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Human rights, focusing on the payment of a living wage in global supply chain

Each individual has the right to live a dignified life, as laid down by the United Nations (UN), in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The idea is to ensure that everyone can live a life of human dignity and equality, irrespective of nationality, race, origin etc. More recently, in 2011 the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) were endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council, clarifying the role of business and governments in relation to human rights, and establishing what is now a generally recognised international human rights guidelines. 

POSITIVE INFLUENCE

It is important for all stakeholders that governments protect and companies respect human rights. Violations are not only morally reprehensible, they can also have highly adverse consequences for companies and their stakeholders. At Kempen, the UNGPs are a core part of our Convention Library and screening process and we believe it is important that the companies we invest in take tangible steps to improve their policies and business practices with respect to human rights. 

As investors, we encourage companies management to take responsibility for the possible adverse consequences of their business activities, through direct and collaborative engagement. Our aim as stewards is to be in dialogue with our investees companies to realise positive change. 

A focus on human rights is an integral part of our ESG policy. One of our current thematic focus areas is the topic of living wages, as a minimum wage is not always the same as a living wage.

“We believe it‘s incumbent on us as an asset manager to engage with the companies we invest in on the topic of living wages and ask questions”

"Questions as, “How do you ensure that the workers in your suppliers’ factories receive a living wage? What do you do when your suppliers do not pay living wages? This is a complex topic that goes beyond any one company. Rather, it is about changing the system as a whole. Companies cannot solve these problems alone, they need to work together with other brands, governments and all key stakeholders. Through engagement we can be clear that, as investors, this is an important issue for us." - Narina Mnatsakanian, Director Impact & Responsible Investment

FOCUS ON LIVING WAGE

A living wage can be viewed as a fundamental human right, and is a very topical issue in labour-intensive industries such as the garment and footwear sector, but also in the food and beverage, agriculture, retail and consumer electronics sectors.

WHAT IS A LIVING WAGE?

Put simply, it means earning enough to meet the basic needs of you and your family such as clothing, housing, healthcare and education and earning enough to be able to put aside savings. Although there is no single internationally recognised definition of a living wage, there are clear advantages to paying people a wage that they can live on. It can form a starting point for gradually lifting them out of poverty. For example, if parents can make enough money during normal working hours without excessive overtime they can send their children to school instead of to work and reduce the risk of child labour. This is why we believe this is such an important topic. 

Kempen is one of the co-founders of the Platform Living Wage Financials (PLWF).  a coalition of 11 financial institutions that manage a combined total of over €2.3 trillion in assets. Together we monitor and assess companies in the garment sector and encourage them to implement the necessary processes to enable a living wage for the employees throughout their supply chains.

This is a recurring item on the agenda in the dialogue we have as an asset manager with the companies we research and invest in. We want to understand whether the companies we invest in have sufficient insight into the working conditions in their supply chains. As members of the PLWF we encourage companies to make progress on the topic of the living wage by assessing their performance against the reporting framework developed based on UNGP reporting framework. The results of this assessment form the basis for our engagement with companies, with the objective of encouraging them to make improvements.

Engagement case

2019, 21 May

Abercrombie & Fitch

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CONTRIBUTING TO THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS 

In encouraging companies and their suppliers to pay their employees a living wage, asset managers and asset owners can indirectly contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goals such as decent work and economic growth (No 8) and no poverty (No 1).
In addition to Kempen’s focus on the living wage initiative, in the case of the textile industry we supported the Bangladesh Accord, which was set up in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, in which over 1,500 people were killed and at least 1,000 were wounded. Companies that are members of the Accord have committed to working towards a safe and healthy clothing industry in Bangladesh in order to help prevent similar disasters in future.
The current Bangladesh government is obstructing the continuation of the Bangladesh Accord and Kempen has cosigned a statement with other investors calling on the government to respect its continuation. We have also conducted talks with the companies we invest in, with a view to encouraging them to implement safety measures aimed at guaranteeing the health and safety of their suppliers’ workers. 

