Collaborative stewardship initiative on social issues and human rights

The PRI is launching a new collaborative initiative for investors to address human rights and social issues through their stewardship activities’

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About the initiative

As outlined in the PRI’s position paper: why and how investors should act on human rights , investors have a key role to play in addressing social issues and human rights.

At the PRI, we are launching a new collaborative initiative for investors to address human rights and social issues through their stewardship activities. The initiative will act as a platform that can encompass a broad range of social issues, that will allow investors to prioritise the most severe human rights risks and outcomes within their stewardship activities.

Within the platform, the PRI will support a range of activities, including investor collaborative engagement with companies, along with potential further escalation where needed. The PRI will also support investor engagement with policymakers and other stakeholders to make progress on the overall goal.

PRI signatories are invited to express their interest in joining the initiative by completing this form. In the new year, the PRI will provide these signatories with further information on the initiative (such as the sector and company list for engagement) and invite them to formally apply to join the initiative as an endorser, lead investor and/or collaborating investor.

General questions about the initiative

What is the objective of the initiative and what is your strategy to achieve this?

The objective of the initiative is to maximise investors’ collective contribution to the goal of global respect for human rights.

This initiative will primarily seek change through use of investors’ influence over portfolio companies. Investors will focus on companies’: adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) (including appropriate disclosure); the level of alignment of their political engagement activities with their human rights responsibilities; and their progress on specific human rights issues within their operations and/or value chains that are seen as the most severe risks to people. 

Why is the PRI well placed to coordinate such an initiative?

The PRI is a network of over 4000 signatories who collectively manage more than US$100 trillion in assets under management. The PRI executive has been coordinating investor stewardship initiatives for 10 years, including prior collaborative engagements on human rights within specific industries, including within cobalt sourcing , agricultural supply chains and the extractives industry , as well as more recently playing a key role coordinating collaboration within Climate Action 100+ , the world’s largest investor collaborative engagement. 

As a UN-supported body, the PRI has a strong commitment to progress on human rights and the UN Guiding Principles, as most recently articulated in our position on human rights and 2021-2024 strategy

The PRI will work closely with organisations coordinating similar initiatives, to ensure alignment and avoid duplication of efforts.  

Is this a collaborative engagement?

Yes. Recognising that addressing human rights will require a variety of stewardship tools and activities, the PRI will support a range of these activities, such as engagement at AGMs and public policy engagement. However, the primary efforts of the initiative will be delivered through engagement with companies in collaboration with other investors. 

What is the name of this initiative?  

The official name of the initiative will be announced in early 2022, before engagement begins.  

How will the initiative draw on the expertise of investors and other stakeholders? 

The initiative will be facilitated by the PRI Executive and supported by two voluntary advisory bodies:  

  • Signatory advisory committee: this group is comprised of PRI signatories and provides guidance to the PRI on the development and coordination of the initiative to support the PRI’s decision making. Applications for this committee were open from 30 August to 19 September 2021. The composition of this committee will be announced in December 2021. 

  • Technical advisory group: this group is comprised of PRI stakeholders, such as NGOs, with deep expertise on human rights. The technical advisory group will provide technical advice on human rights to inform the PRI Executive’s decision-making around the development and strategy of the initiative. The technical advisory group will also support engagement with affected stakeholders.

More information on these groups can be found further down this page. 

How will progress of the initiative be monitored and reported? 

Progress will be monitored through a combination of tracking company performance over time against company benchmarks (such as the World Benchmarking Alliance’s Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) and from information received from lead and collaborating investors. 

When will the initiative be launched?

We expect to begin engagement in March 2022. Investors who expressed an interest in joining the initiative will be contacted beforehand to agree on the companies they will engage and the role they would like to take on. 

Questions about the engagement strategy

What will the asks/expectations be of companies? 

