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ESG roundup: Women board quotas, Newsweek Green Rankings

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  • ESG roundup: Women board quotas, Newsweek Green Rankings

GLOBAL – Although the debate on women quotas for corporate board positions by EU commissioners has been postponed until November, opinions among those opposed to them are unlikely to change.

The UK's Investment Management Association (IMA) has been one of the organisations that have come out against quotas.

Liz Murrall, director of corporate governance and reporting at the IMA, said: "Board appointments should be on merit and not to fill quotas. The lack of women on boards is a symptom of their underrepresentation at senior levels from where board members are recruited.

"Quotas would not address this and could also potentially alienate established board members.

"Nor should we forget there is a need for better non-gender diversity – too many directors are accountants and lawyers, few of them having marketing or international experience."

The UK's 30% Club – a group of chairmen voluntarily committed to bringing more women onto UK corporate boards – also believes that quotas are harmful to the ongoing gender debate.

It hopes the European Commission will not vote for quotas when the draft EU Directive to impose a 40% quota on listed company boards is finally put to EU commissioners.

Helena Morrissey, chief executive at Newton Investment Management and founder of the 30% Club, said: "The 30% Club is vehemently anti-quotas to force change – they are a form of discrimination, designed to create the illusion of progress, but they don't work.

"Instead, we are interested in a sustainable increase in the pipeline, which will take longer but deliver real benefits to businesses that currently lose so much female talent."

The 30% Club notes that, while there are still too few executive women on boards, the overall pace of change as a result of a merit-led approach to gender diversity on company boards, especially in the FTSE 100, is striking.

Since 1 March this year, 48% of FTSE 100 non-executive director appointments have gone to women, which equates to 30 out of 62.   

Women now make up 17.3% of FTSE 100 boards, up from 12.5% only two years ago.

A much-referenced example for quotas has been Norway, where there has been a big shift in the gender balance in the boardroom since the imposition of mandatory quotas.

However, just 8% of top management roles in Norwegian publicly listed companies are held by women, and just 3% of Norwegian chief executives are women, almost the exact same percentage as in the S&P 500, where quotas are an alien concept.

In other news, global companies are becoming more transparent on their environmental performance.

More than 85% of companies in Newsweek's Green Rankings now disclose some level of detail on their environmental information, representing a 20% improvement on the previous year.

James Salo, senior vice-president of strategy and research at environmental research provider Trucost, said: "Since the launch of Newsweek's Green Rankings in 2009, we have had thousands of conversations with companies seeking to provide information about their environmental performance.

"By improving the transparency on their environmental performance, companies are becoming more responsible for its improvement. This is an important step towards reducing environmental impact and risk." 
 
Disclosure by emerging market companies increased by around 8%, reflecting a promising shift towards transparency in countries such as Brazil, Korea and India.

For the first time, the global list was topped by three emerging market companies – Banco Santander and Banco Bradesco from Brazil, and Indian IT leader Wipro.   

Heather Lang, director of research products for North America at research firm Sustainalytics, added: "It is very encouraging to see enhanced disclosure and environmental leadership coming from emerging markets. Though there is still considerable headway to be made in normalising this trend, we expect it will increase in the years ahead."
         
Information technology and services and technology equipment remain the two highest-ranking sectors on both the US and global lists.

The two sectors improving the most in the 2012 rankings are food, beverage and tobacco, as well as transport. 
 
To produce the 2012 green rankings, Newsweek collaborated with Trucost and Sustainalytics to assess each company's environmental footprint, management of that footprint and transparency.

The rankings focus on the largest publicly traded companies in the US and worldwide.

Each list consists of the largest 500 companies by revenue in the most recent fiscal year, market capitalisation and number of employees as of 30 April 2012.

The rankings can be found here.

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