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RI ESG Briefing, July 2: Dutch pension funds exit Wal-Mart over labour relations

The round-up of environmental, social and governance news

Environmental

ORIX Corp., the Japan-based financial giant which has just completed its acquisition of Dutch fund firm Robeco, says it will develop what it calls “mega-solar” and rooftop solar power generation businesses at 77 sites across Japan, with a combined output of 170MW.

The CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), the investor backed climate change data body, met US President Barack Obama ahead of his groundbreaking climate change speech at Georgetown University last month. The CDP’s US head Tom Carnac said the body looks forward to helping the government in areas such as investor education and emissions data management.

Allianz Capital Partners, the renewable investment unit of Allianz, has acquired another three wind parks – two in France and one in Germany – further expanding the insurer’s renewables portfolio. Financial details were not disclosed but ACP has already said that by 2016, it would invest up to €500m in wind parks. The two French parks (Fontfroide and Bruyère Grande), were previously owned by French energy giant EDF and have a capacity of 23.5MW. The 76.5MW German park, 80km south of Berlin, was previously owned by Spain’s Eolia Renovables.

Low Carbon Accelerator, the UK-listed clean investment vehicle, ceased trading on the AIM market as of today (July 2). A shareholder meeting yesterday approved the voluntary winding up of the company.

Social

The French Asset Management Association (AFG) and the French SIF (FIR: Forum pour l’Investissement Responsable) have published an updated, clarified definition of socially responsible investment. It reads: “Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) is investment that aims to bring together economic performance and social and environmental impact by financing companies and public entities that contribute to sustainable development whatever their business sector. By influencing the governance and behaviour of financial actors, SRI favours a responsible economy.” Last month RI reported that a major public report in France recommended that the country should introduce a state-backed SRI label and consider tax breaks for responsible investments in private equity and the country’s huge life assurance fund market.

New York City Comptroller John Liu, trustee of the NYC Pension Funds, has called on clothing giants Gap Target to help protect garment workers by signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The request follows recent agreements between the funds and the companies to increase the sustainability and transparency of their global suppliers and comes in the wake of the deadly Rana Plaza building collapse in April 24.h6. Governance

A group of Dutch pension fund investors including PGGM, engineering sector funds PMT, and administrator MN Services have excluded US retail giant Wal-Mart over labour relations, according to reports. The latter three have also excluded GAIL India, India’s largest state-owned natural gas processing and distribution company. It follows the divestment announced earlier by PFZW of some €600m in tobacco-related companies.

CtW Investment Group is urging shareholders in US drug wholesaler McKesson to vote against the re-election of CEO John Hammergren and directors Alton Irby and Jane Shaw. Union pension fund-linked CtW is citing excessive pay and the failure to take account of an advisory vote to split the chairman and CEO roles. McKesson, which holds its AGM in San Francisco on July 31, is also facing four shareholder proposals, including one filed by the Miami Firefighters’ Relief and Pension Fund calling for the disclosure of political contributions and expenditures. Link

The UN Global Compact, the initiative for businesses committed to aligning with principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, expelled 99 companies in the first half of 2013 for failure to communicate their progress for at least two consecutive years. But with 646 companies joining the initiative to date in 2013, participants have signed onto the Global Compact at more than six times the rate of expulsions.

Logistics firm UPS and fast-food giant McDonald’s have become the first companies committed to the Supporting Stakeholder Program of the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR), the project which aims to set a global sustainability ratings standard. They join a list of companies, investors and NGOs involved in the GISR standard development process, including Bloomberg, TIAACREF, UBS, Aviva, State Street Global Advisors, Intel, AMD, Deloitte, Pax World Management, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). GISR plans to release Version 1.0 of its principles in the third quarter of this year and is holding a consultation until July 31. Link

James Featherby, Chair of the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group, made an address at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London last month on the topic “What kind of City do we want?” A transcript is available here