Moving The World Forward Toward a More Sustainable Future: The Member Nations of the United Nations, Working Collaboratively For Progress in the 21st Century

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

“The United Nations” began as a World War II-era strategy as President Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about the allies of the United States of America partnering in the fight to save democracy and collectively battling the regimes of fascist dictators in Europe and Asia.

On January 1, 1942, 26 nations “united” in Washington DC to coordinate the battle with the “Axis” powers.  (“Axis” – the axis line, said President Roosevelt, ran from Berlin (Germany) through Rome (Italy) and to Tokyo (Japan) – the clear linkage in his mind of the fascist leadership.)

In February 1942 the president addressed the nation in his 20th “fireside chat” (broadcasting nationwide on “the radio”) to talk about the progress of the war.

The U.S. was coming from far behind in terms of preparedness for a global battle, and so an important part of the progress in this, the start of the first year of U.S. involvement in the global conflict, President Roosevelt explained to the nation of 125 million souls:

“The United Nations constitutes an association of independent peoples of equal dignity and equal importance. The United Nations are dedicated to a common cause. We share equally and with equal zeal the anguish and the awful sacrifices of war. In the partnership of our common enterprise, we must share in a unified plan in which all of us must play our several parts, each of us being equally indispensable and dependent one on the other.

“We have unified command and cooperation and comradeship. We of the United Nations are agreed on certain broad principles in the kind of peace we seek. The Atlantic Charter applies not only to the parts of the world that border the Atlantic [Ocean)] but to the whole world; disarmament of aggressors, self-determination of nations and peoples, and the four freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.”

The leader of the free world of that era envisioned an global organization that could bring about a new world ordering, to assure greater peace and prosperity to many peoples of the world.  President Franklin Roosevelt passed away in April 1945; soon the global conflict ended; and then what he long envisioned became the possible:

On October 24, 1945, 50 nations gathered in San Francisco to sign on to the “United Nations Conference on International Organizations” – and the UN as we know it today was launched.  (We celebrate UN Day on 24 October in commemoration of that historic event.)

Today the UN has 193 members – sovereign states that have equal representation in the UN General Assembly. The UN is the world’s largest intergovernmental organization – a forum for governments, not a world government.  And within the organization are important initiatives that have been shaping corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, sustainability, and for capital markets, as well as for sustainable investing.  These are agencies, programs, institutes, global collaborations, and other entities.

You know some of them as the UN Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI); the UN Global Compact (UNGC); the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the work of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).

Today we are hearing quite a bit in the corporate sector and in the capital markets about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 1948); the UN has been the driving force behind 80-plus “human rights laws”.  Consider:  the declaration has been translated into 380 languages to date, says the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights..

We are sharing with you three recent highlights from the UN universe.   First, an update from the UNGC CEO Lisa Kingo, stressing that now is the time for society to invest in the 1.5C future…”there never has been a time”, she points out, “like today for coming together and jumpstarting a worldwide transformation towards a more inclusive and sustainable net-zero economy.”

Also from the UNGC, news of the launch of the Ocean Stewardship 2030 Report – to be a roadmap for how ocean-related industries and policymakers can jointly secure a healthy and productive ocean by 2030.

We are now in the Decade of Action on the Global Goals (the SDGs). The UNGC is an initiative of the UN Secretary General, a call to companies everywhere to align their operations and strategies with 10 universal principles focused on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is today an independent global foundation that was birthed by the United Nations, building on the principles advanced for corporate responsibility by the NGO Ceres (based in Boston). An organization known for a philosophy of “constant improvement”, GRI recently organized an Agriculture and Fishing Project Working Group that will lead the work to create a new sustainability standard for ag & fishing.

This is part of the work of GRI’s New Sector Program – a multi-stakeholder group will move forward the initiative to help companies with ag and fishing in their value chains promote transparency and accountability, and better understand their role in sustainable development.

It’s almost 80 years now since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – one of the most progressive leaders in U.S. history – conceived of the “united nations”, as a necessity to bring together the resources of other nations to fight a war on all of the continents, whose outcome was then uncertain.  And then to assure the peace and work to end wars, or at least settle disputes peacefully.

In November 2010 Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted:  “Sadly, FDR never saw the fruits of his efforts.  He died weeks before the founding conference. Yet his vision lives on in the UN Charter’s collective commitment to peace and security, economic and social welfare, tolerance and fundamental human rights.  Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. This legacy of multilateral cooperation guides us today…”

Well said!

Top Stories

OOPS
In the June 8th issue of our newsletter (Highlights), with headline “Will We Ever See SEC Rules/Guidance for Corporate ESG Disclosure and Reporting?  The Question Hangs in the Wind..”  We incorrectly identified the corporate reporting regulations being reviewed by the Securities & Exchange Commission – should have said “Reg S-K” (not Reg F-D).  Sorry for the any confusion caused.  A more complete commentary on all of this is here on our blog.

Will We Ever See SEC Rules / Guidance For Corporate ESG Disclosure and Reporting? The Question Hangs in the Wind…

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

People have questions about corporate sustainability / ESG / responsibility / citizenship disclosure and reporting.  Such reporting has been on a hockey stick rise in recent years.

Should ESG/sustainability etc reporting be regulated?  How? What would be regulated in terms of disclosure and reporting – what should the guidelines for corporate issuers be?  Does this topic become a more important part of the SEC’s ongoing Reg S-K (disclosure) revamping? What information do investors want?  What do companies want to have covered by regulation?  Many questions!

