Netherlands roundup: Smurfit scheme liquidation delayed
The liquidation of one of the two Dutch pension funds of Smurfit Kappa has been delayed, as the employer hasn’t yet reached an agreement with unions about the conditions for the workers who have been transferred to the remaining scheme.
According to trade unions, the packaging manufacturer had planned to liquidate its €134m scheme Smurfit Netherlands after its 300 active participants had joined its other Dutch pension fund, the €736m Smurfit Kappa.
Their accrued pension rights have been placed with insurer Nationale Nederlanden, which guarantees pension payments but will not raise them for inflation.
The unions FNV and CNV said that a number of workers and pensioners were not happy about the arrangement, and Ton Neijenhuis, trustee at the FNV, announced industrial action if the employer declined to meet their objections.
However, the second pension fund hasn’t granted inflation compensation for years, due to an insufficient coverage ratio. At September-end, its funding stood at 102%.
In the opinion of the unions, if Smurfit Kappa were to pay an indexation, this should also apply to the pensions placed with Nationale Nederlanden.
The 300 active participants who joined Smurfit Kappa are not satisfied with their contributions, as it is higher than the premium paid by their colleagues who are already members of the pension fund.
According to the unions, the higher contribution was due to the fact that the previous pension plan of the joining workers was placed with Nationale Nederlanden, and therefore guaranteed.
In the opinion of the unions, both pension plans are almost similar. They advocate equal arrangements and contributions for all employees.
Schemes make little progress on human rights risks
Dutch pension funds have hardly made progress identifying risks on human rights and labour conditions in their investment portfolio since they have signed the local covenant for responsible investing (IMVB) almost a year ago.
The covenant’s monitoring committee said the slow process was largely due to confusion about definitions like due diligence and long-term value creation.
It found that only a few of the almost 80 signatories had taken action to embedding the OECD’s guidelines into their sustainable investment policy.
The OECD rules are further reaching than the United Nations’ Global Compact, which is supported by most pension funds.
According to the committee – comprising Kees Gootjes, Udeke Huiskamp and Alfred Slager – several schemes referred to the Global Compact, and suggested that this was on a par with the OECD rules.
In addition, many pension funds failed to make clear how they would introduce the OECD guidelines, it said.
The monitoring committee noted that the OECD’s interpretation of due diligence deviated from the usual practice applied by pension funds outsourcing investments or pensions provision.
It said that no more than 10% of the schemes provided a clear and public clarification about the introduction of the IMVB covenant, which had been established in co-operation with trade unions and six NGOs, including Oxfam Novib, Amnesty and environmental pressure group Natuur & Milieu.
The committee emphasised that the signatories are expected to map a negative impact of their investments on workers and people living nearby investee companies.
It acknowledged this was new to most pension funds and asset managers, as the focus of their ESG policy is usually on ESG factors’ impact on the value of investments.
The committee recommended to develop concensus on important definitions as well as expertise on the OECD guidelines among pension funds’ board members and their administrative bureaus.