Perspectives – Bloomberg, McKinsey, Leading ESG Investors, Mark Cuban – on Corporate Purpose and the Virus Crisis

Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis – Post #8   

“Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”   #WeRise2FightCOVID-19

April 1, 2020

By Hank Boerner, Chair & Chief Strategist, and the G&A Institute team members

On Corporate Purpose – Words and Actions – Thoughts From Influentials As The Virus Crisis Deepens Worldwide — the Focus on Purpose Can Help Corporate Generals Lead From the Front

In summer 2019, The Business Roundtable (BRT), the association of the CEOs of 200 firms, revamped the organization’s mission statement to read…

…“as leaders of America’s largest corporations, BRT CEOs believe we have a responsibility to help build a strong and sustainable economic future in the United States.”

This followed the publication of the January 2019 CEO-to-CEO letter of Larry Fink, who heads BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager (and therefore a major fiduciary investing in the BRT companies). He regularly writes to the CEOs of companies that BlackRock invests in to let them know where of the major investors stands.

He wrote at the start of 2019…

…Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. And, profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose; in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.

And again in his January 2020 letter to CEOs, Chair & CEO Larry Fink said:

…“As I have written in past letters [to CEOs in 2019, 2018] a company cannot achieve long-term profits without embracing purpose and considering the needs of considering the needs of a broad range of stakeholders. Ultimately, purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.”

Fast forward to March 2020 and now into April. What is the walk-of-the-talk of the CEOs (181 of them) who were signatories as the coronavirus crisis grips the U.S. and the world — and the actions of the signatories’ firms as stakeholders look for aid, comfort, security, payroll, taxes paid, and more?

And what other companies not necessarily in the Roundtable? What actions are taken leveraging corporate power to help society?

The stakeholders are watching. And a good number of the Business Roundtable companies are responding to address societal needs.

And what are the perspectives shared about all of this? We bring you some of these today. Here are some of the views and advice of experts and  influentials.

McKinsey Speaks – On How to Demonstrate Corporate Purpose

Says the influential management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company: Companies will define what they do in the crucible of COVID-19 response – or be defined by it.

So what could company managements be doing when the primary purpose of their efforts is to help the enterprise survive? McKinsey acknowledges this — and provides some advice. This is from their bulletin today.

Questions are being asked, of course, related to survival. How long will the crisis last? What are peers doing? How do we pay our people?

“WIN” – what is important now? (The G&A team has asked and helped to answer that question many times in our three decades of crisis management support for client companies over the years.)

First up, advises the McKinsey team members — understand your stakeholder needs and then with the understanding gained, prioritize your response. There will be tradeoffs among stakeholders – prepare for that.

Then, bring the greatest strengths of the organization to bear – consider, how can you make a difference?

McKinsey advises “collaborate with suppliers and customers and they may identify strengths you didn’t know you had”.

Examples offered:  Car makers can make ventilators (GM, Ford etc). Perfume companies can rapidly turn to manufacture hand sanitizer (LVMH and Estee Lauder are doing that today as we’ve reported in these briefs).

As you move forward, test the assumption and decisions you are taking against your stated purpose – communicate – explain (how and why).

Banks have a commitment to lend money in their community. If the bank pulls away – why? The action could help to define that institution in and after the crisis.

Give people something to do! (We also shared this advice a number of times early in the crisis.)

Involve employees in solutions. Give them a sense of purpose. Your team is looking for signals of leadership. And how to help.

And McKinsey says, the positive is that you may in the process be identifying the next generation of your company’s leadership!

Try new ways. Try using “cross-cutting” teams to develop new solutions, new ways to do things.

When in 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit, Wal-Mart Stores asked employees to deliver supplies to areas that were hard to reach. And we remember that the company’s store managers on their own ordered extra supplies and kept the stores open – even as their own homes were being destroyed.

That led to the CEO embarking on a strategic sustainability journey that revolutionized the whole company and in the process formed the Sustainability Consortium!

And like the best of the military leaders, you should yourself lead from the front. Communicate – often, early. Don’t sugarcoat the news. Adapt to changing conditions (and then communicate again). Your enterprise looks to its leaders for guidance.

Things that stand out for us that McKinsey explains:

  • Executives are uniquely poised now to bring corporate power, guided by social purpose to aid millions of dislodged and vulnerable lives. Done well, your actions can bridge the divide between shareholders and stakeholders. And leave a lasting, positive legacy.
  • Credibility is both essential and fragile element of executive leadership. Authentic actions demonstrate the company’s genuine commitment to social purpose.

Thanks to McKinsey’s Bill Schaninger, senior partner in Philadelphia, and Bruce Simpson, senior partner in Toronto, and their colleagues Han Zhang and Chris Zhu, for the valuable insights and guidance offered to corporate leaders.

* * * * * * * *

Mark Cuban on COVID-19 – Words & Action

We are often entertained by the antics of Mark Cuban on the courts (he’s owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team) and appears on the hit TV show, “Shark Tank”. He was serious this week in addressing the virus crisis.

On Twitter he advised the federal policymakers: “Dear government, here is why you require companies that receive bailouts to retain 100% of their employees. The cost of the bailout loan – eventual payments will cost taxpayers less than the cost of government assistance programs for fired employees. Case closed.”

And…

“If you run a business, BEFORE YOUR FIRE ANYONE (or any more), you have an obligation to yourself/employees to find every gov loan option available today and those soon to come. Find the time. When the gov loans start you want to be already an expert and in line.”

Mark Cuban then walked-the-talk, setting up a way to pay his team’s venue employees (American Airlines Arena) even though games are cancelled and no one is coming. Then sent $100,000+ to the area’s not-for-profits aiding the Big D residents.

* * * * * * * *

Investor Coalition Speaks Its Mind on Corporate Purpose

Nearly 200 long-term institutional investors (with AUM of US$4.7 trillion) called on company managements to protect their workers – difficult to do, the investors acknowledge. Board directors are accountable for long-term Human Capital Management strategies (they remind board members on both domestic U.S. and global companies).

The steps companies could take, says the investor group:

  • Provide paid leave – including emergency leave) for full-time, part-time and subcontracted workers.
  • Prioritize health and safety – meaning, worker and public health safety, and to protect social license to operate. That may include closing facilities as precautionary step.
  • Maintain employment levels – your workers are well-trained (we hope!) and will enable the company to ramp up quickly once the crisis is resolved.
  • And be on the watch for any moves that may be discriminatory.
  • Maintain customer – and supplier — relationships to ensure that you can help stabilize them if necessary (such as financial challenges to suppliers) and to protect your own and other communities and businesses.
  • Practice financial prudence – demonstrate, the advisors strongly urge, the highest levels of ethical financial management and responsibility. And, limit executive and senior management compensation during the crisis (not repeating the practices of companies in the 2008 financial practices with money provided by the taxpayer).

