The General Board believes that environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have a significant impact on corporate financial performance and long-term investor value. Consequently, the General Board—through its Wespath Investment Management division—is an active owner, seeking to improve company performance relating to material ESG issues by addressing public policy, engaging companies, voting proxies and managing excessive sustainability risk.
Public Policy Engagement
The General Board conducts public policy engagement focused on how macro-level ESG issues affect the structure, function and governance of markets as a whole and how they affect investors’ interests. Public policy engagement may include supporting regulatory initiatives if, in the judgment of the General Board, such action will improve the sustainability of our investments.
The General Board’s public policy statements are available here.
The General Board engages companies on ESG risks and opportunities. These corporate engagements take many forms, including writing to company executives to alert them to issues; seeking resolution of concerns; requesting meetings or acknowledging positive actions taken; and dialoguing through face-to-face meetings and/or conference calls.
As a signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), the General Board is committed to the “incorporation of ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.” The General Board also is instructed by the Church to “make a conscious effort to invest in institutions, companies, corporations, or funds whose practices are consistent with the goals outlined in the Social Principles.” (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012, ¶717.) Accordingly, the General Board has established a number of engagement priorities:
Wespath engages many companies on issues relating to environmental stewardship, human and workers’ rights, and sound corporate governance. These engagements focus on sustainable business practices and how such practices promote value for investors.
The General Board owns shares of stock in nearly 5,000 companies and endeavors to vote the proxy of each.
Management of Excessive Sustainability Risk
As a long-term investor, Wespath seeks to avoid investing in companies with unsustainable business models. To assist in identifying and managing ESG-related risk in general, the board of directors has adopted a policy on the management of excessive sustainability risk.
The policy recognizes that there may be instances when a particular issue, set of companies and/or industries pose high levels of risk to investors. In such instances, the board will approve an investment guideline to inform the execution of Wespath’s active ownership strategy.
The policy, “Management of Excessive Sustainability Risk,” is found in Wespath’s Statement of Administrative Investment Policy, Section III.D.2.