RI ESG Briefing, Nov. 16: Citi, Medibank, Ceres, ING, State Street Global Advisors, Sustainability Accounting Standards Board

Round-up of the latest ESG developments.


Australia’s largest private health insurer, Medibank, has announced that it will withdraw millions of dollars in fossil fuel investments because of the health implications of climate change, the Guardian reports. In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange before its annual general meeting in Melbourne on Monday, its Chair, Elizabeth Alexander, said “Medibank acknowledges the science of climate change and the impacts on human health”. It is reported that the company will move to low carbon investments in its international investment portfolio within the next 12 months.

Former Norwegian Government ministers – including former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch – are reportedly among the plaintiffs in case filed by Greenpeace seeking to halt oil exploration off the coast of Norway. The case dubbed “People vs Arctic Oil” claims that Norway’s ongoing expansion into new offshore areas violates the Norwegian constitution, which ensures Norwegians the right to a sustainable climate and obliges the state to secure that right, and the UN’s Paris Agreement.

US sustainability non-profit Ceres has published a paper suggesting that opportunities for investing in early stage clean energy technology companies have significantly improved in recent years, offering investors potentially greater risk adjusted returns in the sector than ever before. The report, Clean Tech 3.0: Venture Capital Investing in the Early Stage Clean Energy, also examines what went wrong in previous “cycles of venture capital investing in this sector”.

ING has financed its first solar farm in Australia. The Dutch bank forms part of a “banking syndication” that is project financing the 100MW Clare Solar farm in North Queensland, one of Australia’s largest solar energy farms to date. The Australian Government has set itself a target to generate 33,000 GWh of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.


The Skoll Foundation, the US philanthropic body founded by Canadian entrepreneur, Jeff Skoll, has become a signatory to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). It joins just two other US foundations – the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund – as signatories to the principles. The Skoll Foundation has invested approximately $400m worldwide to date.

Major electronics and electric vehicle companies, with Microsoft, Lenovo and Renault among the worst, are not doing enough to stop human rights abuses entering their cobalt supply chains, according to a new report by campaign group Amnesty International. Microsoft, which is among 26 companies that have failed to disclose details of their suppliers, is not in compliance with even the most basic international standards.

The US Government’s Agency for International Development has undertaken the first of its planned biennial Investor Survey on Land Rights. The survey – endorsed by the European Investment Bank – will “track investor and operator perceptions and practices related to land tenure and property rights in land-based investments”. The primary data collection will be completed by January 2018, with the final report being made public in March 2017. 

US actuarial firm Milliman has been joined by MicroInsurance Centre (MIC), the microfinance specialist consulting firm dedicated to “generating access to valuable microinsurance products to 3 billion low-income people across the globe”. MIC President Michael McCord said that a “synergy arises from Milliman’s global reach and commitment to the health and financial well-being of people everywhere, coupled with the MIC’s experience in providing value to low-income clients and business cases for insurers in over 75 countries.” h6. Governance

Following a successful pilot, US banking giant Citi plans to roll out its new digital proxy voting platform in the UK for the 2018 proxy season. Proxymity, which “directly connects and authenticates the issuer and investor and makes the voting process more efficient, accurate and transparent”, is supported by Australia-listed investor services firm Computershare. Following its launch in the UK Citi plans to expand its use in other market later in 2018. Aviva Investors, Legal & General Investment Management, Aberdeen Standard Investments, and Robeco were the key investors involved with the pilot according to the press release.

State Street Global Advisors has announced that it will expand it guidance on corporate board diversity to the public companies in which it invests in Japan and Canada. This follows a letter sent by the $2.67tn asset manager in March 2017 to 600 companies in the US, UK and Australia informing them that it would vote against the chair of their nominating committees if there were no female directors or candidates. The giant manager also announced it had become an Associate Member of the Responsible Investment Association (RIA) in Canada.

Financial institutions, multinationals and start-ups have issued recommendations on how to improve collaboration in order to overcome global challenges. The UK’s Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership runs a Banking Environment Initiative, which earlier this year launched a Fintech Taskforce. Its first report proposes 10 recommendations, including that commercial organisations should team up with other stakeholders to support a portfolio of projects focused on financing at least one Sustainable Development Goal.

Women now hold 20.8% of the board seats of US listed companies, according to the Gender Diversity Index (GDI), exceeding 2020 Women on Boards’ 20% national campaign goal. The GDI has tracked the number of women on boards since 2011 using the Fortune 1000 list from 2010 as a baseline of comparison. This year’s figure is up from 19.8% in 2017 and 14.6% in 2011.

US non-profit the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) has opened for stakeholder feedback the proposed changes to its Provisional Standards, including the corresponding Basis for Conclusions. The 90-day public consultation period ends on December 31, with the ratification of the standards scheduled for early 2018. SASB has also announced that it has ‘refreshed’ it sustainability qualification – launched in 2015 – with a revised curriculum and more preparatory materials. The FSA Credential aims to give students the ability to “speak with authority about how sustainability drives performance and value”.

Sixty-one investors, representing $2.3tn in asset under management, have supported a statement urging companies to step up the fight against the spread of antibiotic resistance – which kills around 700,000 people/year. The statement was coordinated by Jeremy Coller’s Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) initiative, whose analysis also found that US and Canadian regulation is well behind European nations when it comes to stopping the overuse of antibiotics in livestock.

The classification of firearms and ammunition makers in US mutual funds is an obstacle to divestment, according to a Reuters analysis of filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Its analysis found that such companies are classified across a wide array of industries, including: aerospace and defence, consumer goods, healthcare, household products, leisure and retail.