As an active owner, we are in regular contact with the companies in our funds about potential areas of improvement. One recent example of this is Sun Hung Kai, one of Hong Kong’s largest property companies and, until recently, a holding in the equity fund SKAGEN m2. A decade ago, members of the then management team were involved in a corruption scandal. For a long time, Sun Hun Kai was placed on the exclusion list of companies that we cannot or will not invest in due to the fact that they were unable to demonstrate the improvement measures they had undertaken.
Engagement pays off
Earlier this year, Sun Hung Kai was moved to the observation list, but questions over transparency remained. Through SKAGEN’s ownership stake in and relationship with the company, we continued to have constructive discussions. Amongst other things, we asked them to publish their policies, routines and reports, educate staff on anti-corruption issues and increase transparency. In addition, we asked Sustainalytics, one of the world’s leading specialists on environmental, social and corporate governance issues (ESG), to put further pressure on the company.
Sun Hung Kai accepted our feedback and has now incorporated most of our improvement proposals. Those found guilty of the corruption charges have long served their sentences. The whole process has been well managed and with full transparency and the company has therefore been taken off the observation list.
Improvements underway in South Korea
During the quarter, we have also engaged with some of our South Korean companies, to encourage them to take a more sustainable direction. Sondre Myge Haugland, the sustainability specialist in SKAGEN, is optimistic:
“We are noticing a general change in attitude to sustainability issues in South Korea. Companies are increasingly recognising the importance of environmental considerations, corporate social responsibility and good corporate governance. Although the western world has on the whole come further, we are seeing very positive developments,” he explains.
In SKAGEN, there is a new sustainability team in place and Sondre is now supported by Silje Simonsen Viste and Anna Marcus. Silje is an analyst in the portfolio team and spends about half her time doing sustainability analysis. She helps screen companies prior to investment, and monitors companies while they are part of the funds’ portfolios. Anna works with Sondre and Silje to communicate how the funds integrate sustainability.
Sondre works closely with the portfolio managers on a day-to-day basis and has overall responsibility for ensuring that the sustainability policy is complied with and updated. He is responsible for reporting and also leads the work to engage with the companies together with the portfolio managers and members of the Storebrand sustainability team.
Up until the end of this year, we also have a student mapping environmental, social and corporate governance issues, with a focus on China and South Korea.
During the autumn, some of the team attended the leading sustainability conference PRI in Person in Paris. The aim was to build on our knowledge, network with others who work with sustainability issues and gain valuable insight into new regulations and trends.
New sustainability tool
We have recently developed a proprietary tool – a so-called ESG Engagement Engine – to enable SKAGEN’s portfolio managers and sustainability specialist to structure their interaction with companies in a systematic way.
“We can now more easily and efficiently document and integrate ongoing dialogue and engagement with various companies,” explains Sondre.
Cooperation against deforestation
During the quarter, SKAGEN and Storebrand also increased the pressure on companies to combat deforestation. The new deforestation policy sets clear limits for the production, trade and financing of palm oil, soya, timber, livestock and other activities that may lead to deforestation. By means of dialogue and active ownership, we will reach our goal of not investing in companies that contribute to deforestation by 2025.