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Pressure for greater SRI reporting

Groups pressing for pension funds need to pay more attention to the social and environmental impact of their investments want institutions to report in more detail.

Matt Christensen, executive director of the European Social Investment Forum argues that across Europe pension funds should be doing more to report how factors such as sustainability and social responsibility feature in their investment.

"It forces pension funds to think around the issue," he says. "It sends a message to the market on how these asset owners think about asset management in the context of long-term sustainability.

"If you have better reporting it informs the market, and the market is composed of many different stakeholders. "It allows more informed decisions and better understanding of pension funds by their beneficiaries. Beneficiaries should be allowed to see how their pension funds are dealing with sustainability," he says.

In the Netherlands, at least four large Dutch pension funds have announced they will disclose the names of the quoted companies in which they invest. Civil service scheme ABP, healthcare scheme PGGM, engineering scheme PME and railways scheme SPF have all said they will publish the names of the companies on their websites.

The Dutch Social Investment Forum (VBDO) has been working on pushing pension funds to disclose more about their investments for years, says Eurosif.

But in the Netherlands, a major obstacle is that the government does not require pension funds to disclose their investments, saying it is an issue between employers and their staff.

Last year the Pension Authority (COVIP) in Italy issued general directives under the terms of a governmental decree of the previous year, obliging complementary pension funds to disclose the extent to which social, environmental, ethical (SEE) aspects are taken into consideration in fund management as well as in the exercise of their shareholder rights. More generally in Europe, over the past five years more than six countries have passed regulations demanding disclosure on how funds manage their SEE risks, says Eurosif.

In their statement of investment principles, pension funds in the UK are already obliged to include the degree to which they use Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) in their investment, says Penny Shepherd, chief executive of the UK Social Investment Forum (UKSIF).

"They're obliged to make that statement of investment principles available to any members that request it," she says. "What they're not obliged to do is proactively to tell them." But reporting on this level might not go far enough to promote SRI. Shepherd says UKSIF has sent a submission to Stephen Timms, the minister for pension reform, on how the government could bolster socially responsible investment within the UK financial services industry. In the submission, one of the highest-priority measures recommended was for a requirement for pension funds to report on their social, environmental and ethical policies regularly to members. Within this, they should tell members how the policy was implemented in practice and how they were included in manager agreements, as well as details of any engagement that was undertaken on the fund's behalf.

"We see transparency as an important part of ensuring that there's trust in financial services," says Shepherd. Despite the current rules, anecdotal experience shows that pension funds' stance on SRI is not being communicated, she says.

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