The strength of feeling on environment, social and governance (ESG) issues from community members was demonstrated last week when protestors took over the stage at ACSI’s national conference, underlining the growing importance of the organisation’s work.
The protestors were campaigning against investments by super funds in Broadspectrum – the company that runs the detention centres on Nauru and Manus – and planned their stage takeover to coincide with a panel that featured representatives from the corporation and other large companies operating in Australia.
Unfortunately for the protestors, Broadspectrum’s chair Diane Smith-Gander had been a late withdrawal from the event, instead being replaced by chair Dr Nora Scheinkestel of Macquarie Atlas Roads.
After the protestors left Scheinkestel said: “I sat through the morning sessions and I thought how misplaced some of the protests were as to a large extent they were speaking to the converted.
“All we heard about this morning was how we are all trying to integrate these issues [human rights and ESG] into our decision making.”
She said large financial service organisations’ senior leadership were “devastated” when they learnt about the practices of ‘bad apples’ in the industry, but added many people underestimated the work the financial services sector had done in this area.
In an earlier session featuring directors from CareSuper, Local Government Super and HESTA, the issue of divestment was raised with all directors agreeing it was an option of last resort.
“And I don’t think the stick is about companies, it is about categories,” said Angela Emslie, chair of HESTA, citing tobacco as a sector the super fund could not get comfortable investing in.
Research cited at the conference revealed 46 per cent of HESTA’s membership would pick an ESG aligned super fund when given the choice, however Emslie qualified that the percentage might be higher than other super funds given the fields HESTA’s membership work in.