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Responsible Investment Review – Five themes to watch in 2018

What does 2018 hold in store? We take a look at some of the trends we believe will shape the responsible investment agenda for the year ahead.

#metoo – a watershed for working culture?
Popularised after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the #metoo hashtag quickly went viral and became a global movement empowering individuals to speak up against sexual harassment.

Whilst the allegations continue to emerge, the morphing of #metoo to its successor movement Time’s Up reflects how the initial outrage and anger is now being mobilised towards action to tackle the root causes. This is where #metoo converges with existing investor action on issues including board diversity and gender wage inequality.

In 2018 we believe there will be heightened focus on workplace culture – particularly in male-dominated industries, the technology sector being one example – and on women’s representation not just on boards, but in senior management.

Challenging the throwaway society – ocean plastics highlight wasteful consumption habits
After years of campaigning by NGOs, it took a seminal wildlife documentary – Blue Planet II – to get politicians to pay attention to the devastation being wrought by the disposal of plastics. More than eight million tonnes of plastic are discarded into the oceans every year, equivalent to 16 full shopping bags for every metre of the world’s coastline.

Policy experiments have proven remarkably effective. The UK’s plastic bag charge cut usage by 85%1. We expect to see similar policy initiatives developed in 2018. Single-use plastic bottles are a likely target, given that a million plastic bottles are sold every minute, but only a small percentage of which are made from recycled materials. There is a potential cost here for companies which have to change their production processes – but it also opens up opportunities for those developing innovative new packaging solutions.

‘More than eight million tonnes of plastic are discarded into the oceans every year, equivalent to 16 full shopping bags for every metre of the world’s coastline’
World Economic Forum (2016) How much plastic is there in the ocean

1 BBC (2016) Plastic bag use plummets in England since 5p charge

A-commerce and privacy – as technology enables our buying decisions to become ever more automated, what about privacy?
E-commerce may be surpassing bricks and mortar, but it is no longer at the cutting edge of retail technology. Automated commerce – a-commerce – holds the promise of making purchasing decisions simpler, with algorithms replacing time-intensive browsing and research.

Despite the undoubted convenience advantages, we see new risks arising from this increased reliance on consumer data within retail business models. Regulations on data use, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), are becoming far more stringent, with high penalties for misuse. Where retailers are obliged to ask their customers if they really want their personal data used to predict their future purchases, they may get a less than enthusiastic response.

Candy crushed – regulatory and consumer pressure on sugar use rises as health evidence mounts up
Sugar is cheap, but its public health impacts are considerable. Obesity, formerly seen as a rich-world problem, is increasingly rife in many emerging markets, with rates of diabetes in countries like Mexico at epidemic levels. As waistlines grow, so do the public health costs to the taxpayer.

Growing frustrated that their healthy eating messages are not getting through, governments are getting tougher, looking at measures including labelling schemes and taxation. Food and beverage companies are going back to the drawing board to re-formulate much-loved recipes where brand loyalty is a key differentiator. Those who mismanage the process may lose customers – but those slow to act are vulnerable to longer-term risks of diminished sales and reputation.

Entering the impact zone – investors reconsider their purpose
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a blueprint for a better world. Covering issues from poverty, inequality, the environment, to education and public health, the SDGs identify 169 targets to track progress towards the 2030 target date.

Responsibility for achieving progress was once seen very clearly as the duty of governments, perhaps with the help of charities and NGOs to fill the gaps. But times have changed. We are shifting to a new paradigm where both companies, and investors in them, are expected to recognise that their actions have wider consequences on the economy and society, and to think deeply about how they can square their duties to deliver riskadjusted returns with the imperative to manage these consequences.

What does that mean in practice for investors? As well as further growth in the rapidly-expanding impact investing industry, we also anticipate further momentum behind efforts to measure portfolio-wide sustainability impacts, as investors seek to demonstrate their understanding of their alignment with the SDGs.

Views and opinions expressed by individual authors do not necessarily represent those of BMO Global Asset Management and should not be considered to be a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any companies that may be mentioned.

The information, opinions, estimates or forecasts contained in this document were obtained from sources reasonably believed to be reliable and are subject to change at any time.

As always investment values may fall as well as rise and capital is at risk.

BMO Responsible Investment Review


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