a.s.r.’s SRI policy covers all its investments, both for proprietary assets (or own account) and those managed on behalf of third party clients. Over the years, a.s.r. has expanded its efforts from its original focus on exclusions to making a positive contribution to a more sustainable world.
One of the dilemmas facing a.s.r. in 2022 was whether to change its policy not to invest in the weapons industry. a.s.r. has excluded direct investments in the weapons industry since 2007. This was self-evident, until the start of the war in Ukraine. Since then, sentiment seems to be tilting. Among others, the Dutch Defence Minister, the Commander of the Armed Forces of the Dutch Army and NATO called for investments in weapons manufacturers not to be excluded (any longer).
a.s.r. believes that a democracy and its citizens must be protected. A democratic state based on the rule of law requires having the availability of the right resources, including weapons, to ensure a free society. From that perspective, a.s.r. does invest in the very governments that respect human rights and stand for democratic values and freedoms for their people.
a.s.r. strives for a sustainable society where people can live in peace and security and from that perspective appreciates the call to reconsider its position on investing in the weapons industry. Therefore, a.s.r. launched a broad dialogue including a.s.r.’s own investment experts, an ethicist, and the Executive Board to evaluate our position on investing in the weapons industry. For a.s.r. sees the need for weapons to defend national borders and the function that weapons have in preventing countries from being attacked.
On the other hand, there is the dilemma of how a.s.r., as an investor, can finance the weapons industry while ensuring that human rights are respected and innocent civilian casualties are prevented if weapons end up in the wrong hands. As a direct investor in the weapons industry, a.s.r. cannot prevent weapons from being used only for legitimate purposes, protecting freedom and democracy and upholding the rule of law.
This argument was ultimately decisive in maintaining our exclusion policy not to invest directly in commercial weapons companies or companies trading in arms. a.s.r. however continues to do so indirectly through investments in democratic governments. This way, policyholders’ money is not used for the wrong purposes. This does not affect the fact that a.s.r. is open to alternative forms of investment, such as a bond loan by the Dutch government intended for defence, which could make the world a little safer.
a.s.r.'s exit and phase out strategy with respect to the investments in fossil fuels was announced in 2021. This has led to an immediate zero tolerance for companies deriving revenue from the mining and production of thermal coal. Investments in companies involved in unconventional oil and gas have also been drastically reduced (threshold < 5% of revenues). For companies in conventional oil and gas and other carbon-intensive companies a.s.r. started an intensive engagement process, starting with assessing the strategies and targets of these companies and the extent to which these are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. a.s.r. does so by using a combination of tools to assess companies' climate targets, carbon emissions (and reductions) and their current climate strategy. This year a.s.r. joined the 'Dutch Climate Coalition', which consists of Dutch Asset Managers who all have similar goals regarding their fossil fuel strategy. a.s.r. attends and organises regular meetings with all oil and gas companies in the portfolio to monitor their climate actions and goals. A regular update of a.s.r.'s efforts can be found in the quarterly ESG reports, see www.asrnl.com.
a.s.r. uses external data providers (Moody’s ESG and MSCI ESG) to screen its investments against its SRI policy (see www.asrnl.com) which focuses on a wide range of ESG criteria such as climate change, human rights, biodiversity, Global Compact violations and executive remuneration. Countries and businesses that do not meet the criteria are excluded.
a.s.r. also assesses businesses for their compliance with international conventions, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the UN Global Compact principles (UNGC).
a.s.r. continued to contribute to the development of a global carbon accounting standard through PCAF and was an active member of five working groups operated by the Dutch PCAF organisation in 2022. Additionally, a.s.r. continued its active involvement in the Biodiversity Working Group under the Sustainable Finance Platform of DNB (Dutch Central Bank).
a.s.r. signed the Finance for Biodiversity Pledge. Signatories are committed to collaborate and share knowledge regarding biodiversity (e.g. Methodologies, targets and financing approaches for positive impact), engage with copmanies, assess the impact on biodversity and set and disclose biodiversity targets. All these activities have to be implemented by 2024 at the latest.
