A set of best-practice sustainability reporting criteria for financial services companies has been launched at a high-level dinner at the World Economic Forum in Davos by the United Nations and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which promotes global corporate ESG disclosure standards. The criteria, parts of the groups’ joint Sustainability Reporting Guidelines were unveiled by the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and the GRI at a dinner in Davos hosted by Innovest, the SRI research company, expected to be attended by Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern report, Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate Economist, George Soros, the financier and philanthropist and Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP. The specialist financial services sector guide includes clear social and environmental indicators for fund managers, insurance companies and retail and corporate banks that fit with the GRI’s G3 standards, the latest version of its recommended corporate ESG reporting criteria. Supporters of the initiative said it would help encourage transparency and sustainability amongst financial services companies that could restore confidence following criticisms as a result of the credit crisis.Sean Gilbert, head of sustainability reporting framework at GRI, said: “At a time when we are looking for a greater degree of transparency from our financial institutions it is vital that there is commonly-agreed guidance on what that disclosure should look like. The Financial Services Sector Supplement assists by explaining how firms can measure and disclose key data on the sustainability of their investments, products and services.“The guidelines, which were developed over five years by banking, insurance and investment members of UNEP FI, cover sustainability issues regarding company policy, procedure and product. For example, companies are expected to report on how certain products bring social and environmental benefits. This might include the percentage of companies held in investment portfolios where the financial services provider is ‘engaging’ on a specific social or environmental issue. It could also include the amount of assets held that are subject to positive or negative environmental screening and/or investor voting policies. On the environment, finance groups are encouraged to report both total direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions including corporate travel and that of service providers.
Other reporting areas include labour practices and investment agreements that include human rights clauses or screening. Significantly, companies are also asked to point to examples of ‘fair’ design in the labeling and sale of their investment products. A second report was also launched at the dinner titled: “Understandingcorporate sustainability disclosure requests”, which specifically examines the companies such as index providers and research houses that are asking US corporations to provide them with sustainability reporting criteria for institutional investment clients.
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