AGREEMENTS

Regarding the banking sector human rights convenant Internationaal Maatschappelijk Verantwoord Ondernemen  (IMVO) Mensenrechten, focused on applying the UNGPs and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises for the banking sector. The Dutch Banking Association’s (NVB) human rights expert Maryse Hazelzet: ‘Banks occupy a unique position as they can exert influence on human rights not just within their own organisation, but also via their clients that operate globally in a variety of sectors. What we can conclude, is that Dutch banks lead the way internationally when it comes to dealing with human rights in the financial sector. Another noteworthy aspect is that in the Netherlands civil society organisations, trade unions and the government all work together.’

 At Kempen, we believe it is important to be transparent about the companies in our portfolios. Our clients need to be able to rely on the fact that we’re applying a consistent policy, and on the fact that we’re engaging with companies to ensure they take their responsibility when it comes to human rights and related issues. 

Institutional investors are themselves encouraging companies to move towards sustainability by making responsible and sustainable choices in their investment policies. Last year a group of influential pension funds in the Netherlands joined forces with NGOs, Dutch government representatives and trade unions to sign the IMVB agreement on responsible investment Convenant Internationaal Maatschappelijk Verantwoord Beleggen Pensioenfondsen, while a similar agreement in the insurance industry was signed in 2017 Internationaal Maatschappelijk Verantwoord Ondernemen. Via these agreements, the member pension funds and insurers aim to learn and innovate in order to meet the OECD Responsible Business Conduct guidelines and the UNGPs for institutional investors.
That may not sound very tangible, but it does have clear consequences. A large number of institutional investors have committed to investing responsibly by shifting their investments towards a more sustainable society in order to represent their pension fund members’ interests and in keeping with their fiduciary duty as set out in the Dutch Pensions Act. Many of the institutional investors that have signed up to these covenants are Kempen clients, and we support them in implementing the the Covenants. 
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Glossary
UNGPs

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) are the generallyrecognised global guidelines on business and human rights; they apply to all states and all businesses worldwide. Kempen has included the Guiding Principles as a cornerstone of our Responsible Investment policy.

Platform Living Wage Financials

The Platform Living Wage Financials (PLWF) is a unique coalition of 11 financial institutions that encourages and monitors investee companies to address the non-payment of a living wage in their global supply chains. The PLWF was set up at the end of 2018 by ASR, ABN AMRO, Achmea Investment Management, Amundi, ASN Bank, ING, Kempen, MN, NN Investment Partners, Robeco and Triodos Investment Management, representing a combined total of over €2.3 trillion in assets under management. (as per end of 2018)

Sustainable Development Goals

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals were agreed by the United Nations with the aim of making the world a better place towards 2030. The first and most important goal is to end poverty. There are also goals relating to health, education, clean drinking water, clean energy, reducing inequality and climate action.

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KEMPEN BELIEFS

Kempen Capital Management is an asset manager that believes in stewardship and investment focusing on the long-term for the benefit of all stakeholders. Value creation is at the heart of the services we provide to our clients. We believe that being an engaged shareholder on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and retaining a long-term focus, is critical to helping our clients to preserve and create sustainable wealth that has positive real world impact and economic returns.

KEMPEN WIDE APPROACH TO RESPONSIBLE INVESTMENT

We are committed to create sustainable alpha. The four pillars of our ESG-policy are: 

  • ESG integration: Ensuring sustainability risks and opportunities are adequately considered in our investment analysis and processes.
  • Exclusion & avoidance: Not investing in companies involved in controversial activities or conduct. 
  • Active ownership: Being responsible stewards of our clients’ capital and using our influence through engagement and voting to improve corporate behaviour on specific ESG issues and achieve positive change
  • Positive impact: Investing with an objective to achieve positive real world outcomes and impact, such as contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

To put our mission and vision into practice we engage with our investee companies on a wide array of strategic, financial, and ESG topics. As an active owner we use our influence to improve our investee companies’ ESG performance.  This helps us address some of the most pressing and important sustainability issues facing business and the world. Our focus themes for engagement are: human rights, labour rights, climate change and governance. 

Through collaboration with other investors and industry think tanks we contribute to the development of principles and standards of corporate responsibility both at sector levels, as well as investee company level. 

Read more about Responsible Investment at Kempen

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2019, 21 May

Annual Responsible Investment Report 2018

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Responsible investment