Investors press brands for more workforce transparency - Just Style
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Investors press brands for more workforce transparency

By Giacomo Lee 03 Jul 2019

A coalition of more than 120 institutional investors with combined assets of more than US$14 trillion is renewing its calls for companies across the world to come forward with better data on their staff and supply chain workers, with the aim improving the quality of jobs globally. 

Investor signatories to the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI), coordinated by investment group ShareAction, include Amundi, Legal and General IM, APG, Rockefeller & Co, Schroders, AMP Capital, PKA Denmark, BMO Global Asset Management and First State Super. The signatories are supporting a survey asking 750 major international companies to disclose more standardised data on topics including health and safety, workers’ rights, diversity and wage levels.  

Disclosures have already been secured from many of the world’s largest listed clothing firms, including Adidas, Burberry, H&M, Inditex, Kering, Sainsbury’s, and Primark owner Associated British Foods (ABF). Burberry, H&M, Inditex, Sainsbury’s and ABF were among the companies that also disclosed in 2017.

Companies are approached based on their market capitalisation, significance within their sector, and size of their workforce. 

“As a long-term investor we are trying to influence our investee companies to adopt more sustainable business practices. We’re making progress on a range of issues from climate change to cyber security, but still have little transparency on workforce issues,” says Elly Irving, head of engagement at asset management company Schroders. “WDI is a valuable tool to help us improve our understanding of workforce risks and engage with companies to adopt emerging best practice.” 

The WDI launched in 2017 in response to investor concerns that the quality of data from companies about workforce management is poor and inconsistent. Increasingly, investors and companies recognise the business benefits of good workforce management.  

Its long-term aim is to improve the quality of jobs in the operations and supply chains of multinational companies, which would contribute towards poverty alleviation and the delivery of Sustainable Development Goal 8 – ‘decent work for all.’ 

“Inequality is one of the biggest challenges of our time – improving the quality of jobs is central to tackling this. However, many companies do not demonstrate how they are providing good working conditions for those making and selling the goods and services that we all rely on in our daily lives,” says Vaidehee Sachdev, senior research manager for the WDI at ShareAction. “From direct employees, to contract workers right down the supply chain, there are still too many cases of poor quality jobs.

“There is now huge support by investors around the world to push companies to be more transparent on how they’re protecting and promoting the workforce. We think it’s time companies were far more open about how the jobs they provide deliver real benefits to the lives of workers and the communities on which their businesses depend.”

The WDI project is in collaboration with SHARE (the Shareholder Association for Research and Education) and RIAA (Responsible Investment Association Australasia). It is funded by UK aid from the Department for International Development.