Environmental, Social and Governance

We consider environmental, social and governance factors as part of our investment process

How we invest responsibly 

Although environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors are not the over-riding criteria in relation to the investment decisions taken by the Portfolio Manager, significant emphasis is placed on ESG and climate related factors throughout the Manager’s investment process. The Portfolio Manager considers ESG risks and opportunities for all investments. ESG considerations are inextricably embedded into the investment process in order to achieve successful and sustainable performance for the Company over the long term. There is a broad understanding that a full and thorough assessment of ESG factors will for allow for better investment decisions to be made, which will lead to better outcomes for the Company’s shareholders. ESG factors are considered alongside financial and other fundamental factors in order to make the best possible investment decisions at a stock picking and at a portfolio construction level. The Portfolio Manager and his team have a very close relationship with the ESG specialists within abrdn and have an on-desk ESG analyst to assist in the research process and ESG engagements with companies. Through the utilisation of third party provided research including MSCI and abrdn’s inhouse ESG rating tools the team is able to identify, where appropriate, leaders and laggards, areas of weakness and areas of strength.

However, the Company does not specifically exclude any sectors from its investment universe. All investments are required to pass a quality test and ESG issues are only part of the investment analysis.The Company may invest in, and vigorously engage with, well-managed and well-capitalised companies which may not necessarily immediately be considered ESG leaders.The Company’s approach to engagement is set out below.

Our Engagement

Engagement allows us to influence for positive outcomes and act as responsible stewards of our clients’ assets. We engage with multiple stakeholders far beyond just company management, such as NGOs, industry and regulatory bodies, activists and clients.

Example areas of engagement include: · Board Diversity · Carbon Emissions · Corporate Governance · Cyber Security · Deforestation · Employee Discrimination · Employee Safety · ESG Disclosures · Human Capital Management · Human Rights · Labour Management · Market Communication · Remuneration · Succession Planning · Waste Affluence Management · Water Management

In-depth case studies can be found in the annual report. Please see the case study on Glencore on page 10, the Spotlight on Thungela on page 24, and the Investment Case Studies on National Grid and the NatWest Group on pages 34 and 35 for specific examples of the Company’s engagement with investee entities in the portfolio.

More details on the Manger’s approach to ESG are set out on page 9 of the annual report.

Existing investors

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Core beliefs

The Company does not exclude any sectors from the investible universe. Consideration of ESG factors is a fundamental part of the Investment Manager’s process and has been so for over 30 years. It is one of the key criteria on which the Investment Manager assesses the investment case for any company in which it invests for three key reasons as set out below. 
Financial Returns: ESG factors can be financially material – the level of consideration they are given in a company will ultimately have an impact on corporate performance, either positively or negatively. Those companies that take their ESG responsibilities seriously tend to outperform those that do not. 
Fuller Insight: Systematically assessing a company’s ESG risks and opportunities alongside other financial metrics allows the Investment Manager to make better investment decisions. 
Corporate Advancement: Informed and constructive engagement helps foster better companies, protecting and enhancing the value of the Company’s investments.
We believe that the market systematically undervalues the importance of ESG factors. We believe that in-depth ESG analysis is part of both fundamental company research and portfolio construction and will lead to better client outcomes.
Please see pages 22 to 26 of the annual report for more information.

Researching companies

The Investment Manager conducts extensive and high-quality fundamental and first-hand research to fully understand the investment case for every company in its global universe. A key part of the Investment Manager’s research involves focusing its extensive resources on analysis of ESG issues. As set out below, the Investment Manager’s portfolio managers, ESG equity analysts and central ESG Investment Team collaborate to generate a deep understanding of the ESG risks and opportunities associated with each company. Stewardship and active engagement with every company are also fundamental to the investment process, helping to produce positive outcomes that lead to better risk-adjusted returns.

Portfolio Managers: All of the Investment Manager’s equity portfolio managers seek to engage actively with companies to gain insight into their specific risks and provide a positive ongoing influence on their corporate strategy for governance, environmental and social impact. 

