Canadian Social Investment Organization: conference highlights

The SIO, the Canadian Association for Socially Responsible Investment, held its conference in Toronto last week. Here are some of the highlights:

Charles Black, chair of the Pension Board at the United Church of Canada, said the group’s engagement with mining firm Goldcorp may be “potentially at a tipping point” following a new report on alleged human rights abuses at its Marlin mine in Guatemala. “The next few months could be very telling,” he said.

TIAACREF’s Director of Corporate Governance Stephen Brown spoke about its three-year engagement with companies linked to genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, which culminated in the exclusion of five companies at the end of 2009. Chief executive Roger Ferguson even visited China and Malaysia to talk to the target firms, Brown said – adding: “This was not cheap what we did.” He added that TIAACREF would next year be revising its proxy guidelines.

Consulting firm Mercer presented a study commissioned by the WWF looking at the carbon footprint of Canadian institutional investors‘ portfolios. They sampled four funds, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, an Ottawa church fund, Batirente and an unnamed public pension plan. Batirente had the highest footprint due to its high weighting to the high emitting consumer goods sector. Batirente’s Francois Meloche put forward the idea of a system to compare investors by GHG emissions in their portfolios, like an investor version of the Carbon Disclosure Project.

“How much social change do you promote by walking away?” That was the question posed by Frank Coleman, executive vice president of Christian Brothers Investment Services in New York, during a session on divestment. He mentioned in passing that CBIS has just divested a large US company, the second largest in the world, though CBIS wasn’t able to provide any further details.Groupe Investissement Responsable, the Montreal-based proxy voting and consulting firm, is looking to expand its platform and “go global” said chief executive Olivier Gamache. GIR already has alliances with Swiss firms Centre Info and Ethos.
The “deep deep pockets of institutional investors” will be needed to help bootstrap around 2,000 cleantech firms worldwide, said CleanTech Group Executive Chairman Nicholas Parker. He called for Canadian investors such as family offices, big pension funds and institutional investors to be mandated to invest in clean and green. The Toronto Stock Exchange could become an “anchor” for cleantech in the same way it dominates the mining sector.

Michael Jantzi, 46, was awarded the inaugural life time achievement award at the conference. Jantzi is CEO at SRI research firm Sustainalytics and beat fellow nominees Peter Chapman of the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) and veteran anti-apartheid campaigners Bill Davis and Moira Hutchinson.
Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, is considering setting up a socially responsible investing chair, believed to be the first in Canada, according to Social Investment Organization President Cheryl Crowe.

Paul Hannon, executive director of Mines Action Canada, said he expected Canadian legislation on cluster munitions some time in October, assuming there is no election in the mean time. He said: “I expect it will be similar to the UK legislation. I don’t think it will go beyond direct investments.”