The Words From Davos In 2018: Sustainability, Responsibility…And More In This, The Fourth Industrial Revolution

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

The World Economic Forum (WEF) annually convenes business leaders, government officials, celebrities and other luminaries in the Swiss village of Davos-Klosters to explore societal issues and develop or work to advance solutions to same.

This year’s convocation was staged over four days n late-January. Some of the highlights for you:

UN Sustainable Development Goals in Focus
The Government of Denmark and the WEF signed a memorandum of understanding to move ahead with a partnership to improve the state of the world through a public-private cooperation. The agreement provides a model framework that could lead to improvement over the long-term.

And, adoption of the approach by other nations. Consider what this European nation and the WEF have in mind:

  • They will pursue public-private partnership to promote green growth.
  • Develop a technology and innovation partnership.
  • Work together to encourage greater adoption of the SDGs.
  • Support the mobilization of private capital for infrastructure through the WEF-led initiative, the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership.
  • Support trade and investment through the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (a multi-stakeholder initiative).
  • Work to implement the WEF’s System Initiative on Education, Gender and Work.
  • Denmark will assign a Ministry of Foreign Affairs senior advisor to the WEF New York City office (a second such WEF appointment for Denmark).

Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said: “Denmark has an ambitious agenda to promote public-private partnerships…in terms of sustainable growth, social cohesion and technological skills. We are delighted to team with WEF to create concrete progress on these agendas…to create better lives for more people and sole the urgent climate crisis. We must build bridges across sectors, borders and old divisions…”

Addressing Modern Slavery
Influentials addressed the need for coordinated global action to end modern slavery – that was championed by US Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee); Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation; and, Gary Haugen, CEO of the International Justice Mission.

Senator Corker drew attention to the new Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (“GFEMS”), a public-private partnership to fund programs in countries where such practices are prevalent.

The initial funding is from the United States and United Kingdom; the goal is to raise US$1.5 billion-plus and develop a global strategy to address modern slavery. (It’s estimated that as many as 40 million people now live in modern slavery conditions. This is said to be a $150 billion global business.)

There are three pillars adopted by GFEMS: (1) leverage the rule of law; (2) “energized” engagement with business sector (3) work to sustain freedom.

Jean Baderschneider is CEO of the new Global Fund. The fund’s work will be modeled on the global effort to fight AIDS, TB and malarial infections, bringing together governments, the private sector and NGOs.

Tech-Reskilling Drive Announced
The Information Technology industry is going to work to target 1 million people to offer resources (such as on-line tools) and training opportunities to “re-skill” adults to help them meet the requirements of the tech industry for employment, as well as continue their education and learn more about today’s technology.

Big names in tech are signed on: Accenture, CA Technologies, Cisco, Cognizant, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Infosys, Pegasystems, PwC, Salesforce, SAP, and Tata Consultancy Services. The coalition is seeking more members to help develop tools and processes to address the “barriers preventing adults from re-skilling or successfully completing training, initially in the United States. There are plans to scale to other geographies.

The coalition’s “SkillSET” is hosted on the EdCas AI-powered Knowledge Cloud Platform, accessible to all.

ISO 20121:2012 Certification for Davos
The conference was awarded the ISO certification for “sustainable event planning and operation” by DNVGL (a certifying body). ISO 20121 is a framework for identifying and managing key social, economic and environmental impacts of an event.

Sustainability measures implement by the Forum included carbon compensation for all air travel by the staff, media and participants; promotion of “sustainable transport” in Davos (walk don’t ride); energy efficiency; water management; sourcing of renewable energy; reduction of waste and recycling.

Ending With A Call to Action
The 2018 Forum closed with a call to action to “globalize compassion” and “leave no one behind.” This, the 48th WEF Annual Meeting, closed on a creative note with four artists sharing visions of how painting, photography, film and dance can inspire empathy with other people’s stories.

