Threadneedle Ethical UK Equity (OEIC/Unit Trust)
SRI / Ethical Overview
Launched in October 2015, our Threadneedle Ethical UK Equity Fund takes a novel approach in combining ESG performance, an outcomes focus and negative screening. The Fund actively targets UK companies that exhibit the best ESG performance and/or produce innovative products positioned to contribute to a better future, and avoids companies that we deem to be involved in unethical or controversial activities. In November, it was awarded Best New Entrant, at Investment Week’s Sustainable Investment Awards 2016.
The differentiated aspect of the Fund is its three-pronged approach, combining ESG performance, an outcomes focus and negative screening.
I. First, we exclude companies that are unable to satisfy our ethical restrictions, using the MSCI UK IMI Extended SRI index to aid exclusion of sectors e.g. alcohol, weapons, gambling.
II. We consider ESG performance, using both internal and external research, as we believe that those companies with excellent corporate governance can enhance their potential into the future. We also seek to engage with the companies to ensure continual improvement.
III. We seek companies that deliver innovative solutions to achieving sustainable outcomes. To achieve this, we look at the UN sustainable development goals and key themes, including climate change, healthcare, safety, security and verification.
SRI / themed / ethical assets under management – overview
As at 31 March 2017
- Fund Size (GBP): £24.0m
- Total value of SRI/ethical/environmental/ social/ environmental or sustainability themed funds under management: £288.8m
- Total value of assets covered by responsible ownership policy: £9,223m*
- Total assets under management: £108,367m**
*range of styles, including: best in class, UN Global Compact, ESG screen, thematic, impact etc.
** Columbia Threadneedle Investments, EMEA & Asia only
SRI Policies (Primary strategy in bold)
- Environmental policy Find investment funds with environmental policies - ie that consider issues such as pollution, climate change, resource management, environmental impact. This will include options from all of the different SRI Styles, including funds where their core strategy is to focus on other areas such as ethical funds. See fund information for fund specific policy details.
- Ethical policies Find funds with 'traditional' ethical investment policies. These typically focus on avoiding companies that are involved in the armaments industry, tobacco, gambling and/or pornography. Options will include funds where their core strategy or style may be to focus other issues - like sustainability or the environment, not just 'ethical funds'. Strategies vary significantly. Check fund literature for details.
- Sustainability policy Find fund options that consider issues relating to the sustainability agenda (e.g. resource management, environmental impact, climate change and/or social issues such as equal opportunities, human rights and adherence to recognised codes). This will include funds from all of the different SRI Styles. See fund information for explanations of the different strategies.
- Social policy Find fund options that consider social issues (e.g. human rights, labour standards, equal opportunities, child labour and adherence to internationally recognised codes such as the UN Global Compact). This will include funds in most of the different SRI Styles as this is considered a core issue. See fund information for detail.
- Governance policy Find fund options that have policies that relate to corporate governance issues such as board structure, executive remuneration, bribery and/or corporate corruption. These funds will typically avoid companies with poor practices.
- Tobacco production avoided Find fund options that exclude manufacturers of tobacco (or related) products. This typically relates to ethical funds however funds from other SRI Styles commonly avoid this area also. Strategies vary and funds may invest in retailers of such products (e.g. supermarkets or hotels.) See fund information for further information.
- Armaments manufacturers avoided Find ethical fund (and other SRI) options that avoid avoids companies that manufacture products intended specifically for military use. Fund strategies vary - particularly with regard to non strategic military products. Read fund literature for specific details.
- Health & wellbeing policies Find ethical or sustainable investment fund options that have a policy which supports (ie aims to invest in) companies that are viewed as offering positive lifestyle, health or wellbeing related benefits.
- Nuclear exclusion policy Find ethical funds (and other options) that have a published policy that sets out the fund's position on avoiding or limiting exposure to nuclear power. See fund literature for details of their policy.
- Invests in clean energy/renewables Find ethical, sustainable investment and other environmentally aware fund options that aim to invest in companies in the clean technology and renewable energy sectors. Fund strategies vary. Some funds may have limited exposure to this area, others may have significant exposure. Check fund literature for details.