ESG Equity Analysts: The Investment Manager has dedicated and highly experienced ESG equity analysts located across the UK, US, Asia and Australia. Working as part of individual investment teams, rather than as a separate department, these specialists are integral to pre-investment due diligence and post investment ongoing company engagement. They are also responsible for taking thematic research produced by the central ESG Investment Team (see below), interpreting and translating it into actionable insights and engagement programmes for its regional investment strategies. 

ESG Investment Team: This central team of more than 20 experienced specialists based in Edinburgh and London provides ESG consultancy and insight for all asset classes. Taking a global approach both identifies regions, industries and sectors that are most vulnerable to ESG risks and identifies those that can take advantage of the opportunities presented. Working with portfolio managers, the team is key to the Investment Manager’s active stewardship approach of using shareholder voting and corporate engagement to drive positive change. 

Please see pages 22 to 26 of the annual report for more information.

What's the ESG scoring system? 

A systematic and globally-applied approach to evaluating stocks allows the Investment Manager to compare companies consistently with regard to their ESG credentials – both regionally and against their peer group. The Investment Manager captures the findings from its research and company engagement meetings in formal research notes. Some of the key questions include: 

  • Which ESG issues are relevant for this company, how material are they, and how are they being addressed? 
  • What is the assessment of the quality of this company’s governance, ownership structure and management? 
  • Are incentives and key performance indicators aligned with the company’s strategy and the interests of shareholders? 
Having considered the regional universe and peer group in which a company operates, the Investment Manager allocates it an ESG score between one and five. This is applied across every stock covered globally. Examples of each category and a small sample of the criteria used are detailed below: 

1. Best in class

  • ESG considerations are a material part of the company’s core business strategy 
  • The company provides excellent disclosure on ESG issues 
  • The company provides opportunities from strong ESG management.

2. Leader

  • ESG considerations are good but not market-leading
  • Disclosure is good but not best in class
  • Governance is generally very good.

3. Average

  • ESG risks are considered as a part of the principal business
  • Disclosure is in line with regulatory requirements
  • Governance is generally good but with some minor concerns

4. Below average

  • There is evidence of some financially material controversies
  • There is poor governance or limited oversight of key ESG issues
  • There are some issues in treating minority shareholders poorly.

5. Laggard

  • Many financially material controversies
  • Severe governance concerns
  • Poor treatment of minority shareholders.

Please see pages 22 to 26 of the annual report for more information.

Climate change actions

Climate change is one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century and has big implications for investors. The energy transition is underway in many parts of the world, and policy changes, falling costs of renewable energy, and a change in public perception are happening at a rapid pace. Assessing the risks and opportunities of climate change is a core part of the investment process. In particular, the Investment Manager considers:

Transition risks and opportunities: Governments could take robust climate change mitigation actions to reduce emissions and transition to a low-carbon economy. This is reflected in targets, policies and regulation and can have a considerable impact on high carbon-emitting companies. 

Physical risks and opportunities: Insufficient climate change mitigation action will lead to more severe and frequent physical damage. This results in financial implications, including damage to crops and infrastructure, and the need for physical adaptation such as flood defences.

Please see pages 22 to 26 of the annual report for more information.

Importance of engagement

Once the Investment Manager invests in a company, it is committed to helping that company maintain or raise its ESG standards further, using the Investment Manager’s position as a shareholder to press for action as needed. The Investment Manager actively engages with the companies in which it invests to maintain ESG focus and encourage improvement. 

The Investment Manager sees this programme of regular engagement as a necessary fulfilment of its duty as a responsible steward of clients’ assets. It is also an opportunity to share examples of best practice seen in other companies and to use its influence to effect positive change. The Investment Manager’s engagement is not limited to the company’s management team. It can include many other stakeholders such as non-government agencies, industry and regulatory bodies, as well as activists and the company’s clients. What gets measured gets managed, so the Investment Manager strongly encourages companies to set clear targets or key performance indicators on all material ESG risks. 

Please see pages 22 to 26 of the annual report for more information.

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