Influence target Broad theme(s) Issues and action Outcome / next steps
Major insurance companies: QBE, IAG, Suncorp and Allianz

Climate action
Traditional land owners 
Biodiversity 
World heritage sites

At QBE’s AGM we voted in support of two sets of shareholder resolutions. The first was one we co-filed together with Market Forces that called on QBE to phase out oil and gas exposure in its underwriting and investment activities (QBE had already committed to phase out its thermal coal exposure after we co-filed a similar resolution last year). Our Head of Ethics Research, Dr Stuart Palmer, quizzed the board on whether QBE will include specific climate criteria for new oil and gas projects.

We also voted in favour of a shareholder resolution that called on QBE to withdraw its support for the raising of the Warragamba Dam walls. We have been engaging with all the major insurance companies in relation to this proposal. 

Raising the dam walls may reduce flooding risk downstream but will mean that a large part of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area – habitat to some endangered species – will be inundated during high rainfall events, as will sites sacred to the Gundungarra people, who already lost so many of their sacred sites when the dam was first built. Raising the dam walls may also encourage more development on flood-prone areas, potentially making it more difficult for existing residents to evacuate during a flood.

The Insurance Council of Australia and some insurance companies have expressed support for the project. We are concerned this support has been given without due consideration of the negative impacts, without  assessment of whether there are lower impact alternatives, and without proper consultation with the Gundungarra people.   

The climate change resolution received 13% support at QBE’s AGM – double the support a similar resolution achieved last year. Questions about climate and the environment also dominated the discussion at the AGM. 

The resolutions relating to the Warragamba Dam proposal received about 7% support at QBE’s AGM. 

Two of the insurance companies are now conducting their own internal assessment of the environmental and cultural impacts of the Warragamba Dam proposal. Depending on the position taken by IAG, Suncorp and Allianz, we may support shareholder resolutions on this issue at their AGMs.

Marsh & McLennan Adani Carmichael coal mine

We have had ongoing engagement with Marsh because they had provided broking services to Adani to help it obtain insurance for its Carmichael coal mine. We called on Marsh to provide a clear public commitment not to provide services that support projects like the Adani Carmichael coal mine in the future.   

Marsh subsequently published a group policy saying it may refuse work which is not aligned with its commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change mitigation. 

However the policy was vague and lacked meaningful information about how the company would assess alignment with the Paris Agreement. In June 2020 we divested from the company. More information about our divestment decision is available here.

Federal Government   Australia’s environmental and biodiversity protection laws

Traditional land owners Australia’s federal environmental and biodiversity protection laws are currently under review. We contributed a submission to this review, pointing to evidence that our current environmental laws are failing our wildlife. We also identified apparent short-comings in the legislation including a lack of clear recognition of the national environmental significance of climate change and land clearing.

In addition we raised concerns that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are not appropriately included in decision-making to the detriment of both those peoples and the environment. 

We asked our members / social media followers to get involved. We asked them what they love about the Australian environment and what are their concerns for its future. We included some of their responses in an annexure to the submission. 

Environmental organisations across Australia put in strong submissions to this review, explaining their perspectives on the shortcomings of the existing laws. We wanted to support them by adding an investor or private sector voice that also called for greater environmental protection.  

The review is being conducted by an Independent Panel which will report to the government in October 2020. The interim report was released on 20 June 2020 and in it the Independent Panel was unequivocal in its criticism of Australia’s environmental and biodiversity protection laws, stating it: “is ineffective. It does not enable the Commonwealth to play its role in protecting and conserving environmental matters that are important for the nation. It is not fit to address current or future environmental challenges…” and that it “has failed to fulfil its objectives as they relate to Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians’ traditional knowledge and views are not fully valued in decision-making, and the Act does not meet the aspirations of Traditional Owners for managing their land.”

Unfortunately the government has already indicated it does not support all the suggested reforms. There are also concerns that the government might introduce ‘green tape cutting’ reforms to the legislation ahead of this review being completed.    

NSW government Animal protection

The NSW government is currently undertaking a review of NSW animal welfare laws. We used this as an opportunity to draw attention to some of the ways in which we think our animal protection laws are failing animals, particularly animals used for commercial purposes. 

