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STEWARDSHIP | ARTICLE – 3 Min

Voting policy remains demanding in pursuit of sustainable world

By MICHAEL HERSKOVICH 25.07.2023

In this article:

    Reflecting our strict stewardship approach, we continue to use our influence through voting at shareholder meetings to advance a more environmentally friendly, inclusive and equitable economy. We believe a bold proxy voting policy is central to driving positive performance of investments over the long term and thus is in the interest of clients.  

    We expect companies to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, underpinned by credible decarbonisation strategies. In terms of biodiversity, companies should assess and report on their main impacts and dependencies on nature, with priority given to deforestation and water-related issues.

    To reflect the urgency of taking action, and to drive home the message, we will reject ordinary resolutions at annual meetings of shareholders such as those seeking the re-election of directors or the discharge or approval of accounts.

    Indeed, during the latest AGM season, we opposed more than 1 000 resolutions for these reasons. Our overall average opposition rate increased from 33% to 37% this year, mainly driven by a stricter voting policy on board elections.

    Director elections and diversity reasons

    Board diversity has been found to be a source of financial outperformance and can help to create sustainable value. It is a major focus of our stewardship efforts.

    We raised the minimum thresholds for female board membership by 5% for the 2023 voting season: to 35% in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and to 20% in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. [1]

    We opposed the election of all male directors when our requirements were not met. This boosted our opposition to such resolutions to 48% in 2023 after 36% in 2022.

    We believe investors have a crucial role to play in increasing female representation on decision-making bodies at companies by both expressing their position through voting and through engagement.

    55% of exec compensation resolutions rejected

    Resolutions on executive pay levels were the most contested: we rejected more than one in two.

    Although compensation practices have become more transparent and the integration of ESG performance criteria is increasingly widespread, we are still seeing variable remuneration being paid without performance requirements, along with an excessive catch-up effect compared to 2022 which was marked by declining remuneration due to the impacts of the pandemic.

    We believe executive compensation plans should be aligned with long-term corporate performance and have relevant and demanding objectives including on sustainability issues.

    Say-on-Climate, environmental and social resolutions

    The number of climate resolutions brought by companies fell sharply: we voted on 19 in 2023 after 40 in 2022.

    On our view, this drop is attributable to multiple factors. Several companies, primarily in France and the UK, have opted for a vote every three years and therefore did not submit proposals to a vote this year.

    We opposed more than half of these resolutions. We noted a crystallisation of the climate issues at stake around Scope 3 emissions. [2]

    We supported 88% of shareholder resolutions on environmental issues and 96% on social issues designed to improve company performance since we are convinced that shareholder proposals can play a significant role in improving companies’ sustainable performance.

    We believe that in 2023 too, we demonstrated the credibility of our approach to being the sustainable asset manager for a changing world, in line with our commitment to the Climate Action 100+ initiative and the net zero roadmap.

     “Voting is an important component of our dialogue with the companies in which we invest on behalf of clients, as well as being an integral part of our investment management processes. This is why it is essential to maintain this high point of shareholder democracy, where dialogue is established between managers, individual shareholders and institutional investors.”

    Michael Herskovich, Head of Voting and Governance

    References

    1 See https://mediaroom-en.bnpparibas-am.com/news/bnp-paribas-asset-management-study-shows-strong-growth-in-female-oard-membership-7546-0fb7a.html  

    2 The GHG Protocol put together by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in 2020 divides carbon emissions into three categories: Scope 1 – direct emissions from sources and assets controlled by a firm; Scope 2 – indirect emissions from purchased electricity; Scope 3 – indirect emissions from across a firm’s value chains

    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.
    Environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment risk: The lack of common or harmonised definitions and labels integrating ESG and sustainability criteria at EU level may result in different approaches by managers when setting ESG objectives. This also means that it may be difficult to compare strategies integrating ESG and sustainability criteria to the extent that the selection and weightings applied to select investments may be based on metrics that may share the same name but have different underlying meanings. In evaluating a security based on the ESG and sustainability criteria, the Investment Manager may also use data sources provided by external ESG research providers. Given the evolving nature of ESG, these data sources may for the time being be incomplete, inaccurate or unavailable. Applying responsible business conduct standards in the investment process may lead to the exclusion of securities of certain issuers. Consequently, (the Sub-Fund's) performance may at times be better or worse than the performance of relatable funds that do not apply such standards.

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