Corporate leadership is critically-needed, the coalition stresses, to help society get through the crisis.

Among the investors in the coalition issuing the advice to public company managements: the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) coalition (with 300 institutional members); the New York City public employees pension fund, led by Comptroller Scott Stringer; AFL-CIO fund; the state treasurers of Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont; American Federation of Teachers (AFT); the British Columbia Government and Services Employees Union; Aviva Investors; APG; Boston Common Asset Management; Coalition on Corporate Responsibility in Indiana & Michigan; Cornerstone Capital Group; Communications Workers of America (CWA); Robeco Asset Management; numerous foundations and religious orders and denominations.

Information: https://www.iccr.org/program-areas/human-rights/investor-action-coronavirus

All of this is spelled out in the “Investor Statement on Coronavirus Response” being circulated among fiduciaries.

* * * * * * * *

Believe the Investor’s Urging Will Pay Off?

Bloomberg LP provides us with some of the early answers.  Bloomberg Intelligence’s (BI) Shaheen Contractor (ESG Team BI Industry Analyst) in a brief for terminal users noted that an analysis of ESG Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) during the selloff for the week ending February 28 provided a buffer for their investors and outperformed their benchmarks. The data: only 8% of ESG ETFs had outflows while 22% of all U.S. ETFs saw outflows.

This, she writes, suggests ESG is seen by investors as a long-term investment and not a trading strategy.

And the flow to ESG ETF’s suggests that these instruments are “sticky” and less cyclical. Where where the flows to ESG ETFs? BlackRock, JPMorgan, BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, DWS, State Street, and Vanguard all saw inflows during the drawdown.

Good news for investors looking for “proof of concept” of ESG/sustainable investing from Shaheen Contractor – thanks to her and Bloomberg for sharing this good news.

Her email is: scontractor2@bloomberg.net

The brief: “ESG ETFs See Relative Outperformance, Inflows During Drawdown”

For information, it is on the Bloomberg: https://blinks.bloomberg.com/news/stories/Q6RT29T0G1L2

* * * * * * * *

Lead from the front.  The general who led the effort to win WW II for the U.S.A. and the democracies, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (President, 1953-1961) observed:   “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.  You don’t lead by hitting people over the head–that’s assault, not leadership.”

* * * * * * * *

G&A Institute Team Note:
We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

The new items will be posted at the top of the blog post and the items today will move down the queue.

We created the tag Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag “WeRise2FightCOVID-19” for our Twitter posts.  Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news.

Send us news about your organization – info@ga-institute.com so we can share.   Stay safe – be well — keep in touch!

Issues in Egypt in Focus, 2020 – Ken Cynar Perspectives – Could the Nile Go Almost Dry?

by Ken Cynar – Editor-in-Chief, G&A Institute

On Water Sustainability:

Critical Question: Could the Nile River Go Almost Dry?

Where can Egypt’s people find enough water to drink and continue sustainable agriculture that has lasted more than 5,000 years?

Blue Nile at Luxor

Long before the modern era of civilization first blossomed, the waters of the ancient Blue Nile flowed north from central Africa more than 4,100 miles into the Mediterranean Sea.

Along the way over the millennia the river’s flood cycles deposited fertile soil along its banks, fighting back the ever-encroaching desert, and quenching the thirst of the people and irrigating the crops they grew.

The Nile became the life blood of a region and a nation. This, the world’s longest river, became both the foundation of and the catalyst for the creation of ancient Egypt, nourishing its science, religion, engineering, writings, and other cultural foundations.

Today the Nile River flows through ten countries that share in its water and electric generating capacity…but not equally. The ever-fragile status quo is being threatened by the construction today in Ethiopia of yet another dam.

For Egypt: A Grave Situation

The situation is becoming grave for Egypt and its 97.5 million people who closely congregate in the land adjacent to the Nile as it flows northward.

Only 6 percent of the land in Egypt is usable in its current form and that tiny percentage is the home to almost all of Egypt’s people – with 22 million people in Cairo alone.

The Nile is their source of water for their crops, drinking water and more. Any sizeable disruption in the flow of the Nile would devastate the country, creating ecological calamity for its people and precipitating one economic disaster after another.

The truth is this: Here in northern Africa, water is more precious than oil.

Aswan Dam, Upper Nile

The solution to the problem like most regarding water is not cut and dried (forgive the pun). No one disputes Ethiopia’s right to build the dam and to generate electricity for its own people. The problem is in the details.

Lake Nasser

Behind the new dam the plan is to create a new lake and that lake must be filled with water…the question is how long will it take to fill the lake and how that disruption will impact the flow to the Egyptian Aswan Lake Nasser complex — and thereby the flow of water to the majority of Egypt’s almost 100 million people.

So far that question is unresolved and the dam construction is going forward.

Talks in Washington D.C. have not been fruitful — with no resolution of the issues involved in this complex situation.

As populations grow and poorer countries try to bring themselves and their people into the 21st and 22nd centuries, water control…in terms of protecting source and distribution…are becoming issues that could drive nations to armed conflict.

Currently it appears as Ethiopia is not bargaining in good faith and ignoring the impact their actions will have on its neighbors.

Moving Off “No” and “No Progress” to Resolution

While the United States is trying to broker a compromise there not been significant movement. Is water the new oil? Or has it become the key catalyst for nations marching inexorably to war with their neighbors?

Watch carefully in the coming weeks to see if this issue is being resolved.

There are two difficult sides to the story: Ethiopia wants its dam but Egypt cannot allow the lake to dramatically reduce the flow of the Nile.

That could result in a draught of Biblical proportions leading to the destruction of wildlife, agriculture and even death to those living along the Nile. Could armed conflict ensue? Can a country in the 21st Century allow their supply of water to be cut off by another country?

We have to accept: Water is more precious than ever in a world facing global warming and climate change. Leading to greater civic unrest.

A similar situation is brewing between India and China with the river Ganges …same issue, different continent. They who control the water have the power, the upper hand…more on this issue in coming soon.

About My Egypt Travels

Egyptian Pyramids

We spent eight days touring 5,000 years of Egyptian history…from stately Coptic Churches to the temples at Karnack and Luxor, to King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings to the Giza plateau and the great Pyramids and the Sphinx.

Our Egyptian tour guide — with a B.A. and Masters in Archeology and Egyptology, Amr — was a wealth of knowledge painting a picture of the gods, goddesses, and pharaohs that made the history, culture and religion of ancient Egypt come alive for us.