a.s.r. safeguards full compliance with its SRI policy using a three-step process: internal teams’ implementation (investment departments), compliance process (risk department) and an independent external assurance (by Forum Ethibel). a.s.r. adheres to this target in respect of acquisitions and mergers.
a.s.r. understands the importance of, and the responsibility expected from its role as an investor, both as an asset owner and as an asset manager. Sustainability is an essential part of a.s.r.’s investment beliefs. The integration of ESG criteria in the management of investments contributes directly to the reduction of risks (both financial and reputational) and has a positive effect on its long-term performance. The SRI policy has been integrated into internal investment practice through:
ESG integration for best-in-class investments based on positive selection. Positive selection is part of a.s.r.’s investment process for companies based on ESG practices and products. Based on research carried out by its data providers, companies are classified using a relative, sector-based ranking for ESG themes such as: environment, labour practices, good governance, human rights and (forward-looking) carbon data, amongst other criteria. For a detailed description of these criteria, see www.asrnl.com. For sovereign bonds, a.s.r. applies a best-in-class selection of countries based on their SDG performance. This is in line with the SDG country ranking published by the SDG Index: the weighted average score of the a.s.r. sovereign portfolio is ranked in the first quartile (best-in-class) of the SDG Index;
Exclusion criteria for countries and companies. a.s.r. pursues a strict exclusion policy for controversial activities which it applies to all internally managed portfolios, both for its own account and for third parties.a.s.r. has excluded 355 companies;
With regard to investments in sovereign debt, a.s.r. has excluded 77 countries that are poor performers in the annual Freedom in the World report, or which achieve a low ranking on the Corruption Perceptions Index or the Environmental SDGs.
In 2022, a.s.r. continued increasing its engagement efforts to actively promote sustainability practices. The complete list of companies under engagement and their status is published on www.asrnl.com, including the reason and status of the engagement.
a.s.r. is actively engaged with a total of 599 companies (2021: 34). a.s.r. engages with companies that have either shown controversial behaviour (e.g. UNGC violations) or are controversial in another way (e.g. as a result of societal discussions). One example of last year is our engagement with Volkswagen because of their (indirect) involvement in weapon production and to discuss an update regarding the Dieselgate scandal. ESG is a standard topic on a.s.r.’s agenda at meetings with companies from its investment portfolio. a.s.r. engages with governments, societal organisations and peers through different platforms such as the International Responsible Business Conduct agreements. The significant increase is explained by a.s.r.'s new engagement provider Hermes, carrying out 557 engagements.
a.s.r. signed the Valuing Water Finance Initiative, which is a new global investor-led effort to engage corporate water users and polluters to value and act on water as a financial risk and drive the necessary large-scale change to better protect water systems. a.s.r. will call on companies to better protect water practices and to meet a set of soon-to-be released Corporate Expectations for Valuing Water that align with the United Nations' 2030 Sustainable Development Goal for Water (SDG 6).
a.s.r.'s collective fossil engagement procedures have already led to the start of 13 engagements with oil and gas companies. a.s.r. is aiming to have quarterly and/or semi-annual update meetings with these companies. Some examples of topics to focus on are boosting the availability of low-carbon solutions, setting short and medium-term carbon intensity and absolute reduction targets, the development of a decarbonisation strategy and the capital expenditures allocation of companies to support this strategy. a.s.r. does recognise different climate ambition levels between the companies that it is engaging. a.s.r. is therefore requiring companies to announce direct commitments and to set clear targets. Other examples include engagement on violations of the Clean Air Act and their climate ambitions, deforestation in the supply chain and contamination by PFAS chemicals.
|Human rights violations||4||4|
|Labour rights violations||1||0|
|Coal-fired electricity generation||54||38|
|Nuclear energy-related activities||14||11|
|Unconventional oil and gas||58||72|
|Total number of exclusions1||364||415|
In 2022, a.s.r. further increased its impact investments in all asset classes. a.s.r. also continued its board position within the National Advisory Board for impact investing (NAB) and made a start on the development of an impact framework to assess and monitor the actual impact of the impact investments. See chapter 2.5 for the performance on the current target on impact investments.
