RI ESG Briefing, March 12: South Africa’s government fund signs up to GRESB

The round-up of ESG news

Environmental

South Africa’s ZAR1trn (€84bn) Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), the largest pension fund in Africa, has become a member of the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), the industry group committed to assessing the sustainability of real estate portfolios. It means the fund – with a current property allocation of 4.9% – will have access to GRESB’s survey of the environmental performance of real estate investment vehicles, both listed and private property funds.

The NOK4trn (€537bn) Norwegian Government Pension fund has divested 23 Asian palm oil companies over their links with deforestation. It sold its stakes in the companies after a review, according to the fund’s annual report released. “In the first quarter of 2012 we sold our stakes in 23 companies that by our reckoning produced palm oil unsustainably,” the fund said.

Chicago-based wind energy technology company Broadwind Energy will reportedly pay nearly $4m to settle a shareholder class action that had alleged the Nasdaq-listed firm broke securities laws by inflating its stock and allowing its CEO to cash out early. Investors sued the company in February 2011, Law360.com reported.

Social

The first edition of the new global Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) – backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) – has been launched. It finds the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers must do more to increase access to nutritious products and positively exercise their influence on consumer choice and behavior. The report assesses the nutrition-related commitments, performance and disclosure practices of 25 of the world’s largest groups, measured against international guidelines, norms and accepted best practices. Danone, Unilever and Nestlé are the top performers on the ATNI, receiving the highest scores on both the obesity and undernutrition rankings. Link

Fair Pensions, the UK campaign group which promotes responsible investment, is changing its name to ShareAction as of March 18. “This year we enter a new phase of our development with a new name and a new look that will capture the growing scope and ambition of our work,” the London-based body says. “It had become clear that the name FairPensions did not convey the full breadth of our work.” Fair Pensions is a registered charity chaired by former HSBC asset management executive Jenine Langrish. Funders include the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the Friends Provident Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Link. Governance

The $162.3bn Florida State Board of Administration has voted against two shareholder proposals on human rights at computer company Hewlett-Packard, according to disclosures on its web site. The motions, tabled respectively by faith groups and activist Dr. Jing Zhao, are for HP’s annual general meeting on March 20.

A new poll by the German Society of Investment Professionals (DVFA) has found little enthusiasm for limits on executive pay at German firms. DVFA’s poll of 200 financial analysts and portfolio managers was taken in the wake of Switzerland’s historic “yes” vote to implement pay curbs on executives at its listed firms. In the poll, only 29% of the investment professionals said they generally supported a cap on executive pay. Another 30% said a limit set by the government was justified as part of a bailout with taxpayer money.

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) has completed its annual audit into board diversity of companies on the benchmark ASX200 – and found that 15.5% of directors are women. This is an increase of just 24 women from 2012. “Although there has been some progress, the rate at which change is taking place is incredibly slow. Frankly, it is unacceptable,” ACSI said.

Austria’s Erste Asset Management has launched a collaboration with Sweden-based engagement provider GES Investment Services. It’s the first shareholder engagement mandate GES has received from Austria, according to GES partner firm, Germany’s Oekom Research.

The UK’s National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF), the trade body, has published a guide to help pension trustees assess the stewardship abilities of their prospective investment managers. The one-page document is named “Quizzing Fund Managers” and highlights questions trustees should consider when selecting and subsequently reviewing their investment managers. “Trustees have a lot on their minds and need support. We have published this crib-sheet to help them consider stewardship factors when appointing their investment managers,” the NAPF said.

Some 47% of UK savers want their investment managers to be more transparent about how votes at company annual meetings are cast on their behalf, according to research from opinion poll firm YouGov to mark the country’s first ‘Ownership Day’. Ownership Day is a new initiative to raise awareness of the financial benefits of active ownership and stewardship for investors.