Stephanie Maier (Head of Responsible Investment Strategy & Research at Aviva Investors):
“The importance of having a human rights perspective became apparent when Aviva had invested in Soco, a company that was seriously challenged when it started operating on a world heritage site and bribed government officials.
How can companies prepare themselves? Why do they find themselves in such situations? One key element is the lack of awareness of human rights, and what they could mean for them. There is a general lack of understanding. We’ve seen this many times in our engagement with other companies: what the impact is of a company in a particular region or country is often not comprehended. If you look at the example of Soco, why did they pay a corrupt officer at least 42,000 dollars? The company was just not aware, did not understand, how that would backlash at them.
I see an important role for investors in helping companies to truly understand human rights risks and issues. As long-term investors we see that for good returns on investment, we have to become aware of and deal with sustainability issues. It will frequently be the case that companies (and their shareholders) will benefit from not acting in a proper way in the short run, but in the long run they will not continue to do so. That is why a long-term perspective is so important.”