7 Jun 2016

Engaging Shareholders

Today, Jenn Miller and I are attending the Responsible Investing Association (RIA) Conference on behalf of the Atkinson Foundation. The conference has brought together more than 300 investment professionals from Canada and around the world to Toronto. I’m moderating a panel on the role that investors can play in making sure workers are valued and treated equitably by employers. The panel is hosted by Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), our partner in shareholder activism for more than a decade.

SHARE’s Kevin Thomas and I will be joined by Cambria Allen from the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust and Derek Gent from the VanCity Community Foundation for this conversation. We’ll be talking about how to challenge the conventional ways some of us read a company’s balance sheet. Our shared concern is that we’ve become too accustomed to thinking of workers as “costs” to cut for greater efficiency and profit — not “assets” to grow for greater social and economic returns.

Earlier this year, SHARE and the Atkinson Foundation launched an initiative to ask investors, corporate boards and other stakeholders to think again. We’re making the connections between decent work, company performance and value creation through this project. You can expect to see more case studies, investor events and webinars exploring these issues in the months ahead.

The project grew out of our experience working with SHARE to influence companies’ policies and practices related to social issues, such as precarious employment in the commercial real estate sector and financial services options for low-income Canadians.

We’ve also benefited from participating in SHARE’s core engagement program. This involves signing onto letters inquiring into a company’s policies and practices or collaborating in exercising our voting rights.

While exploring new approaches to impact investing, we think of SHARE’s core and customized engagement programs as floor boards in our responsible investing strategy. This partnership equips us to align our investments with our mission, not only our grants. It provides us with tools to be active owners, not silent partners. It creates opportunities to combine our resources with others to do business differently in Canada.

We’ve concluded that the benefits of shareholder engagement have already delivered significant returns to Atkinson.  Now we’re wondering how shareholders and consumers alike can join forces to put workers, and the value of their work, at the centre of our financial decisions.  I hope you’ll share your take on these issues and join this effort to activate all our resources to create a more equitable and inclusive economy.

Colette Murphy is the Executive Director of the Atkinson Foundation and a member of SHARE’s Board of Directors.

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