It is widely recognised that striving for global respect for human rights is complex and will require varied approaches across different businesses, regions, and sectors. However, at a high-level, each company will be expected to fully implement the UNGPs and align their political engagement (e.g. lobbying) positions and activities to the UNGPs. Additional company-specific expectations will also be developed by identifying which human rights issues are most severe within each company with input from technical experts and affected stakeholders. In summary, the initiative will set company specific expectations across three broad areas: 

  1. Full implementation of the UNGPs, 
  2. Responsible political engagement,  
  3. Further company-specific expectations on specific human rights issues based on severity of risks to people

What sectors and companies will be engaged? 

The engagement focus sectors and companies will be selected in the coming months, in consultation with the initiative’s advisory committee and technical advisory group. We will rely on a number of metrics to select sectors and companies within these sectors and we will make the rationale and methodology public on the PRI website once it becomes available. 

How many companies will initially be engaged? 

We expect to begin engagement with approximately 30 companies. This number will grow as we recruit additional investors and increase the PRI’s internal team capacity. 

How will human rights issues at each company be prioritised? 

For each company, the PRI with input from the advisory groups and affected stakeholders – will identify (and agree with each lead investor/s) which issues should be prioritised for engagement by assessing where actual or potential negative outcomes for people are most severe using the criteria set out in the UNGPs

  • Scale: gravity of the actual or potential outcome on an individual right(s) (“how serious is the harm”?)
  • Scope: the number of individuals that are or will be affected (“how widespread is the harm?”)
  • Irremediable character: any limits on the ability to restore those affected to a situation at least equivalent to their previous situation (“if the harm occurs, can it be put right?”)

How will investors respond to human rights controversies within the initiative? 

The requirement to adopt and implement the UNGPs will apply to all companies selected as part of the engagement. However, where a human rights controversy has occurred related to a company outside of the engagement focus list, the PRI (with input from the technical advisory group and advisory committee) may consider responding by assessing the severity of the controversy.  

If decided that the controversy should be responded to, a new company engagement group will be formed. The engagement in this case will focus on mitigation of issues; reassurance that company has a remediation plan in place which includes consultation of all affected stakeholders; and reassurance that the company integrates learnings and reviews established procedures to prevent the reoccurrence of the controversy.

How will affected stakeholders be included within engagements?

The PRI in collaboration with lead investors and with input from the technical expert group will identify and consult stakeholders who have or may be affected by companies (such as local communities and workers). Leading investors within the industry already do this, and it is particularly important when a controversy occurs that requires investors to be reactive.

Obtaining first-hand information from key stakeholders will complement the human rights impact assessment conducted by the company itself and other public information available. This will help investors to understand and incorporate information about actual risks and outcomes experienced by stakeholders in individual engagements.

What role will investor political engagement play in the initiative? 

Both investor engagement with corporates and public policymakers are necessary to pursue the objectives of this initiative. It is recognised, for example, that the solution to the issues of privacy rights, hate speech, misinformation and electoral manipulation brought on by big tech companies require not only forceful company stewardship by investors but also global, regulatory solutions.

Separately to the collaborative initiative, as part of our broader human rights programme, the PRI will promote mandatory human rights due diligence legislation, robust accountability mechanisms and financial regulation which recognises human rights as an area of responsibility through local PRI policy representatives.

Within the collaborative initiative, a separate track on investor engagement on public policy will be considered (from year 2 of the initiative onwards) where issue-specific policy and regulatory intervention is required. This will be subject to decisions in the wider PRI change plan on human rights and will build on input from the advisory committee, technical advisory group and affected stakeholders.

Questions about signatory involvement

What roles are available for signatories? 

Signatories will be able to apply to join the initiative as an “endorser” and/or a “participant”.

Endorsers:

All PRI signatories can officially publicly endorse the initiative by signing the initiative public sign-on statement which signals a signatory’s support for the objectives of the initiative. This sign-on statement will be developed in the coming months, in collaboration with the initiative advisory committee and technical advisory group.

Endorsers who outsource their engagement will be encouraged to request that their investment managers and engagement service providers with responsibility for engagement apply to take part in the PRI initiative or commit to align their own engagements to the objectives of the PRI initiative.

It will be clearly communicated that endorsers alone do not participate in any engagement activities within the initiative but are solely signalling their support for the initiative’s objectives.

