Responding to Covid-19
“The pandemic has put our concept of the ‘Real Active’ to the test and seen Kempen ask firms to honour their supply chain agreements and collaborate on areas such as access to medicine and protecting fair labour standards. As business resilience was severely put to the test, we have seen encouraging signs of progress among investee companies"
Eszter Vitorino, Senior Advisor Impact and Sustainable Investment
Protecting the health and wellbeing of our staff and wider community has been our first priority throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and as we begin to emerge from the crisis we are keen to seize the opportunities to ‘build back better’.
At Kempen, we have found some advantages of working remotely, not least that many managers found that dialogues via video conference worked just as well as face-to-face meetings, helping slash our travel budgets and CO2 emissions in more than half.
Our portfolio management changed too, with few funds insulated from the crisis. Meanwhile, existing trends accelerated, such as companies aiming to shift their businesses away from fossil fuels and focus more towards leading in the energy transition.
There was also a significant upswing in investments in healthcare and life sciences. Just one example was an investment we made in US life sciences leader Thermo Fisher Scientific, which has been providing instruments and safety supplies around the world to help analyse, diagnose, and protect against the coronavirus. A growth rate pushing 5% and a rapidly improving performance on ESG factors helped convince us to invest in 2020.
Strengthening the ‘Real Active’ approach
As active owners, Kempen has spent several years actively encouraging the companies in which we invest in to focus on the creation of long-term value for all stakeholders, not just shareholders, including customers, employees, suppliers and communities. It is a concept we call the ‘Real Active’, and it is one that has been especially important in 2020.
Last year for example, we asked investees such as Dutch technology firm TKH Group and financial services provider Intertrust to cancel Financial Year 2019 dividends to shareholders such as ourselves, in order to secure the financial flexibility their company needs to face the uncertainties of the current market.
We have also undertaken several engagements focused on helping all stakeholders through the pandemic. For example, we engaged with pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk (see case study below) and with Roche, who have been developing Covid diagnostic tools. The engagement discussion with Roche centred around the pharmaceutical firm’s lysis buffer solution recipe, which was needed to ramp up testing capacity. We asked the company to collaborate with governments and other key stakeholders in the interest of restoring public health. The company has been responsive to this call to action.
At the beginning of the pandemic we were alarmed by news about a number of companies in the garment and apparel sector that chose to protect their cashflows over honouring commitments to suppliers. The ILO warned of an average 10% drop in global wages for factory workers, with very few safety nets to support them at the beginning of the crisis.
Working with other members of the Platform Living Wage Financials, an award-winning initiative we have co-founded, we wrote to over thirty apparel companies including Abercrombie & Fitch, Coats, H&M and Nike, encouraging them to manage the crisis responsibly across their operations and supply chain. This included not cancelling orders, ensuring suppliers were paid on time (or in advance), and making commitments to protect workers’ rights, health and safety.
Engagement from investors like us has been critical in 2020, and collaborative efforts with all key stakeholders will continue to be needed to boost the global recovery.
Although turbulent times still lie ahead, significant progress has been made in many areas and we hope that one positive to emerge from the crisis might be a greater push across global markets to encourage more stakeholder-focused capitalism in 2021.
KEEPING HEALTHCARE SUPPLIES IN SHAPE IN THE CRISIS
Novo Nordisk, along with other large cap pharmaceutical companies, have an opportunity, and indeed responsibility, to play a critical role in the post-Covid-19 recovery. Already, the company has a very strong commitment to responsible business practice, reflected by our own standards at Kempen and also ESG ratings.
The dangers of the pandemic are not limited to those who contract the virus, there is also the knock-on effect as resources are diverted away from other global health issues towards managing the immediate threat of Covid-19. As one of the world’s leading provider of medicines for the treatment of diabetes, there was a concern that Novo Nordisk’s supply chain for insulin and other medicines would be significantly impacted, leading to dangerous health outcomes for patients.
As Covid-19 started to have a noticeable impact on global healthcare resourcing, our engagement with Novo Nordisk focused on understanding what the company was doing to ensure the continuity and accessibility of medicines they provide. In early 2020 Novo Nordisk launched its new Defeat Diabetes strategy to reduce the price of human insulin from US$4 to US$3 per vial, helping protect access for uninsured patients around the world.
The company has also worked in collaboration with other partners on the development and wide-scale deployment of antibody testing, and donated among others over 500 tons of ethanol, an essential ingredient of hand sanitizers, to curb the spread of Covid-19.