- Alcohol production excluded This filter helps you to find ethical funds - and other options - that avoid investment in alcohol production. See fund literature for further information.
- Gambling avoidance policy Find ethical fund options (and other options) that avoid companies with significant involvement in the gambling industry. See fund policy for details.
- Pornography avoidance policy Find ethical fund option - and in some cases other options - that avoid companies that derive significant income from pornography. See fund details for further information.
- Human rights Find funds that consider human rights practices when approving companies for investment. Such funds will require decent standards of human rights to be demonstrated - which typically means adherence to international norms as a minimum standard.
- Norms focus Find funds that use internationally agreed standards, conventions and 'norms' to help direct where the fund can and cannot invest (e.g. the UN Global Compact, UN Sustainable Development Goals). Read fund literature for further information.
- Positive selection bias Find funds where their main 'ethical approach' is to invest in companies that are considered to be positive/good or useful to people and/or the environment. The fund may also have negative avoidance criteria - see fund details to read more about fund strategies.
- Negative selection bias Find funds where their main 'ethical approach' is to avoid companies by using negative screening criteria. Read fund literature for further information.
- Balances company 'pros and cons'/best in sector Find ethical funds and other options that consider both the 'positive' things companies do and the 'negative' things they do in order to make balanced, often complex decisions about where they might invest. Such funds often invest in the best/most ethical companies across most industries ('best in sector'), rather than excluding entire sectors. The fund manager may combine this with 'responsible engagement' activity to encourage better business practices. See fund literature for specific policy explanations.
- Over 50% large cap Find funds that invests more than half of their money into what are commonly regarded as 'large companies'. This will typically mean that the market capitalisation (or value) of the companies they hold is in excess of £5 to £10 billion.
- Sustainability themed Find funds where there is a significant emphasis on sustainability issues either as its primary strategy or as a core strategy that compliments other criteria. (This may apply to a number of different SRI Styles). Such funds will consider environmental and social issues when making stock selection decisions. Read fund literature for further information.
- Favours cleaner, greener companies Find funds that aim to nvest in companies with strong environmental policies and practices. This may mean it invests in smaller companies offering market leading environmental services or products and/or larger companies that are working towards the improved management of their negative impacts. Read fund literature for further information.
- Favours companies with strong social policies Find funds that invest in line with positive strategies that relate to 'people' issues - such as having strong human rights, labour standards and equal opportunities practices. Such funds are likely to invest in companies that have market leading standards with regard to employee and supplier practices. Read fund literature for further information.
- Strictly screened ethical fund Find funds that have a high level of negative ethical avoidance. These funds are likely to exclude more companies than other ethical (and SRI) fund options. Read fund literature for further information.
- Aims to generate positive impacts Find funds that aim to help deliver positive social or environmental impacts or outcomes through their investment decisions - which typically involves holding companies that are viewed as being necessary or beneficial. Strategies and approaches vary. A small number of funds have recently started to measure outcomes (see 'Measures Impacts' in the Policy filter). This is a new area - so most funds do not do this yet. See fund literature for further information.
- Available via an ISA Find funds that are available via a tax efficient ISA product wrapper
- Clean energy themed Find funds that in clean technology / clean energy companies. See fund information for further details.
- ESG/SRI engagement Find funds and fund management companies that actively encourages higher 'environmental, social and governance' and/or 'sustainable and responsible investment' practices amongst investee companies - when positive change is aligned with the best interest of investors. This may apply to a single fund or a group of funds. Read fund literature for further information.
- Responsible Ownership policy for non SRI funds Find funds run by fund managers that apply Responsible Ownership or 'Stewardship' policies to all or most of their investment assets. This means that active involvement (e.g. voting, dialogue) with the companies they invest in across funds (not normally limited to ethical or SRI options.) Read fund literature for further information.