His knowledge was enhanced by his love and passion for his country and its history and his deep respect for those ancient peoples. His talks were like the encompassing lectures from the best professor at your university filled with facts, color and excitement.

All this was combined with the execution of the complex logistics by Norm of Mike’s Guiding Light Tours, helping us smoothly glide from location-to-location by plane, river boat, bus, horse-drawn carts and camels — and even by Felucca (the traditional Egyptian sail boat) – all of which made the trip even more exciting.

If you are thinking of touring Egypt or other places worldwide, I recommend that you consider Mike’s Guiding Light Tours. (I know, interesting name, but I think the Guiding Light was his wife’s favorite soap opera.) He is expert in coordination and logistics, with excellent selections of hotels and restaurants and a special feeling of adventure and comradeship…all of this making for a superb travel experience.

Ken Cynar, Inside Tombs

Egypt Museum

Sphinx with Ken & Donna Cynar

Pyramids with Ken & Donna Cynar

Temple of Philae

The Year 2020: Off To Great Start For News About Sustainable Investing

by Hank Boerner – G&A Institute Chair & Chief Strategist

January 2020 — Here we are now in a new year, and new decade (already, the third decade of the 21st Century) and much of the buzz is all about (1) climate change and the dramatic impacts on business, finance, government and we humans around the globe; and (2) many investors are moving their money to more sustainable investments.

Oh, of course, there are other important conversations going on, such as about corporate purpose, corporate stewardship, human rights, the circular economy, worker rights, supply chain responsibility, reducing GHG emission, conserving natural resources, moving to a greener and lower carbon economy, workplace diversity, what happens to workers when automation replaces them…and more. 

But much of this is really part of sustainable investing, no?  And corporate purpose, we’d say, is at the center of much of this discussion!

The bold names of institutional investors/asset management are in the game and influencing peers in the capital markets – think about the influence of Goldman Sachs, BlackRock (world’s largest asset manager), State Street/SSgA, The Vanguard Group, and Citigroup on other institutions, to name here but a handful of major asset managers adopting sustainable investing strategies and approaches.

This week’s Top Story is about Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s pivot to “green is good”, moved by Reuters news service and authored by Chris Taylor.  The GS website welcome is Our Commitment to Sustainable Finance

The company announced a US$750 billion, 10-year initiative focused on financing of clean energy, affordable education and accessible healthcare, and reduction of or exclusion of financing for Arctic oil-gas drilling.

Head of GS Sustainable Finance Group John Goldstein explains the company’s approach to sustainable financing and investment in the Reuters story. 

Our other Top Story is from Morningstar; this is an update on the investors’ flows into sustainable funds in 2019…what could be the leading edge of a huge wave coming as new records are set. 

For 2019, net flows into open-end and ETF sustainable funds were $20.6 billion for the year just ended – that’s four times the 2018 volume (which was also a record year). There’s always information of value for you on the Morningstar website; registration is required for free access to content.

And the commentary on the January 2020 letter from BlackRock CEO Larry Fink to the CEOs of companies the firm invests in – we’ve included a few perspectives. 

We’d say that 2020 is off to an exciting start for sustainability professionals, in the capital markets, and in the corporate sector! Buckle your seat belts!

Top Stories for This Week

Green is good. Is Wall Street’s new motto sustainable?   
Source: Reuters – If you have gone to Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s (GS.N) internet home page since mid-December, it would be reasonable to wonder if you had stumbled into some kind of parallel universe. 

Sustainable Fund Flows in 2019 Smash Previous Records   
Source: MorningStar – Sustainable funds in the United States attracted new assets at a record pace in 2019. Estimated net flows into open-end and exchange-traded sustainable funds that are available to U.S. investors totaled $20.6 billion for the… 

Pope Francis Issues Call for Action on Sustainable Development at Rome Conference of Experts & Activists

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

Global faith leaders can directly and indirectly affect significant changes in our global society. 

One leader with high visibility and strong opinions on important societal issues is the Holy Father in Rome, Pope FrancisThe Roman Catholic Church as a collective institution is one of the largest owners and holders of assets in the world, including pension systems of various orders, Catholic charities, healthcare systems, and more.

The Roman Catholic Church’s policy is guided by important encyclicals issued by the Pope in the Vatican City. 

For example, the contents of the historic 1891 encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on capital and labor and the rights of both (and concerns about the Industrial Age working class) continues to reverberate even today in discussions about corporate-labor and public sector-labor issues (this was “Rerum Novarum”).

Amidst the rising discussion worldwide about climate change and the need for action, Pope Francis issued “Laudato Si” (Our Home) in May 2015.  This is a powerful work addressing environmental and ecology issues, especially including the need for action on climate change. This work called on the world society – and especially the institutions of the R.C. church – to address the urgent threats posed by climate change.  (The subtitle was “On care for our common home”.)

As part of the public dialogue, Pope Francis addressed the joint houses of the U.S. Congress in May 2015 and received 37 standing ovations as he addressed climate change, common needs, risk to our common home (the Earth), the responsibility of richer nations, and other societal challenges.

The discussion continues:  the Roman Catholic Church convened a three-day conference earlier this month in Rome to bring together experts and activists in human development, the environment and healthcare.

To – as Pope Francis explained – explore new paths of constructive development … development having been “…almost entirely limited to economic growth… [which] is leading the world down a dangerous path where progress is assessed only in terms of economic growth.”

The title of the conference:  “Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals:  Listening to the Cry of the Earth and of the Poor”. The theme:  “Without a change of attitude that focuses on the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants, efforts to achieve the SDGs will not be sufficient for a fair and reasonable world order.”

Said the Holy Father, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics:  “No branch of science or form of wisdom should be overlooked, and this includes religions and the languages particular to them.” 

Our Top Story is the news report of the Catholic News Service out of Rome with background on the conference and related information.

Background on the historic significance of Laudato Si (Our Home), Pope Francis’s encyclical is in the “Trends Converging! – A Look Ahead of the Curve” book of essays by G&A Chair Hank Boerner, available (chapter 44) online

There is also a management brief on this on G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” management briefing platform:
https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/


This Week’s Top Story

Pope: World in need of ‘ecological conversion’ to advance sustainability   
 (Tuesday – March 12, 2019) Source: Cux Now – ROME – Sustainable development cannot be achieved without the voices of those affected by the exploitation of the earth’s resources, especially the poor, migrants, indigenous people and young men and women, Pope Francis told… 

Is the Movement to Achieve Greater Societal Sustainability Reaching the Consumer? One Consumer Marketers’ Story…

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

The story is being well told -– a growing number institutional shareowners and their global networks of asset managers steadily embrace ESG / sustainable investing approaches.  Corporations of all sizes are adopting sustainability strategies and churning out sustainability and responsibility reports to tell the story of their sustainability journey.

