RI news briefs: Apple, tax, Dutch pension funds

RI’s round-up of the latest news briefs.

Apple, the US computer giant, says it has updated its Board’s Audit and Finance Committee charter to include responsibility regarding regulatory, legislative, and reputational privacy risks to the company, following a recent shareholder proposal on privacy issues lodged by Boston-based Trillium Asset Management. As a result, Trillium said it had withdrawn the shareholder proposal from next year’s AGM. Trillium’s proposal highlighted business and social privacy risks around personal information use, and Board oversight of these issues. Jonas Kron, Trillium’s Director of Shareholder Advocacy & Corporate Engagement, said: “We very much appreciated having a productive dialogue with the company which resulted in a fundamental improvement to the company’s critically important governance structure. By incorporating privacy into its committee charter Apple’s board of directors has acted in the best interests of the company, its shareholders and society.”

France’s Crédit Agricole CIB investment bank unit has introduced a series of sector policies to incorporate social and environmental impacts into all transactions, with a focus on respecting human rights, combating global warming and protecting biodiversity. The sectors covered are weapons (in place since 2010), oil & gas, shale gas, coal-fired thermal power, hydropower and nuclear power. In 2003, Crédit Agricole CIB was the first French bank to sign the Equator Principles.

MVV Energie, the municipal utility for the city of Mannheim, says it is acquiring seven wind onshore wind parks from Spanish energy giant Iberdrola for €52.7m. The acquisition is subject to regulatory approval. The seven parks with a capacity of 62.9 MW – enough for 30.000 households – are based in the states of North Rhine Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatine, Hesse, Thuringen and Saxony-Anhalt. The first among them were connected to the grid in 2003. MVV said that once the deal was approved, it would be able provide up to 136 MW in wind power. The Mannheim utility added that going forward, it planned to buy more wind parks as well as develop them in southern Germany.

A group of independent book retailers have started a petition on Change.org calling on Amazon to pay what they say are fair levels of corporation tax in the UK. The group says that Amazon, despite making sales of £2.9 billion in the UK last year, does not pay any UK corporation tax on the profits from those sales because of the way it books its tax through subsidiaries overseas. The group said: “As Independent booksellers, we are happy with competition in the market but believe it should be on level terms and by dodging corporation tax in this way, Amazon start with an unfair advantage.” The campaign has been picked up by the Independent newspaper:

Wells Fargo & Company, one of the world’s largest financial services companies, has joined the company network of Ceres, the environmental investor coalition, to integrate environmental and social performance into its business strategies and initiatives. In April 2012, Wells Fargo released a set of Environmental Commitments to be achieved by 2020, including reducing the company’s environmental impact, financing the transition to a more sustainable economy and encouraging stronger, environmentally responsible communities.Shelley Alpern, former Vice President at Trillium Asset Management has joined Clean Yield Asset Management, the social investment manager, to work on Social Research & Advocacy. Alpern had been with Trillium for 17 years. Alpern is a Board Member of the Center for Political Accountability, ProgressMass, and the Salem Alliance for the Environment.

LuxFLAG, the Luxembourg-based label has awarded the LuxFLAG Environment Label to the BNP Paribas Aqua fund. Six environment funds have been granted the LuxFLAG Environment Label as of December 2012, with approximately $558m in assets under management.

The VBDO (Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Investment) has published its sixth annual Benchmark Responsible Investment by Pension Funds in the Netherlands 2012. The report looks at 50 of the largest Dutch Pension Funds on policy, implementation and accountability of responsible investment. The overall results show that on average the pension funds are better in formulating a policy and reporting on the policy and the instruments than actually implementing the policy.
Link to report

The UK Pensions Trust, which managers the pensions of over 2,400 charitable, social, educational, voluntary and not-for-profit organizations, has appointed Governance for Owners (GO) as its engagement partner. GO will engage with The Pensions Trust’s investee companies across global markets with a view to enhancing performance by encouraging better environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.

ERA Carbon Offsets Ltd. and Wildlife Works Carbon LLC have set up the first certified REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation
and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The project has earned 2.5 million tonnes of Verified Emission Reductions to date and will generate an average of 5.6 million tonnes annually. The groups say the local forest community of 50,000 Congolese villagers in the Bandundu Province will receive direct benefits from the project in the form of jobs, schools, health clinics and improved food security through better agronomy and redevelopment of robust native fish stocks.

A UK Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards has endorsed the government’s planned Vickers reforms to erect a protective ringfence around retail banking activities. But it said the government should go further and ensure that banks cannot game the rules by installing a warning system that would give it the power to break-up of a bank in the case of abuse. It also suggested the government could ban proprietary trading, mirroring the forthcoming Volcker rule in the US.

PGGM and Ampere Equity Fund, acting through a dedicated investment vehicle, OPW, have refinanced their purchase (completed in December 2010) of a 24.8% stake in the Walney offshore wind farm off the UK coast, the largest operating wind farm in the world. Four banks, Lloyds Bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland plc, Santander, and Siemens Bank, together with the newly established UK Green Investment Bank plc (GIB), have provided between them loan facilities totalling £224m. The loans will enable PGGM and Ampere Equity Fund to refinance on a non-recourse basis approximately 70% of the purchase price agreed with DONG Energy, the developer, operator and majority owner (with a 50.1% stake) of the project.