- Integrates ESG factors into all/most fund research Find fund management companies that research environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues when deciding whether or not to invest in a company. This typically applies to all funds, not only those which are promoted as being 'ethical' or 'SRI themed'. This is increasingly often used as a risk management tool.
- Vote all* shares at AGMs/EGMs This fund manager votes or aims to vote all* the shares they own at Annual General Meetings and Extraordinary General Meetings. A commitment to voting shares is a key indicator of 'responsible share ownership' - where fund managers consider - and express their views on - the key business issues effecting the companies they part own. (*Allowance is made for exceptional situations such as when shares are in the process of being sold.)
- In house responsible ownership/voting expertise Find fund / fund management companies where there is in-house expertise that enables the fund manager to make their own decisions on issues such as shareholder voting, setting of in-house guidelines - for example - particularly with regard to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
- Responsible Ownership/ESG a key differentiator The fund managers have said they consider this area to be a key differentiator for their business
- UK Stewardship Code signatory Find fund managers that are signatories to the FRC UK Stewardship Code, which sets out a framework for constructive investor / investee relations where fund managers are encouraged to behave as responsible 'company owners'.
- Publish Responsible Ownership/Stewardship report Find fund management companies that publish information on their approach to responsible investment ownership - also known as 'Stewardship' - following the introduction of 'the Stewardship Code'. This sets out their approach to voting, dialogue with company management and any related activity. This is publicly available.
- Publish full voting record Find fund management companies that publishes a full record of how they vote at AGMs and EGMs. This information is publicly available.
- Review(ing) carbon/fossil fuel exposure for all funds Find funds / fund managers that are reviewing or have reviewed their exposure to carbon intensive industries including (but not only) mining, oil and gas companies. This work is being carried out in the context of climate change related concerns, and may often reference international agreements.
- Regularly lead collaborative ESG initiatives Find funds managed by fund management companies that regularly initiate or help run industry wide (collaborative) investor projects aimed at raising environmental, social and governance standards amongst investee companies.
- PRI signatory Find fund management companies that have signed up to the UN backed 'Principles of Responsible Investment' initiative.
SRI / Ethical Policy
The Fund targets UK companies that exhibit the best, or improving, ESG performance in the way they operate that fit within our tried and tested UK Equity process. However, investing responsibly is also about opportunity; the opportunity to combine financial objectives with a positive focus on investing with purpose.
This positive focus is about more than just internal standards; the Fund also actively seeks to target companies that deliver products or services that are positioned to contribute to a better future. In our view, this ESG-integrated and outcome-focused approach sets this Fund apart from the more traditional ethical fund approach, offering a ‘best in class’ solution for those looking to invest responsibly and with purpose.
The Fund invests at least three-quarters of its assets in shares of companies in the United Kingdom (or companies that have significant operations there) that meet its ethical investment criteria. Investments are assessed by the fund manager by reference to ethical investment guidelines additional to those usually considered by the fund manager when making investment decisions.
There are two ways in which UK companies are evaluated to create the ethical investment universe to which the Fund Manager will apply his investment process: ethical exclusion screening and positive inclusion and selection.
1. Ethical exclusion screening
For the Fund to invest in a company, it must satisfy the Fund’s ethical restrictions. Stocks are excluded from the Fund’s investable universe if they do not exhibit appropriate Environmental, Social or Governance (ESG) behaviour, for example if a certain amount of the company’s business activities are involved in industries such as alcohol, gambling, tobacco. These ethical restrictions are derived from the methodology of the MSCI Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Index, the Fund’s Reference Index, but may vary slightly in some instances.
2. Positive inclusion & selection
As well screening out companies that do not perform well against ESG criteria, the Fund actively seeks to include UK companies that exhibit strong ESG performance in the way they operate. Companies that pass the ethical exclusion screening are further assessed and selected on the extent of their ESG performance relative to other companies within their sector, drawing on the team’s strong capabilities and experience with ESG analysis. The Fund also selects companies that deliver or are developing products, services and practices that are positioned to contribute to a better future, i.e. that fit in with key sustainability themes.
These comprise: health and wellbeing, climate and energy transition, demographics, communities, education, environment, safety and security.