Many national, state and local governments are following through on their commitments made in Paris in 2015 (the Paris Accord on climate change). NGOs galore are focused on driving sustainability into all corners of human behavior.

What about the vast global consumer market?  What’s happening at the consumer level?  The House Beautiful magazine (part of the Hearst UK Fashion & Beauty Network) brings us news from the UK about one large company’s sustainability-focused marketing efforts.

The headline:  Why 2018 is the year sustainability went mainstream. The most-watched TV show of the year was the BBC series on sustainability.  And at least one major retailer has put “sustainability at the heart of everything we do,” says its senior sustainability manager.

The firm in focus is John Lewis & Partners (manufacturers and marketers of “homeware, fashion, furniture, electricals,” mens and womens wear). The employee-owned company offers its lines of products through a vast network of retail outlets. What is the company doing?

It has introduced a duvet (quilt bed cover) made of 100% recycled polyester from plastic bottles (120 bottles = one duvet).  The product is made in an “eco-factory” running on renewable energy. The company has its own factories as well as contract manufacturers.

The S’well Geode Rose drinking water bottle sales are up year-to-year (by 37%) says the company.  Glassware made from recycled glass is offered in the company’s John Lewis Croft Collection.  As alternatives to tin foil and plastic cling film for food storage the company offers brands “Stasher” and “Bees Wrap” -– silicone kitchen storage bags.

The company works with the Re-Use Network in marketing its new sofas; when a customer buys a new sofa in the “Thomas Snuggler” line, the company arranges for the old sofa to be re-used or re-cycled in collaboration with local charities that support disadvantaged communities.

All of this and more is in its annual 2018 Retail Report.  Shoppers became more conscious about what they buy and where the products come from, explains the company.  And, this was the year we took it upon ourselves to build a more sustainable future rather than leaving it to others.

The company (“partnership”) is the largest employee-owned company in the United Kingdom. “Partners” (83,000 permanent staff) own 50 John Lewis shops across the United Kingdom, plus Waitrose supermarkets, shops at Heathrow International, online and catalogue shops, production facilities, farms, and more.

Founder John Spedan Lewis created a “constitution” to define the business and how individual “partners” are expected to behave toward stakeholders. This reminds us of the foundational document of Johnson & Johnson (“the credo”) here in the USA.

The partnership model was and is “an experiment in industrial democracy,” showing that long-term success can come from “co-ownership” with shared power and collective responsibilities.  Societal challenges like climate change and social inequality guide company thinking.

As information: https://www.johnlewispartnership.co.uk/csr/governance.html

Its human rights report and related information is available at: https://www.johnlewispartnership.co.uk/csr/source-and-sell-with-integrity/tackling-modern-slavery.html

This Week’s Top Story

Why 2018 is the year sustainability went mainstream
(Wednesday – October 24, 2018) Source: House Beautiful – This was the year we took it upon ourselves to build a more sustainable future rather than leaving it to others,’ said John Lewis & Partners in its annual Retail Report 2018. ‘We know that 73 per cent of millennials will spend…

And along the lines of sustainability-themed marketing…

Nielsen: How do sales of sustainable products stack up?
(Thursday – October 25, 2018) Source: Food Navigator – Sustainability-related claims on food products are popping up more frequently and while still just a small fraction of market, items mentioning sustainability outperformed the growth rate of total products in their respective…

Breaking News: $12 Trillion in Professionally Managed Sustainable Investment Assets — $1-in-$4 of Total U.S. Assets

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

Call it “sustainable and responsible investing” or “SRI” or “ESG investing” or “impact investing” – whatever your preferred nomenclature, “sustainable investing” in the U.S.A. is making great strides as demonstrated in a new report from US SIF.

The benchmark report issued today – “The Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2018” – by the U.S. Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) puts things in perspective for investors and corporate managers:

  • At the beginning of 2018, the institutional owners and asset management firms surveyed reported total sustainable investment at US$12 trillion AUM – that is 26% of the total assets under professional management in the U.S.A. — $1-in-$4 of all investable assets!
  • That’s an increase of 38% since the last US SIF report at the start of 2016. The AUM of sustainable investments then was $8.72 trillion. That was $1-in-$5.
  • And that was an increase of 33% since the survey of owners and managers at the start of 2014.
  • Sustainable investing jumped following the 2008 financial crisis, with growth of 240% from 2012 to 2014.

The US SIF bi-annual survey of investors began in 1995, when the total of sustainable investments professionally managed was pegged at $639 billion. There has been an 18-fold increase in sustainable investing assets since then – at a compound rate of 13.6% over the years since that pioneering research was done.

The researchers queried these institutions in 2018:

  • 496 institutional owners (fiduciaries such as public employee pension funds and labor funds – these represented the component of the survey results at $5.6 trillion in ESG assets**).
  • 365 asset/money managers working for institutional and retail owners;
    private equity firms, hedge fund managers, VC funds, REITS, property funds;
    alternative investment or uncategorized money manager assets);
  • 1,145 community investing institutions (such as CDFIs).

What is “sustainable investing”?  There are these approaches adopted by sustainable investors:

  • Negative/exclusionary screening (out) certain assets (tobacco, weapons, gaming);
  • Positive/selection of best-in-class considering ESG performance (peer groups, industry, sector, activities);
  • ESG integration, considering risks and opportunities, ESG assets and liabilities);
    Impact investing (having explicit intention to generate positive social and environmental impact along with financial return);
  • Sustainability-themed products.

The top ESG issues for institutional investors in 2018 included:

  • Conflict Risk (terror attacks, repressive regimes) – $2.97 trillion impact;
  • Tobacco related restrictions – $2.56 trillion
  • Climate Change / Carbon-related issues – $2.24 trillion
  • Board Room issues – $1.73 trillion
  • Executive Pay – $1.69 trillion

Asset managers identified these issues as among the most important of rising concerns:

  • Climate change and Carbon
  • Conflict risk

Prominent concerns for asset owners included:

  • Transparency and Corruption
  • Civilian firearms / weapons
  • a range of diversity and equal employment opportunity issues.

The Proxy Voting Arena

The shareowners and asset managers surveyed regularly engage with corporate executives to express their concerns and advocate for change in corporate strategies, practices and behaviors through presentation of resolutions for the entire shareholder base to vote on in the annual corporate elections.