Participants:

Signatories can also join the initiative as participants. Participants are those that participate in engagement activities within the initiative. Participants can engage with a company as a “lead investor” or a “collaborating investor”.

What will be the joining criteria for endorsers and participants? 

Both endorsers and participants will be required to: 1) be a PRI signatory; and 2) make a public commitment to respect human rights recognising the responsibilities set out in the UNGPs and implement (or commit to implement) a human rights due diligence programme within a year of joining the engagement.

The participant role will be open to applications from PRI signatories who are:

  • Asset owners (with capacity to engage),

  • Investment managers, or

  • Engagement service providers who have a specific mandate to engage with companies on behalf of an institutional investor or investors (and can name that investor/s to the PRI)

To join, participants must agree to sign the initiative public sign-on statement and agree to the terms of reference for the initiative. 

How will participants be selected? 

Once the initiative opens, participants will be invited to apply to join the initiative. The application will contain questions on the investor’s experience engaging on human rights issues; the companies they would like to engage; and the role they would like to take on (lead or collaborating investor). The PRI executive will then make a final decision on the participant list. 

Questions about human rights

Aren’t human rights only relevant for states?

The  UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the  OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD Guidelines) articulate that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights that exists independently of a state’s duty to protect human rights. Where a state falls short of its human rights obligations, businesses must still, to the greatest extent possible, adhere to higher international standards.

Since the publication of these guidelines, the  Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the  OECD have explicitly stated that both frameworks apply to institutional investors as business enterprises.

As an investor, how can I be expected to judge what is right?

The  UNGPs and the  OECD Guidelines do not ask an investor to judge what is right. Rather, they outline an institutional investor’s responsibility to respect internationally recognised human rights. These should be understood, at a minimum, as those outlined in the  International Bill of Human Rights and the  International Labour Organisation’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.  

Cultural differences mean different human rights norms, don’t they? 

The  UNGPs are applicable to all states and business enterprises, regardless of size, sector, location, ownership and structure. Similarly, the  OECD Guidelines are a series of non-binding principles and standards for responsible business conduct in a global context consistent with applicable laws and internationally recognised standards. This means that the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines outline what is expected of all businesses, regardless of geography. 

The most severe human rights outcomes will, however, vary from country to country. This is one of the reasons business enterprises need to carry out due diligence aligned with the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines – by doing so, they can address the most severe actual and potential negative human rights outcomes across different contexts. 

As a minority investor, do I have influence?

The  OHCHR has outlined that the  UNGPs apply to all institutional investors, including minority investors,  as echoed by the late Professor John Ruggie .

Institutional investors, including those that are minority investors,  are expected to build and use leverage to change the behaviour of investees. Through collaborative engagements and public policy dialogues, among other initiatives, investors can fulfil their responsibility to prevent and mitigate harm to people. Minority investors should not underestimate their leverage, as doing so undermines the drive to garner respect for human rights. 

The influence of minority investors was demonstrated in  a de facto test case brought against two institutional investors by a group of NGOs. The complaint was related to their minority investment in a controversial Korean steelmaker. The parties eventually  reached a joint agreement , with one investor committing to prevent and mitigate harm to people caused by their minority shareholding. It was in response to this case that the OHCHR  issued a clarification on the responsibility of minority investors to respect human rights.

Advisory groups

The initiative will be facilitated by the PRI Executive and supported by two voluntary advisory bodies.

six Principles

Signatory advisory committee

The signatory advisory committee is made up of PRI signatories and will provide guidance to the PRI on the development and co ordination of the initiative to support the PRI's decision making.

six Principles

Technical advisory group

The technical advisory group is comprised of PRI stakeholders, such as NGOs, with deep expertise on human rights. The group will provide technical advice on human rights and support engagement with affected stakeholders.

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Why and how investors should act on human rights

2020-10-22T06:57:00+01:00

Just as for all businesses, institutional investors have a responsibility to respect human rights. This responsibility was formalised by the UN and the OECD in 2011, and since then expectations – from employees, beneficiaries, clients, governments and wider society – have only increased.