Across all of the 400 sessions, the Davos organizers said, “…one key theme kept emerging, the need to embrace our common humanity in the face of rapid technological changes ushered in by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

And so the call for a spirit of inclusion, diversity and respect for human rights…this characterized the 2018 gathering, said Sharon Burrow, one of the seven female co-chairs of the meeting (she is General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation).

Important outcomes of the meeting included these developments, on the theme of “mending our fractured world”:

  • Preparing workers for the future.
  • Safeguarding our oceans.
  • Closing the gender gap.
  • Tackling waste and pollution.
  • Unlocking nature’s value.
  • Making meat sustainable.
  • Bridging the digital divide.
  • Fighting financial crime and modern slavery.
  • Taking on fake news.
  • Securing air travel.

And…advancing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which includes Forum centers at work with social, public and private sector partners in numerous countries.

As Oliver Baitch writing in Ethical Corp observed, having spent four days at the conference:

“First, and foremost, sustainability is here to stay. Long gone are the denials or debates as to whether “non-financial” or “soft” issues are the preserve of global business. Themes such as citizenship-centred science, a post-oil energy matrix and tax transparency have shifted from side-room workshops to the main stage.

“Second, companies are beginning to put their money where their mouths are. Davos 2018 saw a litany of firm, measureable corporate commitments – professional services firm PwC promising to cut its carbon emissions by 40% by 2022 (having cut them by 29% since 2007) through to Coca-Cola pledging to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally by 2030.”

You can read his summary of the 2018 confab at: http://www.ethicalcorp.com/will-sustainability-be-ceos-trays-after-davos

And, of course, there is a significant amount of related information at the WEF web site:  https://www.weforum.org/

We’re a Long Way from NYC’s Stonewall Inn, But Still a Ways to Go for Corporate LGBT Policies, Says Investor Coalition

by Hank Boerner – Chairman, G&A Institute

We’ve come a long way since the gay & lesbian communities mobilized and began in earnest their civil rights campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s and into the1990s. It was the New York City Police Department’s wrongheaded “raid” on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village neighborhood in June 1969 that provided the important spark for the long-term, winning campaign by LGBT community for equal rights and equal protection under the laws of the land. “Stonewall” became a rallying cry for the next installment of the continuing “journey” of the civil rights movement in the United States.

The 1960s/1970s were the era of civil rights protests — we were involved in or witnessed and were affected by the civil rights / voting rights movement; the counter-culture “revolution” (remember the hippies?); the drive for adoption of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution); and the anti-war movement protests against the conflict in Vietnam.  These were catalysts as well for the LGBT equal rights warriors of the decades that followed the 1969 Stonewall protests.

Finally, in recent years, after years of campaigning by LGBT advocates, most states have been adopting protective measures to protect the LGBT community.  Same gender marriage is a reality in many U.S. jurisdictions.

On November 7, 2014 The New York Times carried an update — it was a “milestone year” for LGBT rights advocates, the publication explained.  Voters in the 3Ms — Maine, Maryland and Minnesota – favored same-sex marriage; the first openly-gay US Senator (Tammy Baldwin) was elected by Wisconsin voters.

Still, there was vocal and often fierce opposition to same-sex marriage and equal protection under the law for LGBT citizens.

About LGBT Policies and the US Corporate Community

Many large companies (estimate:70 companies in the S&P 500 Index to date) have adopted non-discrimination policies to protect LGBT employees in the United States, says the 2014 Corporate Equality Index (a national benchmarking tool of the Human Rights Campaign).

We see these policies and programs for inclusion described in the many sustainability and responsibility reports we examine as exclusive data partner for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for the United States of America.

Still, legal protections for LGBT citizens are not sufficient in numerous US jurisdictions. “Homophobic” policies and attitudes still reign in too many US cities and states and local communities.

And policies, attitudes, practices in other countries?  Well, that’s really a problem, say sustainable & responsible investment advocates — and steps are being taken to address the situation.

The S&R investment advocacy campaign is focused on the LGBT employees of US firms working overseas.  In countries like Russia, one of the world’s largest industrial economies, which has harsh anti-LGBT policies. The US investor group points out that 79 countries consider same sex relationships illegal; 66 countries provide “some” protection at least in the workplace; and in some countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.

