Rathbones-led campaign wins ‘Stewardship Initiative of the Year’ at PRI Awards 2022

  • Votes Against Slavery initiative saw non-compliant FTSE 350 Index companies targeted with investor action
  • 2022 marks the third year of the campaign
By 1 December 2022

The Votes Against Slavery campaign, co-ordinated through the PRI Collaboration Platform and led by Rathbones’ stewardship team, has won the PRI Awards 2022 ‘Stewardship Initiative of the Year’ award.

The highly acclaimed PRI Awards, judged by an independent panel of experts across a number of relevant disciplines, recognise “individually excellent projects conducted by signatories of all sizes, specialisms and levels of development”.

The PRI, or Principles for Responsible Investment, is a body of investors, supported by the United Nations, which works to create a more sustainable global financial system.

The engagement was spearheaded by Rathbones’ stewardship director Matt Crossman and Archie Pearson, ESG & stewardship analyst - voting lead, and Kazuki Shaw, ESG and stewardship analyst.

The suffering that modern slavery inflicts cannot be ignored. It also has a significant economic impact globally. Modern slavery is estimated to be a $150 billion trade that involves approximately 50 million people in some form of servitude, including forced labour; the sale and trafficking of people; forced and servile marriage and the exploitation of children. 

The 2022 initiative, ‘Votes Against Slavery: Engaging with FTSE 350 companies failing to comply with section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015’, includes 122 asset managers, pension funds and institutional investors with assets under management totalling £9.6 trillion. It targeted FTSE 350 companies that had failed to comply with Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The Act strengthens the ability of the state to tackle this terrible problem. Section 54 requires all companies above a certain size operating in the UK to report in detail on how they find and eliminate modern slavery within their supply chains. But despite this requirement, there is currently no legal redress in law for companies that fail to comply.

Rathbones’ rationale for launching the Votes Against Slavery campaign through the PRI Collaboration Platform was to address this gap in the law, so that pressure could be brought to bear on laggard companies via direct action from investors.

Letters were sent to the boards of targeted non-complying companies in the first instance. Investors involved in the engagement then indicated their willingness to abstain from voting on the approval of companies’ annual reports and accounts, should no action be taken.

For the 2022 campaign, 38 out of 44 targeted companies are now compliant with Section 54 of the Act.

As a result of previous engagements, 59 out of 61 companies targeted in 2021 became compliant, with the two remaining target companies becoming so in January 2022, while 20 out of 22 FTSE 100 companies contacted in 2020 had become compliant by the end of that year.

Matt Crossman, Head of Stewardship, Rathbones, said: “We are honoured and humbled to receive this award in recognition of a great deal of incredible work involved in this important project. We are especially thankful for the role played by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, and for the support of all PRI members who joined the coalition in 2022 and in previous years.”

Archie Pearson, ESG and voting analyst – voting lead, Rathbones, said: “We are only scratching the surface of the pervasive problem of forced labour. It is our hope that the success of Votes Against Slavery can drive a step-change in company attitudes to human rights due diligence and supply chain reporting. Investors are now stepping up to play their role; we expect companies to go further and faster in their fight against slavery.”