Some answers are coming in the European Union for both issuers and investors with new and proposed regulations.

And in the main will have to come in the U.S.A. from the Securities & Exchange Commission — at some point.

SEC was created with the adoption of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  The agency was specifically created by the U.S. Congress to oversee behaviors in the securities and markets and the conduct of financial professionals.

Publicly-traded company reporting oversight is also an important part of the SEC mission. The 1933 and 1934 acts and other subsequent legislation (all providing statutory authority for rulemaking and oversight) provide the essential framework for SEC to do its work.

As Investopedia explains for us, the purpose of the 1934 act is “to ensure an environment of fairness and investor confidence.”  The ’34 act gave SEC broad authority to regulate all aspects of the securities industry and to enforce corporate reporting by companies with more than US$10 million in assets and shares held by 500 or more shareowners.

An important part of the ongoing SEC’s mission, we should say here, is to protect investors and be open to suggestions “from the protected” to improve the complicated regimes that guide corporate disclosure. So that investors have the information they need to make buy-sell-hold decisions.  Which brings us to S-K.

In recent months, the SEC staff has been working on the steps to reform and updates segments of Reg S-K and has been receiving many communications from investors to suggest reforms, updates, expansion of, corporate disclosure.  (Details are below in the news release from SEC in 2019. The SEC proposed rule changes, still in debate, are intended to “update rules” and “improve disclosures” for investors and “simplify compliance efforts for companies”.)

Regulation S-K provides standard instruction for filing forms required under the 1933 and 1934 acts and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975.

Especially important in the ongoing initiative to update Reg S-K, we believe:  the setting out for SEC staff and commissioners of facts and perspectives so that serious consideration is given to the dramatic sea changes in (1) the growth of sustainable investing and the related information needs; (2)  and, the vigorous corporate response, particularly in the form of substantial sustainability / ESG reports issued.

Most of the corporate reports published in recent years have been focused on the recommended disclosures as advanced by popular frameworks and widely-recognized reporting standards (such as those of GRI, SASB, CDP, TCFD, et al).

Will we see SEC action on S-K rules reform that will draw applause from the sustainable investors? Now, we point out, including such mainstream players as BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard Funds, to name but a few owners found in almost every corporate top holder list.

Ah, Depends.  Political winds have driven changes in rules at SEC. Then again, it is an election year.  (To be kept in mind:  There are five SEC commission members; two are appointed and confirmed Democrats, two are Republicans – and the chair is nominated by the president…right now, a Republican holds that position.)

Investor input is and should be an important part of SEC rule making. (All of the steps taken by the Commission to address such items as corporate disclosure and reporting in adopting or amending the rules have to follow the various statutes passed by the congress related to the issue.  Investor and stakeholder input is an important part of the approach to rule-making.  Sustainable investing advocates have been making their views abundantly clear in this initiative to update Reg S-K.)

The SEC Investor Advisory Committee formally makes recommendations to the agency to help staff and commissioners be aware of investor sentiment and help to guide the process through the advice provided.

Recently the committee voted to make recommendations to the SEC on three topics: (1) accounting and financial disclosure; (2) disclosure effectiveness; and, (3) ESG disclosure.

The committee said they decided that after 50 years of discussion on ESG disclosure it is time to make a move, now that ESG / sustainability are recognizably important factors in investing.  Given the current political environment in Washington, there probably won’t be much movement at SEC on the issue, many experts agree.

But the marker has been strongly set down in the committee’s recent report, one of numerous markers set down by sustainable investment champions.  

Commissioner Hester M. Pierce addressed the Investor Advisory Committee, and shared her perspectives on ESG reporting.  “The ambiguity has made the ESG debate a difficult one…”  She thinks “the call to develop a new ESG reporting regime…may not be helpful right now…”  (She is a Republican nominee, a lawyer in academia.)

We have included her comments in the selection of four Top Stories for you.  Another of the items – the comments of SEC Chair Jay Clayton along the same lines about ambiguity and confusion of ratings etc. (he is also a Republican appointee).

To which sustainable investing proponents might say – if not now, when, SEC commissioners!

While the conversation may at times be focused on “what do investors want,” there is also wide agreement among corporate boards and executives that guidance and standardization in corporate ESG / sustainability et al reporting would be very helpful.

With the current comments of the leadership of SEC we are not quite there yet.

Interesting footnote:  The October 1929 stock market crash helped to plunge the nation into the Great Depression.  The 1932 presidential elections resulted in New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a Democrat) moving to the White House in March 1933 and swiftly taking action to address important public policy issues.  He brought him his “brains trust”, experts in various public policy issues that helped to create sweeping reforms and creation of powerful regulatory agencies — such as the SEC.

The story goes that there was so much to do that the financial markets and corporate oversight legislation had to be divided into two congressional sessions – in 1933 and 1934 (the congress met for shorter periods in those days – the members were part-timers).  Thus, the Securities Act of 1933 and the 1934 act.

Regulation overall was then and today is a very complicated topic!

Top Stories

SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee Makes Disclosure Recommendations  (Source: Cooley PubCo)

SEC Chair Warns of Risks Tied to ESG Ratings 
(Source:  Financial Times)

In addition, see: