By Mayde Sykora
Analyst, Sustainable Investment Services
October 14, 2020
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wespath joined a group of global institutional investors in signing a Statement on Coronavirus Response urging the business community to display leadership by supporting communities and affected individuals.
Specifically, the Statement asked that companies prioritize the welfare of all stakeholders—from employees to customers and investors—and to consider actions such as emergency paid leave and employment retention.
Beyond signing the Statement, Wespath published its own recommendations for companies, which included steps to ensure a sustainable economic recovery as well as suggestions related to supporting small businesses.
This statement was obviously a call to action for the companies in which we invest, but we also wanted to make sure the Wespath funds’ external asset manager partners heard our requests. Wespath firmly believes building a sustainable global economy is a collaborative endeavor, so engaging asset managers on their COVID-19 response plans was a natural next step.
To do this, we sent a letter to all Wespath funds’ asset managers encouraging the firms to both sign the Statement on Coronavirus Response and provide information about how they are considering COVID-19-related factors in their operations and decision making.
The response to this letter was widely positive! First, we are pleased to note that five asset managers became signatories to the Statement in direct response to our letter. Another manager noted they had already added their name to the Statement. Other managers suggested they would review the Statement and hope to become signatories soon.
We are also happy to see a wide number of managers detail their internal employee safety plans. Over a dozen managers explained how they have helped their workforce adapt to newfound challenges – including shifts to remote working, deep cleaning of office spaces and distribution of personal protective equipment. Furthermore, several asset managers said they are leveraging shareholder engagement tools to ensure sustainable responses to COVID-19. We heard that asset managers are engaging with companies in which we invest on related issues like corporate governance, emerging social issues, and long-term economic and health considerations.
Finally, we are inspired by the stories of large charitable responses. Many asset managers have created charitable funds or organized employee contributions and directed donations to food assistance programs, essential worker support initiatives and small business relief efforts. We highlighted a few of these stories in a recent #DoBetterTogether social media post.
By and large, the Wespath funds’ asset managers have met the challenge of COVID-19 with holistic responses that match the sentiment of our organization. We emerge from this experience more confident than ever that we are partnered with many firms actively supporting our efforts to empower a sustainable global economy.
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