Companies which embrace the efficient use of resources and invest in both people and technology to generate sustainable returns over time create the context in which investors can do well by doing good.
Embracing this creates a productive investment focus in which we apply our research process to find suitable investments with the appropriate investment characteristics. As bottom-up stock pickers, the fund management team look for companies with robust business and financial models that trade on attractive valuations and have solid management teams that look to the future. We seek to invest in and support companies over a long-term horizon, which ties in with our UK equity team investment philosophy, while also supporting an ethical approach to investing.
Resources, Affiliations & Corporate Strategies
We have a dedicated Responsible Investment (RI) team devoted to researching and engaging on ESG issues and have invested significant resources in the development of our expertise in this area. This includes not only internal research but the use of supplementary external research and ratings as required. Our RI team has worked alongside our investment professionals since 1998.
The RI team is composed of six members in the UK with responsibility for ESG research, integration, engagement, proxy voting and ESG reporting and, in one case RI portfolio management, which is a new position last year. A Director, Global Responsible Investment (US) is located in the US, as is a proxy voting team. Responsibility for the governance and responsible investment capabilities lies with Iain Richards, the Head of Governance and Responsible Investment at Columbia Threadneedle Investments.
Sources of Information to the RI team include:
- Company data and dialogue including traditional and sustainability reporting
- Brokers focused on ESG research
- External ESG rating provider: MSCI ESG research
- Corporate governance database: BoardEx
- Proxy voting related governance research: ISS and IVIS
- National and International government bodies
The RI team undertake the research which drives the fund, in particular where stocks are not covered by MSCI ESG research, or where there is more work to be done in identifying the salience of sustainable opportunities. Examples include smaller companies providing cyber security opportunities, or innovating in renewable energy production. The team produce bespoke ESG review, incorporating exposure to sustainability themes, where these are identified. The RI team also typically conduct or assist engagement to gain further insight and drive improvement on ESG and sustainability issues. Finally, the team make voting recommendations regarding the companies in the Fund, which can be informed by ESG issues – diversity for instance is now systemically considered as a standing voting consideration with potential to trigger action across all companies and funds.
In addition, the financial analysis is undertaken by our UK equities team, using their established investment process to identified companies with robust business and financial models that trade on attractive valuations and have solid leadership.
The fund is managed by Matt Evans, who co-managers the Threadneedle UK Smaller Companies Fund, the Threadneedle UK Mid 250 Fund and a range of small cap institutional portfolios. Supported by the RI team, and the UK team, and mindful of the exclusionary criteria, the manager makes the final investment decision.
General corporate affiliations
Given the number of potential initiatives, we seek to prioritise, focusing on those which best align with our priorities and add greatest value to our processes. Some of the key associations and organisations are outlined below.
We were a founding member of the UN PRI and remain actively involved in the organisation, whose influence has increased since its foundation in 2006: in our last assessment from the PRI we received an A+ (the highest rating) for our overall approach to responsible investment.
Other key memberships are those of: the United Kingdom Sustainable Investments and Finance Association (UKSIF), the European Social Investment Forum (EUROSIF), and the Asian Corporate Governance Association (ACGA). These memberships reflect our commitment to RI across a range of markets, reflecting the geographic diversity of our investments, as well our significant holdings in UK-listed companies.
We have a longstanding relationship with UKSIF in particular. We are represented on the UKSIF Leadership committee, and this year we participated at UKSIF events, including an event on the strategy of the SIF, at which we contributed ideas for increased member engagement and participation. We also contributed to their 2016 survey, enhancing their research into the nature of the responsible investment market.
Our Chief Investment Officer is also on the board of the Investor Forum, which seeks to contribute to long-term investment performance by promoting cultural change and enhancing shareholder stewardship in the UK. Similarly, we are also an active member of the UK Corporate Governance Forum, an investor network made up of asset managers and owners to discuss individual companies, industry and ESG developments, and are signatories to the UK Stewardship Code
We are also signatories to the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), including their recent forestry and water programmes.