We perceive an inherent conflict of interest between using animals for profit and ensuring animal welfare, which means that animals used by profit-making enterprises are particularly vulnerable and their interests are not necessarily going to be protected by the people whose care they are in. Our current animal welfare laws, and regulatory model, do not account for this. 

The primary reform we called for was the establishment of an independent office of animal welfare to ensure animal welfare standards and law enforcement is independent of the influence of industry. We also called for a recognition of animal sentience in the objects of welfare legislation (which NZ did in 2015, and the ACT did in 2019); for the laws to be updated to reflect current animal welfare science; and for enforcement bodies to be given the resources and powers to conduct regular unannounced inspections.

We recently participated in a FAIRR panel discussion about the links between Covid-19 and animal agriculture. We used this as an opportunity to draw attention to some of the animal welfare issues facing the sector in Australia, and made the case for why the investment community needs to look beyond legal compliance when assessing animal agricultural companies on animal welfare issues. The panel discussion is available here.

Submissions are currently being considered and the NSW government is developing reform proposals. However given the scope of the issues paper, we think it unlikely that the proposed reforms will address the fundamental problems with animal welfare laws in NSW. We’ll continue to advocate on these issues to contribute to the coalition of voices working to generate momentum for change.

Lendlease Koala habitat

For over a year we have been engaging with Lendlease about their proposed residential development at Mt Gilead, just south of Campbelltown in NSW. The development has the potential to impact one of the last remaining healthy koala colonies in NSW. While the development was subject to scrutiny at various levels of government, including the Australian government, we did not think this gave enough comfort that the development would not adversely affect the koalas. We called on Lendlease to go beyond minimum legal requirements and corresponded with them at length about the different measures they were taking to protect the koalas. In conducting this engagement, we relied heavily on information from NGOs that are opposed to the development.

Lendlease took the time to answer our detailed questions and we perceived a shift over time towards Lendlease taking more ownership of its responsibility to protect the local koala colony. 

Based on Lendlease’s responses to our questions, at this stage we are satisfied Lendlease is taking appropriate steps to protect against development impacts on the continued viability of the koala colony. However we have also put Lendlease on notice that our expectation is that a responsible developer would not go ahead with a development that seriously threatens the viability of the koala populations in the area and the loss of a healthy colony of a vulnerable species. 

Government
Pharmaceutical sector
Apparel sector

Responding to the health and economic implications of Covid-19

We supported a UN sustainability initiative that urged the federal government to enact tougher action on carbon emissions in its Covid-19 recovery plans. We added our voice in the media supporting the call to build back better, including supporting WWF’s renewable recovery work, see here

We supported a letter to pharmaceutical companies calling on them to focus on solutions to Covid-19 ahead of short-term financial considerations, including protecting employees, maintaining relationships with suppliers and collaborating with industry and government to develop responses to pandemics.

We supported engagement with apparel company Gildan, urging the company to support vulnerable workers in its supply chain and help them survive the economic disruption caused by Covid-19.    

We supported a statement on living income and living wages that was sent to the CEOs and Chairmen of more than 40 food and food retailing companies globally.  

The letter to pharmaceutical companies was signed by over 40 investors 

The investor statement that was sent to companies in the food sector was signed by 35 institutional investors globally, with a combined AUM of more than 2.4 trillion USD. 

International Finance Corporation
Asian Development Bank
Inter-Amercian Development Bank
Tighter asbestos prohibitions

In spite of the enormous risk to workers and communities, asbestos continues to be used in some parts of the world in building materials. Although international development banks have exclusions for investment in projects which use asbestos building materials, there are some exceptions for materials which can contain up to 20% asbestos in ‘bonded’ form. These materials still pose unacceptable risks to people involved in their manufacture or installation, and to the broader community when natural disasters, building demolition or other events damage these materials. We have been engaging with development banks to remove these exceptions to their asbestos exclusions, and to use their influence with other financiers to eliminate the use of asbestos all together.

The banks are reviewing their exclusions and we are monitoring the outcomes of those reviews.