In a business environment that continues to globalize in every aspect, with American large-cap companies operating everywhere, the investor coalition is calling on US companies to extend their LGBT policies on anti-discrimination and equal benefits policies to employees outside the United States. A letter was sent by the coalition to about 70 large-cap companies (the signatories manage US$210 billion in assets.

Shelley Alpern, Director Social Research & Shareholder Advocacy at Clean Yield Asset Management explains: “Today, most leading U.S. corporations now have equitable policies on their books for their [American-based] LGBT employees. Ther’s a dearth of information on how many extend policies outside of the U.S. In starting this dialogue, we hope to identify best practices and start to encourage all companies to adopt them.”

The objective of the shareowner advocacy campaign is to stimulate interest in the issue and create a broad dialogue that leads to greater protection of LGBT employees of US companies operating outside of the United States.

Mari Schwartzer, coordinator of shareholder advocacy at NorthStar Asset Management compliments US firms with effective non-discrimination policies and states:  “While we are pleased that so many companies have adopted non-discrimination policies in the USA which incorporate equal protections for LGBT employees, the next phase of implementation is upon us — we must ensure that international employees are receiving equal benefits and are adequately protected.  Particularly those stationed in regions hostile to LGBT individuals…”

Signatories of the letters sent to companies include these sustainable & responsible investing advocates:  Calvert Investments; Jantz Management; Miller/Howard Investments; Office of the Comptroller of New York City; Pax World Management; Sustainability Group/Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge; Trillium Asset Management; Unitarian Universalist Association; Walden Asset Management; Zevin Asset management.

Companies contacted include:  Aetna, AIG, Allstate, Altria, Amazon, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Baxter, Best Buy, Boeing, Cardinal health, Caterpillar, Chevron, Cisco, Citigroup, Coca Cola, Colgate Palmolive, Costco, CVS Health, Delta, Dow Chemical, DuPoint, EMC, FedEx, Ford Motor, General Electric, General Dynamics, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, Home Depot, Honeywell, Human, IBM Ingram Micro, Intel, J&J, JPMorgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, McDonalds, McKesson, Merck, MetLife, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, PepsiCo, Pfizer, P&G, Prudential, Sears, Sprint, Starbucks, Target, Texas Instruments, United Continental, United HealthGroup, United Technologies, UPS, Verizon, Visa, Walgreen, Walt Disney, Walmart, Wellpoint, Wells Fargo.

Summing up the heart of the issue for investors (and corporate employees):  “Corporations must take the extra step to ensure consistent application of LGBT-inclusive workplace policies throughout their operations, regardless of location,” said Wendy Holding, Partner, the Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge.

The Corporate Proxy Season is Underway – ESG Issues Are in Focus

by Hank Boerner, Chairman, G&A Institute

It’s a new year and the 2014 corporate proxy season is really underway, and the topics in focus are reflective of asset owners’ and managers’ concerns about key societal issues. Managements taking no action on the issues, deciding the wrong actions, or boards and managers ignoring the facts regarding key topics of concern to the asset owners could lead to greater risk, lost opportunities, and dramatic hits on corporate reputation — and share price valuations.

And all of that that could affect the value of the investors’ holdings. Since many of the shareowners are fiduciaries (think of SRI mutual funds, public employee pension funds, state trust funds), the growing consensus is that as fiduciaries, asset owners have a duty to be vocal, to actively engage with corporate management, and to take strong stands on key ESG issues. And, in some cases, to bring those issues to the electoral process at proxy time so all shareholders can have their say. Of course, there is usually negative press resulting for some companies.

“Proxy season” used to be those times of year when certain gadflies showed up to (in the view of management and board) ” harass” the assembled corporate leadership. (Such pioneer proxy luminaries as the Gilbert Brothers and Evelyn Davis come to mind.)

