Also Unveils Inaugural Annual Climate Report
State Street Global Advisors, the asset management business of State Street Corporation (NYSE: STT), today published their 2020 Proxy Season Review, which details their voting and engagement record this proxy season, and provides an overview of key focus areas for the asset stewardship program. During the 2020 proxy season, State Street Global Advisors’ asset stewardship team had comprehensive engagements with 409 companies and voted on 113,595 proposals across 70 countries on behalf of clients. Key areas of focus included: companies’ response and resilience in the face of COVID-19, integration of State Street Global Advisors’ R-Factor™ ESG scoring system, and expanding the Fearless Girl campaign for gender diversity. The Proxy Season Review was supplemented by an inaugural Climate Report, to be published annually, which provides further granularity on the stewardship team’s voting and engagement activities related to climate. The asset stewardship team continues engagement beyond proxy season on the areas of focus highlighted in these reports.
“Stewardship is integral to our investment approach because we see it as an essential aspect of fulfilling our fiduciary duty,” said Rick Lacaille, Global Chief Investment Officer at State Street Global Advisors. “Our stewardship program is designed to have an impact, and we are pleased to share these reports showcasing the continued impact of our program, under the leadership of Benjamin Colton and Robert Walker.”
Guidance and Engagement on COVID-19
In light of the extraordinary circumstances induced by COVID-19, in a March letter, State Street Global Advisors shared perspectives on its 2020 asset stewardship agenda, offering assurance that as a long-term shareholder, the firm stood ready to help companies navigate these challenging times. The stewardship team has engaged with 150 companies globally specifically on COVID-19 and its impact on businesses and stakeholders. The pandemic has brought social issues to the top of companies’ agendas, and in response, the stewardship team’s engagement focus has shifted to more immediate environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, and particularly the areas of: human capital; employee health and safety; and diversity and inclusion.
“As long-term shareholders, we are committed to standing behind our investee companies,” said Benjamin Colton, Global Co-Head of Asset Stewardship for State Street Global Advisors. “We want to help companies navigate short-term challenges, while striking a balance to ensure these challenges are not being met at the expense of longer-term priorities. These two reports detail our record on working with companies on critical issues that can impact their long-term sustainability.”
Engagement and Voting on R-Factor™ Scores
In January, ahead of the 2020 proxy season, State Street Global Advisors sent a letter to boards detailing that it would begin incorporating R-Factor™ into its engagement and voting priorities. R-Factor, launched by State Street Global Advisors in 2019, is a scoring system that measures the performance of a company’s business operations and governance as it relates to financially material and sector-specific ESG issues. R-Factor leverages widely accepted, transparent materiality frameworks from the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and offers companies a roadmap on how to manage and disclose their ESG practices, allowing them to take the action needed to enhance their scores. It is built to address the current challenges with ESG data by removing opaqueness around ESG materiality in the scoring process. It takes the guesswork out of ESG reporting, and focuses boards and management teams on the core ESG issues that matter for business and investors.
During the 2020 proxy season, 14 companies who were laggards in terms of their R-Factor scores held shareholder meetings. The stewardship team requested engagement with all identified laggards. The stewardship team subsequently voted against directors at nine of the 14 meetings (64%) where companies’ responsiveness to our engagement efforts could be improved. Of these nine companies, five were in the United States and four were in the United Kingdom.
“We will continue to hold board directors accountable for their ESG practices and related disclosure,” said Robert Walker, Global Co-Head of Asset Stewardship for State Street Global Advisors. “We will continue our engagement with companies to understand how they will improve their disclosure, and will be prepared to use our voting action as needed.”
Update and Expansion to Fearless Girl Campaign
Since the launch of the Fearless Girl campaign, on International Women’s Day in 2017, 789 publicly-traded companies identified by State Street Global Advisors who previously had no women on their boards, have responded to the call by adding a female board director. This represents an addition of over 100 companies since the March 2020 announcement on the occasion of the third anniversary of the Fearless Girl campaign, when the number was 681. For the 2020 proxy season, State Street Global Advisors expanded its gender diversity voting guidelines to Hong Kong and Singapore, with the companies listed on the Straits Times and Hang Seng indices being impacted. This voting guideline was introduced in the US, UK and Australia in 2017, and extended to continental Europe, Canada and Japan in 2018. In markets where State Street Global Advisors applies a gender diversity voting guideline, the voting policy was strengthened for 2020. The stewardship team now votes against the entire nominating and governance committee, not just the chair, if concerns exist about the lack of gender diversity for four consecutive years and the companies are unable to engage in productive dialogue.
“We are proud of the impact the Fearless Girl campaign has had in improving the gender diversity conversation across the globe,” added Walker. “There is so much more that needs to be done across the many dimensions of diversity, and we are committed to this mission. We recently wrote to board chairs outlining that State Street Global Advisors will be asking companies in our investment portfolio to articulate their risks, goals and strategy as related to racial and ethnic diversity, and to make relevant disclosures available to shareholders.”
Inaugural Climate Report Published
The stewardship team’s inaugural Climate Report details that since 2014, the team has engaged with more than 600 companies across multiple industries on climate-related issues. The number of climate-related shareholder proposals submitted nearly doubled during the 2020 proxy season. State Street Global Advisors supported 34% of the 53 proposals in the first half of the year, and supported 61% of shareholder proposals requesting companies to report on the financial and physical risks of climate change on their business as well as their plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“Climate change presents a systemic threat creating material risks that companies must address and manage, and the topic will continue to be a core theme of our program until we are confident that companies are effectively addressing the issue,” added Colton. “We believe incorporating climate change risk into companies’ strategic planning is critical to long-term value and we take a case-by-case approach to voting on climate-related shareholder proposals. This has resulted in the support of around 35% of such proposals through the first half of the year compared to 14% during the same timeframe in 2019. Engagement is also a key pillar of our program, and a powerful tool for how we work with companies to drive change.”
About State Street Global Advisors
For four decades, State Street Global Advisors has served the world’s governments, institutions and financial advisors. With a rigorous, risk-aware approach built on research, analysis and market-tested experience, we build from a breadth of active and index strategies to create cost-effective solutions. As stewards, we help portfolio companies see that what is fair for people and sustainable for the planet can deliver long-term performance. And, as pioneers in index, ETF, and ESG investing, we are always inventing new ways to invest. As a result, we have become the world’s third-largest asset manager with US $3.05 trillion* under our care.
*This figure is presented as of June 30, 2020 and includes approximately $69.52 billion of assets with respect to SPDR products for which State Street Global Advisors Funds Distributors, LLC (SSGA FD) acts solely as the marketing agent. SSGA FD and State Street Global Advisors are affiliated.
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