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Finance & Investment
Welcome to the Age of Stakeholder Capitalism

Two global coalitions have committed to make good on their companies’ DEI commitments; and adhere to a new set of Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics, respectively. Larry Fink’s annual CEO letter expounds on the need for both.

In 2019, when the Business Roundtable redefined the purpose of business as creating an economy that serves the needs of all stakeholders, it felt like a landmark moment — but since then, while there have been a growing number of pronouncements from individual companies in the same vein, it has mostly felt like more talk than walk from the business world (though, we can all take a page from Sweden’s playbook, apparently).

But this week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) launched two major initiatives in which over 100 global companies have committed to new standards for doing business that are reflective of this ethos — in one, over 60 business leaders have committed to report on a new set of Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics; the other sees 48 companies committing to building more equitable workplaces. And in another positive sign, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s annual CEO letter expounds on the need to see both of these priorities and more from its clients.

61 global business leaders support ESG convergence by committing to new Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics

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The first coalition of business leaders across industries announced on Tuesday their commitment to new Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics — a set of environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures released by the World Economic Forum and its International Business Council (IBC) in September 2020, which measure the long-term enterprise value creation for all stakeholders.

Drawn from existing voluntary standards, the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics offer a core set of 21 universal, comparable disclosures focused on people, planet, prosperity; and principles of governance that are considered most critical for business, society and the planet; and that companies can report on, regardless of industry or region. They strengthen the ability of companies and investors to benchmark progress on sustainability matters, thereby improving decision-making and enhancing transparency and accountability regarding the shared and sustainable value companies create.

The metrics include non-financial disclosures centered around the four pillars: people, planet, prosperity and principles of governance. Intentionally built on existing standards, the pillars include metrics such as greenhouse gas emissions, pay equality and board diversity, among others. The WEF — in collaboration with Bank of America, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC — curated the set of 21 core and 34 expanded metrics over the past two years with the support of over 140 stakeholders.

These leaders and their organizations — including Accenture, Banco Santander, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), bp, Dell, Dow, HEINEKEN, HP, IBM, JLL, Mastercard, McKinsey & Co, Nestlé, PayPal, Salesforce, Sony, Unilever and dozens more — have committed to:

  • Reflect the core metrics in their reporting to investors and other stakeholders (e.g. annual report, sustainability report, proxy statements, or other materials) by reporting on the metrics most relevant to their business or briefly explaining why a different approach is more appropriate.

  • Publicly support this work and encourage their business partners to do so.

  • Promote the further convergence of existing ESG standards, frameworks and principles to support progress towards a globally accepted solution for non-financial reporting on common ESG metrics.

In making these commitments, business leaders are signaling that ESG factors are increasingly critical to the success and long-term viability of all businesses.

As Brian Moynihan — Chairman and CEO of Bank of America, and Chairman of the IBC — asserts:

“We have to deliver great returns for our shareholders and help drive progress on society’s most important priorities. That is stakeholder capitalism in action. Common metrics will help all stakeholders measure the progress we are making and ensure that the resources capitalism can marshal — from companies, from investors, and others — are directed to where they can make the most difference.”

By adopting and reporting on these metrics and disclosures, the business community hopes to continue to catalyze greater cooperation and alignment among existing standards; and encourage progress on the development of a systemic, globally accepted set of common standards for reporting on sustainability performance.

“Today is another step forward in the growing impact of stakeholder capitalism. It’s not just about words, but about companies setting clear metrics, measuring our progress, and holding ourselves accountable,” says Salesforce CEO and Chair Marc Benioff. “Only then can we provide long-term growth for our shareholders, build trust with all stakeholders, and truly improve the state of the world."

The Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics initiative seeks to improve the ways that companies measure and demonstrate their performance against ESG indicators and to enable positive contributions towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The project’s twin objectives are to accelerate convergence among the leading private ESG standard-setters, and to bring greater comparability and consistency to the reporting of ESG disclosures.

Read more on the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics and how the initiative encourages greater convergence among sustainability standard-setters and a global solution for non-financial reporting here.

48 companies join WEF coalition to tackle racism in the workplace

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Also this week, the WEF launched the Partnering for Racial Justice in Business (PRJB) initiative, in which 40 more businesses have committed to building equitable and just workplaces for professionals with under-represented racial and ethnic identities.
The PRJB initiative has been designed to operationalize and coordinate commitments to eradicate racism in the workplace and set new global standards for racial equity in business. It also provides a platform for businesses to collectively advocate for inclusive policy change.

The initiative originates from the WEF’s New Economy and Society Platform, focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning; the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity. It produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports a range of action initiatives.

As WEF Managing Director Saadia Zahidi points out:

“With just 1% of Fortune 500 companies led by Black chief executives, the need to tackle racial under-representation in business is urgent and obvious. To design racially and ethnically just workplaces, companies must confront racism at a systemic level, addressing not just the structural and social mechanics of their own organizations, but also the role they play in their communities and the economy at large. The Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative provides an effective platform for businesses to take individual and collective action towards racially and ethnically just workplaces.”

