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Institutions urge action by food companies on water management

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Investors worth $2.6trn (€2.3trn) are urging over a dozen of the world’s largest food companies to better assess risks associated with water management, stemming both from direct operations and supply chains.

Backed by 60 institutions, including the £5bn (€6bn) Northern Ireland Local Government Officers’ Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC) and BT Pension Scheme-owned Hermes Investment Management, the letter urged companies to tackle the risks it argued were having a “profound near-term business impacts”.

It added that the risks could increase capital expenditure and operating costs, thus putting future revenue at risk.

As a result, it asked for the firms – including Kraft Heinz, Fresh Del Monte Produce and drinks manufacturer Dr Pepper Snapple – to disclose if the board was responsible for water management and what steps were taken to monitor the water usage of suppliers.

The largest asset owner signatory, the $191.4bn California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), said that water management could have a “material impact” on portfolio value.

Referencing the ongoing drought hitting the western US, the fund’s director of corporate governance, Anne Sheehan, said: “In California, we are keenly aware of how water scarcity can impact lives and businesses, as our state struggles to manage a depleting water supply.”

Hervé Guez, director of research at asset management signatory Mirova added: “Better disclosure of water risks is the first step, but ultimately we’d like to see the companies in our portfolios moving from risk to opportunity with innovative water management strategies.”

Water management has gradually risen in prominence as a matter to be tackled by institutions. Sweden’s AP4 in July tendered a water scarcity equity mandate.

Additionally, investors including the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System have previously spoken of the advantages of greater transparency over water management, and asset owners have been urged to set a more proactive tone when engaging over water risk.

Read more about why asset owners should monitor water risk

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