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Big companies shun labour survey backed by influential investors


Hundreds of large companies including Tesco, Walmart and Apple have not participated in a survey of labour practices backed by an influential group of more than 120 investors.

Only 90 of 524 companies contacted by the Workforce Disclosure Initiative – which is backed by a coalition including Amundi, Legal & General Investment Management and UBS Asset Management – were judged to have disclosed the information requested on areas such as gender diversity and ensuring workers’ safety.

“There are challenges to disclosing more workforce data,” said Amy Metcalfe, head of programmes at ShareAction, the responsible investment group that co-ordinated the survey. “But the leadership shown by 90 companies across 11 sectors demonstrates that these challenges can and should be overcome.”

Investors are paying increasing attention to companies’ labour practices to try to mitigate risk and as part of a broader push for improvement. Investor support for the WDI has increased rapidly since its launch, growing to 122 groups managing $13.5tn.

Matt Christensen, head of responsible investment at Axa Investment Managers, believes the WDI will become a “reporting standard” given “the current void in social metrics”.

“[WDI data] constitutes, as well, a solid basis for our engagement with companies around social considerations,” he said.

The WDI report said there was a lack of detail of how companies treat their lowest-paid employees and workers in their supply chain. Less than one in five survey participants collected gender data for their supply chain and only half were able to report gender data for all their operations.

It also found there was a lack of detail on risk management processes for staff.

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“Overall, companies did not provide sufficient information on the processes they have in place for identifying and prioritising workforce risks and opportunities, with companies using generic and ambiguous language,” the report said.

It called on investors to press companies on the issues and called on stock exchanges to introduce mandatory reporting on labour and human rights.

It is the second annual survey conducted by the WDI and it has greatly increased the number of companies contacted. The first survey was sent to 76 groups, of which less than half provided information as requested.

The WDI asks companies to provide greater disclosure on workplace practices covering areas such as health and safety, supply chains and workforce diversity, employee contracts and whether board members have oversight of the workforce.

Tesco and Walmart are among the 30 companies that did not participate in the WDI on the terms requested for two consecutive years.

Walmart said that while it had not filled out the survey form, citing the “numerous requests” it receives, the US retailer had written to ShareAction to give information on areas such as wages and healthcare benefits for its US employees, and the gender and ethnic diversity of its US workforce.

ShareAction said companies were asked to complete a specific survey to ensure the data were comparable, and that companies sending in narrative responses were listed as non-disclosers.

Tesco said: “We are committed to being an open and transparent business and regularly publish updates on our sustainability strategy to allow stakeholders to assess our progress.”

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Apple declined to comment. The tech group publishes data on areas such as gender diversity and how it works with suppliers.

Companies were selected based on a combination of their market capitalisation, employee numbers and importance. Those responding included Adidas, Microsoft, Nestlé, Rolls-Royce, J Sainsbury and Toyota.

Share, a responsible investment group in Canada, and the Responsible Investment Association Australasia helped ShareAction conduct the survey.



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