Ten participants in the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics initiative — Bank of America, BCG, EY, HP, McKinsey, Nestlé, PayPal, PwC, Salesforce and Unilever — are joined as founding members of the Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative by companies including AstraZeneca, BlackRock, Cisco Systems, The Coca-Cola Company, Deutsche Bank, Facebook, Google, H&M Group, Ingka Group (IKEA), Johnson & Johnson, LinkedIn, Mastercard, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, SAP and UPS, among others.

Three steps are required to join the initiative:

  1. Racial and ethnic equity must be placed on the board’s agenda.

  2. Companies must make at least one commitment towards racial and ethnic justice in their organizations.

  3. Companies must put a long-term strategy in place towards becoming an anti-racist organization.

“The new global standards established by Partnering for Racial Justice in Business come at a time of heightened global focus on racial injustice — underscored by a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities in the United States, along with other marginalized communities worldwide,” says Rosanna Durruthy, Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at LinkedIn. “We believe companies — critical enablers of wealth creation and professional mobility — must play a leading role in building a more equitable future for all. And as an organization that exists to create economic opportunity for the entire global workforce, we are honoured to join this initiative.”

Examples of business commitments towards racial and ethnic justice range from allocating financial and human resources to racial justice work, setting representation goals for all seniority levels, and establishing mentorship programs for racially and ethnically diverse employees. 

“At P&G, we aspire to create a company and a world where equality and inclusion are achievable for all people. For us, this starts with ensuring equitable and inclusive workplaces, and drives the actions we take with our brands and business partners and throughout communities around the world,” says Shelly McNamara, Chief Equality and Inclusion Officer at Procter & Gamble. “The Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative will help foster cross-sector collaboration towards this aspiration and enable P&G and many companies to accelerate progress faster than any of us could do alone, and we’re proud to lend our support.”

Learn more about the Partnering for Racial Justice in Business project, and the 48 founding companies, here.

Fink’s latest CEO letter challenges BlackRock’s clients to take action in all three areas of ESG

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With nearly $9 trillion in assets, BlackRock is the world’s largest — and arguably, most powerful — asset manager; Fink’s annual letters have, as The New York Times pointed out this week, “driven the conversation inside corporate America’s boardrooms for years.”

While the company and its CEO have been criticized by climate activistsinvestorslegislators and thought leaders for years for remaining the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels and companies driving deforestation around the world, there’s no denying Fink’s influence in also driving the sustainability imperative home throughout the business world: As the NYT also pointed out, Fink’s 2018 proclamation that companies must have a purpose beyond profit preceded the Business Roundtable’s statement on stakeholder capitalism; and his 2020 call for corporate climate disclosures and “a fundamental reshaping of finance” in response to the climate crisis was followed by a raft of climate pledges by companies.

In this year’s letter, released this week, Fink’s has upped the stakes even more with a mandate to BlackRock’s clients is that they “disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy.” He cites multiple BlackRock studies that support the business case for such strategies:

“Over the course of 2020, we have seen how purposeful companies — with better environmental, social, and governance (ESG) profiles — have outperformed their peers. During 2020, 81% of a globally representative selection of sustainable indexes outperformed their parent benchmarks [according to a BlackRock study]. This outperformance was even more pronounced during the first quarter downturn, another instance of sustainable funds’ resilience that we have seen in prior downturns. And the broader array of sustainable investment options will continue to drive investor interest in these funds, as we have seen in 2020. 

"But … It’s not just that broad-market ESG indexes are outperforming counterparts. It’s that within industries, we are seeing another divergence: companies with better ESG profiles are performing better than their peers, enjoying a “sustainability premium” [according to a BlackRock comparison between the MSCI ACWI Focus ESG Index and the MSCI ACWI Index from January 2020 to November 2020].”

In addition to highlighting the financial business case for definitive strategies and actions to achieve environmental sustainability, Fink takes care to drive home the equal importance of supporting the needs of communities and all stakeholders:

“Questions of racial justice, economic inequality, or community engagement are often classed as an ‘S’ issue in ESG conversations. But it is misguided to draw such stark lines between these categories. For example, climate change is already having a disproportionate impact on low-income communities around the world — is that an E or an S issue? What matters is less the category we place these questions in, but the information we have to understand them and how they interact with each other. Improved data and disclosures will help us better understand the deep interdependence between environmental and social issues. … We are also at a historic crossroads on the path to racial justice — one that cannot be solved without leadership from companies.”

Among the actions Fink wants to see from BlackRock clients going forward is a demonstrated commitment to enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce — including disclosures regarding companies’ talent strategies.

Fink says that he strongly believes that the purpose of business — of capitalism — is to “respond to human needs”; he cites the ability of companies to develop multiple, viable COVID-19 vaccines at breakneck speed as evidence of stakeholder capitalism in action. As he closes the letter, he says:

“As we move forward from the pandemic, facing tremendous economic pain and inequality, we need companies to embrace a form of capitalism that recognizes and serves all their stakeholders. … The companies that that seek to build long-term value for their stakeholders will help deliver long-term returns to shareholders and build a brighter and more prosperous future for the world.”