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FORWARD THINKING | – 3 Min

Active stewardship on display – Environmental considerations and compensation in focus

By MICHAEL HERSKOVICH 06.07.2022

    In our capacity of sustainable asset manager for a changing world, we believe in using our influence to bring about progress towards a more environmentally friendly economic model that is also more inclusive and equitable. Such an approach is conducive to the positive performance of investments over the long term and thus in the interest of clients.  

    This stance is reflected in our active stewardship of the assets we invest in and hence in our engagement with investee companies and other issuers. It can also be seen in our voting behaviour at annual general meetings (AGMs) of shareholders.

    As the 2022 AGM season ends, here are some key points and governance trends: 

    • In the first half of 2022, we voted at 1 608 meetings. We opposed 33% of the resolutions brought forward, underscoring our demanding voting policy.  
    • The highest level of opposition was for executive remuneration, with 61% of votes against or abstaining. We opposed 39% of resolutions relating to financial operations and 36% of those relating to the appointment of directors.  
    • We strengthened our climate expectations of investee companies by implementing an assessment of ‘Say on Climate’ resolutions and incorporating new biodiversity requirements. 

    Remuneration and board election – Two key themes

    On remuneration, we require complete and transparent disclosure of corporate policies; they must align with long-term company performance. This year, we reinforced our expectations by requiring that non-financial objectives related to social and environmental issues be included in executive pay. This led us to dissent on high number of shareholder proposals: our opposition stood at 61%.

    On board election, diversity is a key criterion: we want at least 30% women on boards of directors in Europe, North America, South Africa and Australia, and 15% in Asia and other markets. If this is not met, we will oppose the appointment of any male directors. (Also see International Women’s Day – Getting on board with diversity – Investors’ Corner (bnpparibas-am.com)

    We note that company size, country of incorporation and local regulations are factors significantly affecting the levels of female board membership. These are key elements for investors to consider when assessing this aspect of good governance.

    We believe a more diverse board will have more meaningful and constructive debates and raise more issues with management. Ultimately, this should lead to improved company performance. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that companies with good environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices do well over the long term.[1]

    Tougher voting policy

    We reassess our governance and voting policy annually to adapt it to new sustainability issues and challenges. In 2022, this focused on our climate and biodiversity expectations. (Also see Stewardship in 2022 – Gender diversity and environmental considerations – Investors’ Corner (bnpparibas-am.com)

    When voting on ‘say-on-climate’ proposals, we clarified and strengthened the requirements in our voting policy including whether companies had disclosed all their greenhouse gas emissions and set short, medium and long-term goals to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050 at the latest. We voted on 34 resolutions this year as of end of June, supporting just 24% from 71% in 2021.

    We incorporated new requirements related to biodiversity preservation in line with our roadmap:  We expect companies to assess and report on their main environmental impacts and nature dependencies, starting with those in high-impact sectors, and focusing on deforestation and water-related issues.

    When companies failed to meet these expectations, we opposed the re-election of directors as well as discharge or approval of accounts. 

    We opposed 1 231 resolutions at 216 companies for ESG considerations, which is a 27% increase from 2021, with the vast majority (1 144 resolutions) linked to climate and biodiversity consideration.

    Walking the talk

    Our ambitious voting policy aims to bring about real change. This includes strengthened requirements on action, but also playing an active role by filing shareholder proposals.

    This year, we initiated the filing of four resolutions at US companies, requiring their climate lobbying activities to be aligned with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Dialogue resulted in the withdrawal of three resolutions ahead of the AGMs after the companies committed to complying with the requested publication of a report. 

    To sum up, in 2022 we are reaffirming our commitment to ‘walking the talk’, to building on our impressive voting record and to raising the bar further for sustainable investing.

    Further reading 

    [1] See, for example, ‘Diversity wins. How inclusion matters’, McKinsey & Co, May 2020 

    Disclaimer 

    Please note that articles may contain technical language. For this reason, they may not be suitable for readers without professional investment experience. Any views expressed here are those of the author as of the date of publication, are based on available information, and are subject to change without notice. Individual portfolio management teams may hold different views and may take different investment decisions for different clients. This document does not constitute investment advice. The value of investments and the income they generate may go down as well as up and it is possible that investors will not recover their initial outlay. Past performance is no guarantee for future returns. Investing in emerging markets, or specialised or restricted sectors is likely to be subject to a higher-than-average volatility due to a high degree of concentration, greater uncertainty because less information is available, there is less liquidity or due to greater sensitivity to changes in market conditions (social, political and economic conditions). Some emerging markets offer less security than the majority of international developed markets. For this reason, services for portfolio transactions, liquidation and conservation on behalf of funds invested in emerging markets may carry greater risk.

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