From 2016 to 2018 proxy seasons these resolutions were focused on:

  • Proxy access for shareowners (business associations have been lobbying to restrict such access by qualified shareowners).
  • Corporate Political Activity (political contributions, lobbying direct expenses and expenses for indirect lobbying by business groups with allocated corporate contributions).
  • A range of environmental and climate change issues.
  • Labor issues / equal employment opportunity.
  • Executive compensation.
  • Human Rights.
  • Call for independent board chair.
  • Board Diversity.
  • Call for sustainability reporting by the company.

Public employee pension systems/funds led the campaigns with 71% of the resolutions filed in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Labor funds accounted for 13% of filings.

Asset/money management firms accounted for 11.5%.

A total of 165 institutional owners and 54 asset managers filed or co-filed resolutions on ESG issues at the beginning of the 2018 proxy voting season.

The ESG Checklist

The institutions and asset managers queried could answer queries that addressed these ESG, community, product factors in describing their investment analysis, decision-making and portfolio construction activities. This is a good checklist for you when discussing ESG issues and topics with colleagues:

The “E” – Environmental:

  • Clean technology
  • Climate change / carbon (including GhG emissions)
  • Fossil fuel company divestment from portfolio, or exclusion
  • Green building / smart growth solutions
  • Pollution / toxics
  • Sustainable Natural Resources / Agriculture
  • Other E issues

The “S” – Social (or “societal”):

  • Conflict risk (repressive regimes, state sponsors of terrorism)
  • Equal employment opportunity (EEO) / diversity
  • Gender lens (women’s socio-economic progress)
  • Human rights
  • Labor issues
  • Prison-related issues (for-profit prison operators)
  • Other S issues

The “G” – Corporate Governance:

  • Board-related issues (independence, pay, diversity, response to shareowners)
  • Executive pay
  • Political contributions (lobbying, corporate political spending)
  • Transparency and anti-corruption policies

Product / Industry Criteria:

  • Alcohol
  • Animal testing and welfare
  • Faith-based criteria
  • Military / weapons
  • Gambling
  • Nuclear
  • Pornography
  • Product safety
  • Tobacco

Community Criteria:

  • Affordable housing
  • Community relations / philanthropy
  • Community services
  • Fair consumer lending
  • Microenterprise credit
  • Place-based investing
  • Small and medium business credit

The report was funded by the US SIF Foundation to advance the mission of US SIF.

The mission: rapidly shift investment practices towards sustainability, focusing on long-term investment and the generation of positive social and environmental impacts. Both the foundation and US SIF seek to ensure that E, S and G impacts are meaningfully assessed in all investment decisions to result in a more sustainable and equitable society.

The bold name asset owners and asset managers and related firms that are members of US SIF include Bank of America, AFL-CIO Office of Investment, MSCI, Morgan Stanley, TIAA-CREF, BlackRock, UBS Global Asset Management, Rockefeller & Co, Bloomberg, ISS, and Morningstar.

Prominent ESG / sustainable investment players include Walden Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, Clearbridge, Cornerstone Capital, Neuberger Berman, As You Sow, Trillium Asset Management, Calvert Investments (a unit of Eaton Vance), Domini Impact Investments, Just Money Advisors, and many others.

The complete list is here: https://www.ussif.org/institutions

Information about the 2018 report is here: https://www.ussif.org/blog_home.asp?display=118

About the US SIF Report:  The report project was coordinated by Meg Voorhees, Director of Research, and Joshua Humphreys, Croatan Institute.  Lisa Woll is CEO of US SIF.  The report was released at Bloomberg LP HQs in New York City; the host was Curtis Ravenel, Global Head of Sustainable Business & Finance at Bloomberg. q1

Governance & Accountability Institute is a long-time member. EVP Louis D. Coppola is the Chair of the US SIF Company Calls Committee (CCC) which serves as a resource to companies by providing a point of contact into the sustainable investment analyst community

** Institutional owners include public employee retirement funds, labor funds, insurance companies, educational institutions, foundations, healthcare organizations, faith-based institutions, not-for-profits, and family offices.

INSTITUTIONAL INVESTORS LAUNCH ALLIANCE FOCUSED ON HUMAN RIGHTS

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

ICCR Provides Leadership for Investor Collaboration To Advance Corporate Sector and Investor Action on Human Rights Issues

The recently-launched Investor Alliance for Human Rights provides a collective action platform to consolidate and increase institutional investor influence on key business and human rights issues.

For nearly 50 years, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has been engaging with corporate managements and boards, coalescing with asset owners and managers and waging campaigns on key E, S and G issues.

ICCR has become a major influence for investors at corporate proxy voting time, and in ongoing investor-corporate engagements.

Consider:  The member institutions have AUM of US$400 billion and influence many other investors (depending on the issue in focus at the time).

ICCR has 300-plus institutional investor members, many (but not all) are faith-based organizations. A good number of member institutions are leaders in making available sustainable & responsible investment products and services. (See representative names in references at end.)

Key issues in focus for ICC members include:

  • Human Rights (key: human trafficking, forced labor, fair hiring practices)
  • Corporate Governance (board independence, CEO comp, lobbying)
  • Health (pharma pricing, global health challenges)
  • Climate Change (science-based GhG reduction targets)
  • Financial Services (risk management for financial institutions, responsible lending)
  • Food (antibiotics in food production, food waste, labor)
  • Water (access, corporate use of water and pollution)

HUMAN RIGHTS IN FOCUS FOR NEW ALLIANCE

On the last issue – Human Rights – ICCR has long been involved in various Human Rights issues back to its founding in 1971 and has been organizing the Investor Alliance for Human Rights since late-fall 2017.  Here are the essentials:

  • Investor Alliance participants will have an effective “Collective Action Platform” for convening, information sharing, and organizing collaboration on action to make the case to corporate decision-makers and public sector policymakers (and other stakeholders) on the need for urgency in addressing human rights issues.
  • The umbrella of a formal alliance will help individual participants to build partnerships and develop collaboration within their own universes of connections (such as NGOs, other investors, community-based organizations, trade groups, corporate leaders, multi-lateral organizations, and other institutions and enterprises).
  • Among the work to be done is the encouragement and support of building Human Rights criteria and methodology into asset owner and manager guidelines, investing protocols, models, and to integrate these in corporate engagements and proxy campaigns, as well as to guide portfolio management. (Buy/sell/hold decision-making.)
  • All of this will help to expand investor reach and influence and strengthen advocacy for best practices in Human Rights by both companies and investors. Leveraging of broader investor influence is key in this regard.

The Alliance will provide participants with a “rapid response” resource to assure that the “investor voices” are clearly heard in corporate board rooms and C-suites, in public sector leadership offices, and in media circles when there are threats posed to effective actions and reforms in Human Rights issues.

The Alliance is outreaching to NGOs, faith-based institutions, academics, media, labor unions, multi-lateral global institutions, trade and professional associations, corporate managements and boards, and of course to a wide range of asset owners and managers.

# # #

The key player at ICCR for the Alliance is David Schilling, a veteran staff member who is Senior Program Director – Human Rights & Resources. (email:  dschilling@iccr.org)

David joined ICCR in 1994 and has led initiatives on human rights in corporate operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, often visiting factories and meeting with workers on the ground.

David is currently Chair, Advisory Board of the Global Social Compliance Program; member, International Advisory Network of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre; member, RFK Center Compass Education Advisory Committee; UNICEF CSR Advisory Group; and, Coordinator (with ICCR member institutions) of the Bangladesh Investor Initiative (a global collaboration in support of the “Accord for Fire and Building Safety”.

# # #

ICCR stresses that it sees its work “through a social justice lens.”  For more than two decades members and staff have worked to eradicate human rights abuses in corporate operations and across global supply chains, such as forced child labor in cotton fields in Uzbekistan.

The organization has an Advisory Committee of Leaders in Business and Human Rights (formed in late-2016).  Members include representatives of Boston Common Asset Management; Shift; Landesa; The Alliance for a Greater New York; Oxfam America; Mercy Investment Services; International Corporate Accountability Roundtable; and Global Witness.

# # #

ICCR has a long history in Human Rights progress.  The organization came together as a committee of the mainstream Protestant denominations under the  umbrella in 1971 to organize opposition to the policies and practices of “Apartheid” in South Africa.

Over time, the U.S. corporations operating in South Africa stopped operations there.  More than 200 cities and municipalities in the United States of America adopted anti-Apartheid policies, many ending their business with companies operating in South Africa.

Protests were staged in many cities and on many college & university campuses, and U.S. and European media presented numerous news and feature presentations on the issue.

In time, the government of South Africa dismantled Apartheid and the country opened the door to broader democratic practices (the majority black population was formerly prohibited to vote).

Over the years since the Apartheid campaign, ICCR broadened its focus to wage campaigns in other societal issues, including:

  • Focus on fair and responsible lending, including sub-prime lending and payroll lending.
  • Putting climate change issues on the agenda for dialogue with corporations, including the demand for action and planning, and then greater disclosure on efforts to curb GHG emissions.
  • Encouraging investment in local communities to create opportunities in affordable housing, job development, training, and related areas.
  • Promoting greater access to medicines, including drugs for treatment of AIDS in Africa, and affordable pricing in the United States.
  • Promoting “Impact Investing” – for reasonable ROI as well as beneficial outcomes for society through investments.
  • Promoting Islamic Finance.
  • On the corporate front, requesting greater transparency around lobbying by companies to influence climate change, healthcare and financial reforms, both directly and through trade associations and other third-party organizations.
  • Opposing “virtual-only” annual corporate meetings that prevent in –person interaction for shareholders.

Proxy Campaigns – Governance in Focus:

ICCR members are very active at proxy voting time.  Among the “wins” in 2017:

  • Getting roles of (combined) Chair & CEO split – 47% support of the votes for that at Express Scripts and 43% at Johnson & Johnson; 39% at Chevron.
  • More disclosure on lobbying expenditures – 42% support at Royal Bank of Canada and 41% at First Energy; 35% at Cisco and 25% at IBM.

# # #

Notes and References:

Information on the new Alliance is at: http://iccr.org/iccr-launches-new-alliance-amplify-global-investor-influence-human-rights

ICCR’s web site is at: www.iccr.org

And at http://iccr.org/our-issues/human-rights/investor-alliance-human-rights

The Alliance initiative is supported with funding from Humanity United and Open Society Foundations.

Influence and Reach:  The ICCR member organizations include the AFSCME union fund, Walden Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, Oxfam, The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, and Maryknoll Sisters, American Baptist Churches, Mercy Investments, Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS), Wespath Investment Management, Everence Financial, Domini Social Investments, Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group, Gabelli Funds, Trillium Asset Management, Calvert Group, Clean Yield, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, and other institutional investors.

 

 

 

 

 

7 Reasons Why America is Rethinking Capitalism Now

Guest Post by Linda E. Dunbar

Global Public Affairs Executive: PR Strategist, Spokesperson, Employee Communications Leader Adept at Engaging Key Stakeholders.

7 Reasons Why America is Rethinking Capitalism Now

There is a move afoot to change capitalism as we know it. A radical overthrow by futuristic anarchist forces? Hardly. Actually, the US business community is bravely harking back to its pre-Milton Friedman roots.

In September 1970, the 5”0’, Brooklyn-born Friedman, a well-known American economist who would earn a Nobel prize in economics six years later, published an opinion piece in The New York Times.

The title — “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Profits” — summed up his thesis succinctly. In his piece, he accused US business of “preaching pure and unadulterated socialism” in attempting to address social issues of the day.

Friedman’s dismissive view: “The business men believe that they are defending free enterprise when they declaim that business is not concerned ‘merely’ with profit but also with promoting desirable ‘social’ ends; that business has a ‘social conscious’ and takes seriously its responsibilities for providing employment, eliminating discrimination, avoiding pollution and whatever else may be the catchwords of the contemporary crop of reformers.”

To set the scene, when Friedman wrote his piece, life was very different from today although there remains no shortage of societal issues for the US business community to address.

In 1970, a woman needed a man, any man, even her 17-year-old son, to sign a business loan, get a mortgage or a credit card regardless of her income. Her income would then be discounted by the lender by as much as 50 percent when deciding how much credit to extend. In those days…

Equal access to credit for all, at least on paper, would not come to be in the US until the Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.

Just the year before, in 1969 Rep. Charlotte Reid (R-Ill.) became the first woman to wear trousers in the U.S. Congress and Barbra Streisand became the first woman to attend the Oscars in pants.

Also, in 1969 the Stonewall Inn riots in Greenwich Village launched the gay pride movement.

The unpopular Vietnam War would rage on another five years until the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Despite the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination against minorities continued to be rampant. In Loving vs. the State of Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned “miscegenation” laws in the US, was decided in favor of the plaintiffs a mere three years after in the year 1967.

The first Earth Day was proclaimed in April 1970.

The animal rights movement had not yet gotten momentum. In fact, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was not founded until 1980.

Following Friedman’s pronouncement, Corporate America and its corporate governance practices made shareholder value the end-all-and-be-all of corporate thinking.

Even if that approach clearly didn’t make any sense. Anyone in business today knows intuitively no customers no business no employees no business. But along with that pronouncement came the opportunity for many major U.S. companies to take a pass on societal issues, even issues that might have been caused by business practices (extractive industries and their activities affecting the environment come to mind).

Thankfully, we have come full circle and Corporate America — in fact the global corporate business community — is coming together to rethink capitalism and its societal impact. Recent comments by asset management giants and others have been well-received as we look toward creating change.

What does rethinking capitalism mean? And why now?

Better Capitalism. Tempered Capitalism. The New Capitalism. Conscious Capitalism.

Whatever it is called, helping to transform the short-term, insular thinking currently stifling the potential of American business and its ability to effectively connect with stakeholders is an important element of the movement.

Understanding that although businesses have an important fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, the enterprises exist for reasons other than to solely enrich shareholders (and business leaders who understand that perform better than those who don’t).

And the core: understanding your reason for existing, your purpose, what business you are really in is critical for long term success. As in do what you love and the money will follow.

“Purpose” turns out to be an effective organizing principle for many businesses. This thought process is catching on.

Here are my seven reasons why I think the time is ripe to rethink capitalism and mesh social impact and success.

1. Social media – Businesses just can’t ignore customers and employees any more. Before social media an unhappy consumer complained to roughly 17 other people. Now unhappy customers have a direct impact on reputation in a way they just could not before social media and a poor reputation eventually leads to lost revenue.

2. The Age of Authenticity — People in the US are tired of literal and figurative airbrushing. People want companies to do what they say they will. And they want them to strike the right note. If your advertising firm has advised you to be edgy, you have no margin for error. See number 1.

3. Millennials – There are over 79 million Millennials and the numbers of men and women Gen Z are close behind. They expect a different relationship between society and business — and they are not taking no for an answer. The idea that life is too short to be someone you are not or spending time in a way that you do not want to is part of their DNA. Gay, transgender, what have you, Millennials and Gen Z are not batting an eyelash. Equality, diversity, and inclusion are table stakes. They expect diversity, inclusion, equality where they shop, eat, work. If not, they will go somewhere else. Period.

4. Additional demographic shifts – The minority is becoming the majority and in 2019, the majority of U.S. children will be minorities. As demographics shift no business can be successful by leaving people out, be they customers or employee or potential customer or employees. This loops back to numbers 1, 2, and 3.

5. Climate change and the detrimental impact of humans on the planet is real – some problems we — business, government, NGOs, activists, the general public — have no choice but to tackle together. Like having air to breathe and water to drink.

6. The #Me too, #Times up Movement – Dignity, respect, and equality in the workplace, everywhere actually, are a given. And these movements have ramifications beyond sexual harassment. According to CNN, #MeToo and #TimesUp have pushed 48% of companies to review pay policies. Gender pay equity has been an issue since possibly the beginning of time and now we are seeing movement on this issue.

7. The data – The data says inclusive, diverse companies perform better.
How much better will companies perform when their purpose is at the core of what they do, long-term strategy is understood and embraced by everyone from the board on down, and stakeholders are effectively engaged? That remains to be seen but the prognosis is good!

If this article resonated with you, please feel free to connect with me directly and also like, comment or share.

7 Reasons Why America is Rethinking Capitalism Now

Email me at: linda.dunbar@outlook.com
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lindaedunbar/

Are We Making Progress? Considering Recent News About “Apparel Fashion and Sustainability” — and the Investor Initiative to Help Make East Asian Factory Workers Safer and Better Paid…

by Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

In monitoring the growing abundance of news stories and commentary about “supply chain,” “globalization” or “trade” topics and issues, our editors often see the focus is on apparel, clothing, textiles, fashionand related topics & issues.

Companies in the developed economies widely source apparel footwear and related items in the developing and under-developed nations – and what happens there can quickly make news that travels around the globe.

Example:  The focus five years ago about this time was on the East Asian nation of Bangladesh and the Rana Plaza vertical factory tragedy in the capital city of Dhaka (or Dacca) that killed more than 1,000 garment industry workers.  The labels of leading western nation marketers were scattered about the debris and ashes — and those familiar brand images as well as images of the collapsed building and details of the tragedy helped to focus attention on worker conditions in the East Asian region in both North America and Europe.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) investor coalition is keeping the focus on worker safety as the “Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety” is renewed for another three years.

ICCR institutions and their investor allies organized as “The Bangladesh Investor Initiative” (with collective AUM of US$4.5 trillion) on the 5th anniversary are urging a stronger corporate response and demonstrated commitment to local worker safety and adequate wage levels.  The link to our blog commentary on recent developments and background information for companies and investors is below.

Some good news to share is that sustainability is catching on in the fashion industry.  The uber fashion magazine from publishers Conde Nast – Vogue, with more than one million readers — just published a story about the embrace of “eco-friendly” fashion, spotlighting “the best designers of a new generation are stitching sustainability into everything they do…”

“While sustainability has long been considered a “byword for hemp-heavy bohemia,” writer Olivia Singer explains, “a new generation of designers is building brands with a more conscious approach to fashion at their core.”

Fabrics are sourced through collectives in India empowering female weavers as just one example.  In the article designers explain why sustainability is important to their brands (Richard Malone, Le Kilt, Elliss, E.L.V. Denim, Alyx, Marine Serre, Richard Quinn are featured interviews).

A number of creative approaches being adopted by the designers is explained — just think about the contribution to global sustainability of turning recycled plastics and viscose into yarn and fringing, using organic cotton as well as recycled polyester for “new” fashions, creating ECONYL from fishnets to make swimwear, and using recycled cotton and plastics as part of the effort of making sustainability a “pillar of luxury”.

The encouraging details are in our Top Story this week – a cautionary note:  some of the fashion photos are edgy and might offend.

Top Stories

The Young Designers Pioneering A Sustainable Fashion Revolution
(Thursday – April 26, 2018) Source: Vogue – While eco-friendly fashion has never had particularly glamorous connotations, the best designers of a new generation are stitching sustainability into everything they do.

And of interest, our own related content on G&A’s Sustainability Update Blog:  The Bangladesh Garment Factory Workers Tragedy and Investor and Corporate Response Five Years On…

As the Global Demand for Palm Oil Rises, There is More Focus on the Growing Areas – and on Industry Behaviors Such as Deforestation

By Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

Palm Oil is one of the world’s most popular vegetable cooking oils and in western nations is widely used as prepared food ingredients. Food industry interests promote the benefits: lower cholesterol levels, less heart disease, more Vitamins A and E, and much more, derived from the rich beta-carotene from the pulp of oil palms.

