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Dutch heavy hitters critical of PRI but stand by ‘work in progress’

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  • Dutch Parliament buildings in the Hague, the Netherlands

ABP, PGGM and MN Services in the Netherlands have acknowledged governance problems at the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) but reaffirmed their commitment to the project despite the recent defection of ATP and five other Danish pension funds.

Last week, the Danish schemes shocked the socially responsible investment (SRI) community after they announced they would leave the private organisation due to a lack of transparency and democracy.

Bram van Els, spokesman at Dutch pensions provider MN Services, conceded that issues could be taken with the PRI’s governance, citing in particular the organisation’s rapid growth.

The PRI now has more than 1,200 signatories, including asset owners, investment managers and professional service partners.

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Van Els also pointed out the fact that the organisation was no longer part of the United Nations and admitted “things could improve” with respect to transparency and accountability towards its members.

“The body has a complex structure that is not clear to everyone,” he said. “That’s not good for an organisation that gives high priority to corporate governance.”

But he said MN Services had no intention of following the Danish pension funds and leaving the PRI.

“As a member, we can better contribute to changes,” he said.

Van Els said the PRI’s recent annual conference in Cape Town had shown the organisation was working hard to make improvements.

Meanwhile, PGGM, the second largest pensions provider in the Netherlands, said it had no plans to leave the PRI either.

Spokesman Maurice Wilbrink said: “We are an enthusiastic and committed member, and we have the utmost confidence in this body.”

He speculated the Danish schemes that left the PRI had been unhappy with some of the changes that occurred after the organisation was privatised from the UN.

He pointed out that the PRI moved to London and therefore now had to comply with the UK legal system, meaning the Danish pension funds’ wishes for participation and transparency could not be taken fully into account.

ABP, the largest Dutch pension fund, and APG, its pensions provider, conceded that they, too, saw room for improvement on the issue of governance.

“But the organisation has taken some steps forward,” said spokesman Thijs Steger. “In the end, it is an ongoing process that takes time.”

ABP, APG and PFZW all said they had no plans to leave the PRI.

Soon after the Danish pension funds made their announcement, the private body behind PRI said it was “deeply disappointed”, insisting it took governance seriously and was committed to improving.

It said it hoped the funds concerned would reconsider their decision ”at some point in the near future”.

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