Episode 19: Catherine Howarth
Catherine Howarth, CEO of Share Action starts the interview by explaining how Share Action evolved from a campaign to investigate the ethics of pension fund investments in the university system. Share Action campaigns globally for the right to know where pension funds put your money and works to implement an ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) revolution in finance that will radically decarbonise our economy.
She hopes actions such as ranking pension funds in terms of ESG and campaigns such as Make My Money Matter will open up the “black box” of pension investments, which she argues it is a space where “peoples voices and values should be much better heard”
Share Action is small but galvanises shareholder power to directly persuade companies to make important ESG commitments such as living wage and using renewable energy suppliers.
A combination of research and public engagement techniques enables the organisation to influence investors and raise the profile of ESG in the market.
Share Action conducts deep dive research on the financial risks presented by poor sustainability performance in different sectors, giving investors the knowledge they need to hold companies accountable. “Armed with the right questions, they can really hold companies feet to the fire”.
Catherine describes how Share Action have been involved in combatting climate change for a long time and the link this has with banking. “Unless the banking sector changes it’s approach to lending, we can’t win.” She explains that Barclays is the worst bank in the Europe for lending to high carbon industries. Share Action filed a shareholder resolution that challenged Barclays to phase out financing companies without a plan to change to low carbon operations. The support they had from investors and the media attention was encouraging. “It’s allowed us to see there is real sign of change and hope in the investment sector. Those big powerful investors could have dismissed this and they haven’t, so that’s very encouraging”
Another successful climate action has been with Tesco. Attending the AGM, Share Action asked and then persuaded the supermarket to move their electricity supply to renewable and subsequently the company joined the RE100 coalition of companies committed to renewable energy. Catherine explains that it was partly a simple case of pointing out the business benefits. “The power of nudging can make things happen faster and doing the right thing can be good business sense lot of the time.”
Safia asks about the obligation to check supply chains for human rights violations. Share Action have drafted a responsible investment bill requiring pension funds to undertake proper scrutiny. Catherine says we shouldn’t let large investors off the hook. “If you’re happy to take the profits you have to have a level of responsibility for oversight of what might be appalling crimes, environmentally or socially”
On a positive note there are huge amounts of money available in pension funds that can have a good influence – “it’s our money, reimagine it as a powerful and positive agent of change.”
Safia asks about Catherine’s hopes for COP 26 in Glasgow. Catherine wants to see governments step up and commit to serious policy action; banks, insurance pension and asset management companies should transform and de carbonise. They should be challenged to make commitments and urge governments to agree an ambitious deal. She believes there is a massive role for finance to play at COP26.
Safia and Catherine discuss the EU Taxonomy system, set up to identify what finance activities are environmentally sustainable. It’s an ambitious policy and legislative agenda, which recognises that decarbonising the economy can’t happen without powerful reforms to the finance industry. Share Action has a presence in Brussels and is pushing the EU to be more ambitious. It represents the voice of civil society “injecting a demand for ambition into these rather technical negotiations on sustainable finance.”
Catherine finishes by letting us know how to participate in Share Action’s activities;
- Participate in the Company AGM Activism Programme which gives you the tools and logistics advice to make your case at a company AGM.
- If you have a pension fund, ask Share Action to help you ensure it goes to an ethical fund platform.
- Get on the mailing list for Share Action to keep up to date with activities.
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