Palm oil also shows up in our detergents, shampoo, cosmetics, pizza slices, cookies, margarine — and even in biofuels. Palm oil is especially used for cooking in Africa, Asia and parts of South America and is growing in favor in other regions such as in North America.

The palm oil plantations are located in such regions of the world as Southeast Asia – and there the industry is linked to the downside of the beneficial consumer product: deforestation, degrading of flora and fauna habitat, abuses of indigenous peoples, and negative impact on climate change as old growth land and tropical forest is cleared to make way for oil palm plantations.

Stakeholder reaction resulted in the creation of “reliable No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” policies – the “NDPE”.

These were developed for certification (to buyers) by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and adopted in 2013 and 2014 by numerous Southeast Asian palm oil traders and refiners.

The policies (spelled out as best practices) are designed to prevent clearing of forests and peat lands for new palm oil plantations. There are 29 company groups, reports Chain Reaction Research, that have refining capabilities and have adopted NDPE policies. (Climate Reaction Research is a joint effort between Climate Advisers, Profundo and Aidenvironment.)

“Un-sustainable” palm oil practices are an issue for investors, customers (buying the oil), companies with sustainable practices, and countries in which palm oil is grown and harvested.

According to a new financial risk report from Chain Reaction Research, major markets with customers that accept “unsustainable palm oil” include India, China, Pakistan and Indonesia.

One of the major centers of production is the huge – more than 3,000-miles wide — Pacific Basin archipelago nation of Indonesia (once known as the Dutch East Indies). Almost half of the world’s palm oil refineries are in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Indonesian government (the Ministry of Agriculture) reacted to the NDPE policies and proposed changes to its own certification program – known as the “Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil Standard” (ISPO) – that would appear to be presenting companies with pressure to adopt one or the other of the certifications.  (The ISPO policy focus is on reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and addressing environmental issues.)

For Indonesia, palm oil is a strategic product that helps the government to meet job creation and export market goals. “Small holders” account for more than 40% of production in the country.

“Evidence suggests that the need for edible oil and energy will continue as populations grow, “Darmin Nasution, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs for Indonesia points out. “Land that can be utilized will decrease, so the question is how to meet those needs in the limited land area. Increasing productivity will be the key.”

Companies using the existing Indonesian ISPO certification were accused of human rights abuses and “land grabs” and so in January the government developed the new certification, which opponents claim weakens protection (the draft changes for the regulation removes independent monitoring and replaces “protection” with “management” for natural ecosystems).

Stranded Asset Risks

CDP estimates that global companies in the industry had almost US$1 trillion in annual revenues at risk from deforestation-related commodities. As the developed nation buyers looked carefully at their global supply chains and sources, “stranded assets” developed; that is, land on which palm oil cannot be developed because of buyers’ NPDE procurement policies. Indonesia and Malaysia have some of the world’s largest suppliers.

Western Corporate Reaction

Early in 2018 PepsiCo announced that it and its J/V partner Indofood suspended purchasing of palm oil from IndoAgri because PepsiCo — a very prominent global brand marketer — is concerned about allegations about deforestation and human rights were not being met.

Institutional Investors are busily identifying companies that source Crude Palm Oil (“CPO”) without paying attention to sustainability requirements, putting pressure on both sellers and buyers and perhaps pushing the smaller players to the sidelines. European buyers import CPO in large quantities to be used in biofuels.

The bold corporate names in western societies show up in rosters of company groups with refining capacity and NDPE policies, including Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus Company, Unilever, and Wilmar International. These are large peer companies in the producing countries (like IOI Group, Daabon, Golden Agri-Resources) are aiming for “zero deforestation” in their NDPE policies.

Other companies that source palm oil include Kellogg’s, Procter & Gamble, Mars, General Mills, Mondelez International, and other prominent brand name markets.

Your can check out the Chain Reaction Research group paper – “Unsustainable Palm Oil Faces Increasing Market Access Risks – NDPE Sourcing Policies Cover 74% of Southeast Asia’s Refining Capacity” at: http://chainreactionresearch.com/2017/11/01/report-unsustainable-palm-oil-faces-increasing-market-access-risks-ndpe-sourcing-policies

What About Exercise of National Sovereignty?

This situation raises interesting questions for developed nation brand marketers. If the government of Indonesia presses forward with the country’s own standards, should the purchaser in a developed country ignore or embrace the country standard? Instead of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standard? What about “sovereign rights,” as in the ability for a sovereign nation to establish its own policies and standards governing the products developed within its borders?

As industry groups create their own standards and invite industry participants to embrace these (such as for product certification), corporations may find themselves bumping up against “nationalistic” guidelines designed to benefit the internal constituencies rather than “global norms” imposed from outside the country’s borders.

# # #

Responding to the streams of negative news coming out of Indonesia, Chain Reaction Research on April 26 reported that Citigroup has cancelled loans to Indofood Agri Resources and its subsidiaries. Citigroup will exit its overall relationship with Indofood other than specific financial relationships that are not related to the palm oil business, says the research organization.

The research firm said that labor and environmental violations by Indofood and other companies related to Anthoni Salim and his family have been documented. The web of companies: Salim and family own 44% of First Pacific, which owns 74% of Indofood.

In April a report commissioned by Rainforest Action Network Foundation Norway and SumofUS and prepared by Chain Reaction Research alleged deforestation of almost 10,000 hectares of peatland by PT Duta Rendra – which is majority owned, the report says, by Salim and PT Sawit Khatulistiwa Lestan, which is associated by Salim.

Notes:

As we prepared this commentary, the Danish Institute for Human Rights and The Forest Trust carried out a Labour Rights Assessment of Nestle’s and Golden Agri-Resources palm oil supply chain in Indonesia.  Nestle’s and GAR and going to share their own action plans in response to the findings and recommendations.

For The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil information: https://www.rspo.org/

There is information from a recent conference in Jakarta for you at: https://www.scidev.net/asia-pacific/forestry/news/science-can-keep-palm-oil-industry-sustainable.html

The Indonesian Government ISPO information is at: http://www.ispo-org.or.id/index.php?lang=en

General Mills Statement on Responsible Palm Oil Sourcing is at: https://www.generalmills.com/en/News/Issues/palm-oil-statement

Rainforest Action Network information is at: https://www.ran.org/palm_oil?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIuJyBg97i2gIVE1mGCh3A-QMYEAAYASAAEgKZePD_BwE#

The Union of Concerned Scientists information is at: https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/stop-deforestation/drivers-of-deforestation-2016-palm-oil#.WudvOKjwbAw