Today, the proxy  season is actually a year-round engagement, with advocates such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) institutional members active in dialogue with corporate managements and board members on various E-S-G issues. One sea change of a decade ago or more was the linking of traditional corporate governance concerns with environmental and social or societal issue concerns, and working through the barriers to getting their resolution to the proxy statement and to vote.

Linking “good governance” practices with progress (or lack of) on supply chain issues, or product stewardship, marketing practices, protection of natural resources, or lobbying and political spending, now helps advocates avoid the “no action” letter from the SEC that allowed corporate managements to ignore the shareholder’s resolution. (In the past, the usual practice of SEC staff was to advise the company protesting the draft resolution that “no action” would be recommended to the commissioners if the company ignored the draft.)

So what is in store for 2014 corporate proxy voting — what are the issues in focus? Sustainable & responsible investing (SRI) advocates are raising issues with companies about public policy and climate. (As we write this, every US state is in the grip of a cold wave, that is being linked to climate change by experts.)  For two decades now, investors have engaged company managements about climate change.

Now, coalitions of shareholders are involved in a larger collective effort — “Raising the Bar” — in response, they say, to the expanding and alarming scientific evidence of our changing climate. And, as long-term advocates like Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management point out, the resulting significant environmental and economic impacts on the corporate enterprise. Investor interests are very concerned about climate change.

A number of companies — AEP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil — have received draft resolutions by coalition shareowners urging boards and managements to re-examine their opposition to regulation and legislation intended to address climate change. That includes their lobbying on climate change issues and disclosing more about those actions to their owners.

It’s not just direct company actions in focus — the shareowners include the corporation-funded efforts of the US Chamber of Commerce , the oil lobby (American Petroleum Institute) and the National Association of Manufacturers in the lobbying and advocacy on issues…

Beyond climate change, other proxy resolutions call for companies to re examine their state-level lobbying, especially through such groups as ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which operates primarily with corporate contributions and promotes conservative public policy issues with :”model” legislation which often moves from state-to-state. (An example is the “Stand Your Ground” laws adopted by a number of states.)

The companies in focus include Microsoft, Pfizer, Time Warner Cable, and UPS. Among the prime movers in this initiative: State of Connecticut Retirement Plans, Zevin Asset Management, Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and Walden Asset Management clients.

Some companies are responding to shareowner concerns — Coca-Cola, John Deere, Dell, P&G, GE, GM, Unilever, and Wal-Mart have reduced their involvement or quit ALEC,according to information provided by Walden Asset Management.

Other concerns: ICCR’s David Schilling advises that an issue now in focus is the garment industry’s pricing policies, following the Rana Plaza tragic fire in Bangladesh (killing 1,000+ people). The “Accord for Fire and Building Safety” addresses pricing practices and the almost 300 institutional members of ICCR and other shareholder advocates are focused on current pricing models, outsourcing, and prevailing wages in developing countries.

And, from Green Century Capital Management we hear that more than 40 institutional investors representing US$270 billion in AUM are urging the other invesotrs, major palm oil products, consumers, and major shareholders in such companies as food marketers Kellogg and financiers HSBC to support an effort to not contribute to further deforestation or support human rights violations. “Fueling deforestation is bad business for any company seeking to position itself as a responsible, sophisticated global player,” says Lucia von Reusner, Green Century’s shareholder advocate.

Ceres helps to mobilize business and investor leadership on climate change. Rob Berridge, director of shareholder engagement, says investors Ceres works with are asking corporate managements to actively address forced labor, deforestation, habitat destruction, and accelerating GhG emission, and to develop and operate palm plantations more responsibly.

Consumer-facing brand companies — Uniliver, Kellogg, Dunkin Donuts, HSBC — are facing high-profile consumer campaigns on palm oil issues. Some companies are saying in response that they will purchase of finance palm oil that has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

There is much more action to come in the days ahead as the peak of proxy voting nears — we’ll bring you news and commentary and insight on trends in this space.  Stay Tuned to the 2014 ESG-focused proxy campaigns.