a.s.r. has invested in a sovereign social bond issued by the government of Ecuador which provides access to social and public housing. The issuance of $ 400 million will generate access to decent and affordable housing for more than 24,000 medium and low-income families. The Ecuadorian government is the first country to make this type of issuance, demonstrating how new forms of financing can be deployed to promote social inclusion and equality. The issuance will serve to boost the government programme ‘Casa para Todos’. The programme’s cornerstone is the creation of conditions that promote access to safe, adequate and decent housing. This should be the starting point for people to improve their living conditions and achieve increased social mobility. The programme seeks to reduce social inequality and assure universal access to basic services. The issuance is backed by a guarantee from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for $300 million, making the operation highly attractive for international investors and significantly reducing the financial costs for Ecuador.
A shareholders’ right to vote is essential for the proper functioning of a corporate governance system. a.s.r. exercises this right whenever relevant. a.s.r.’s voting policy was developed in accordance with the Dutch Corporate Governance Code and a.s.r.'s own SRI policy. This policy is applicable to all internally managed listed equities. In 2022, a.s.r. voted at almost 96.3% of the shareholder meetings held. At 531 of the 1,296 shareholder meetings, at least one vote was cast Against a resolution, or a vote was Withheld or an Abstention was recorded. 307 of the 1,323 proposals voted against addressed remuneration for the EB or SB and 624 meetings had one or more votes against appointments.
Regarding votes against management, under the ESG topics, the majority of the environmental topics related to initiatives to the implementation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. The execution of civil rights audits was one of the most common social topics. Regarding governance topics, most voting proposals related to lobbying payments and policy. The voting policy and voting reports are available on www.asrnl.com.
The external providers’ SRI policy is a key criterion in the selection of external managers. a.s.r. also engages with its external managers to enhance their SRI policy, implementation and transparency. In 2022, a.s.r. actively engaged with new and existing managers, such as BNP and JP Morgan for emerging markets debt. a.s.r. frequently receives sustainability reports from its external managers and, where relevant, requests additional impact data. In the selection process a.s.r. identifies a trend for customers demanding more specific sustainability requirements, for example more focus on Article 8 and Article 9 funds under the classification of the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR).
Targets adopted by companies to reduce GHG emissions are considered science-based if they are in line with what the latest climate science says is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and a net zero future.
The financial sector is key to unlocking the system-wide change needed to reach net zero. The central enabling role of finance is recognised in Article 2.1(c) of the Paris Agreement: 'Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development'. a.s.r. is committed to reaching a state of net zero before 2050.
The Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has developed a guidance tool aimed at helping financial institutions in their efforts to provide resources, including methods, criteria and tooling for science-based target-setting (2022). a.s.r. has been involved in the development and road-testing of this new uniform methodology by SBTi. Another approach to defining a science-based reduction path is, for example, following the EU Climate Transition Benchmark and Paris-aligned Benchmarks.
Although initial guidance has now been developed for science-based target-setting, some questions still remain about how to align the entire a.s.r. portfolio with the Paris Agreement. The availability of data is still a challenge for some asset classes. Nonetheless, a.s.r. is exploring various science-based methodologies in order to determine if the current investment portfolio target for 2030 is in line with the 1.5°C scenario and net zero before 2050.
As an explicit theme, a.s.r. has integrated climate change and energy transition into its Strategic Asset Allocation (SAA) since 2016 and has undertaken measures to implement this across the investment portfolio. a.s.r. has analysed and identified risks for the investment portfolio in its SAA, both bottom-up – covering the consideration of stranded assets and changing business models in the mining and energy sectors – and top-down. In 2022, a.s.r. again acquired updated data from Ortec Finance to incorporate climate scenarios into the SAA. These scenarios served as input for the reporting on climate risks and opportunities, in accordance with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD); see chapter 4.9.2. and a.s.r.'s Climate Report for more details.