez. Link

Richard Saunders, Chief Executive of the Investment Management Association, has said “red lights start flashing for me” when the government refers to short-termism and shareholders. In a commentary, he says there’s muddled thinking over this issue and takeovers.

Investor coalition Ceres has teamed up with CalPERS, the Skoll Foundation and Nike to “use their collective clout” to urge firms to move more quickly to understand global sustainability risks and develop new business models and solutions. The collaboration was announced at the Clinton Global Initiative.

A new body aiming to become a bridge between mainstream finance and the new economy movement has formed. The Capital Institute will be “a private, non-partisan, not for profit think tank” headed by John Fullerton. Peter Kinder, co-founder of KLD Research & Analytics is among the board members.

China Investment Corp., the $300bn sovereign fund, will avoid investments in defence, gambling and alcohol, according to a Reuters report. “We will not do anything that has a reputational risk for us,” CIC supervisory board Chairman Jin Liqun told the Super Return Asia 2010 conference.

IFC, the private investment arm of the World Bank, has set up a Climate Business Group to integrate climate issues into its investment and advisory services, with the goal of growing IFC’s climate-related investments to at least 20% ($3bn) of its overall commitments within three years. The group is led by Mohsen Khalil.

French researcher Novethic has awarded 142 funds with its SRI (Socially Responsible Investment) Label. Although there were 50% more applicants in 2010, Novethic says “much effort remains” before individual investors are encouraged to request this type of investment from their bank.