Pension funds must do more to prevent forced labour. This is the conclusion of a survey among the fifty largest Dutch pension funds. The Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO) publishes the study ‘Dutch Pension Funds and Forced Labour – Speak up’ on 10 December 2018, the 70th Human Rights Day. The study has been produced in collaboration with FNV.
Only one pension fund of the forty respondents reports publicly about forced labour. Pension funds do report on labour rights, but not explicitly on forced labour. Hester Holtland, project manager at the VBDO: “The VBDO encourages the funds to report explicitly and thus send a signal to companies and society that forced labour in investment portfolios is not acceptable. Pension funds should play a more visible role in addressing this serious violation of human rights.”
Human Rights Day
Holtland continues: “Pension funds are not reporting on forced labour; this is a very worrying message on the 70th International Human Rights Day.” On December 10, it is exactly the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights: the members of the UN General Assembly approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 10 December 1948 in New York.
Slavery is not something from the past. A staggering 25 million people are expected to work under force today. Forced labour is often hidden away in increasingly complex supply chains. As large asset owners and shareholders, pension funds can have a significant effect on the policies and activities of companies regarding forced labour.
Forced labour in investment policy
Twenty-six of the responding funds have included forced labour into their responsible investment policy. The most used instrument is exclusion. A majority of the responding pension funds (58%) indicates that forced labour is specifically used as one of the criteria that leads to the exclusion of companies. Exclusion is closely followed by engagement; 55% of the pension funds state that forced labour is included in engagement criteria. Through engagement, the pension fund dialogues with the companies it invests in, in order to address business strategy and ESG (Environmental, Social, Governmental) issues. Half of the funds (47%) include forced labour in their risk assessment, as part of ESG integration. Almost half (45%) of the pension funds use their voting rights to influence the policy of companies with regard to forced labour. Holtland: “These numbers show that significant progress is needed in this area.”
The main obstacle faced by pension funds is a lack of data and transparency in the chains. According to the VBDO, cooperation with one another is crucial to eliminate forced labour. Holtland: “Pension funds should encourage companies not to limit their due diligence to the first-line suppliers. They can also stimulate innovations such as real-time stakeholder engagement. An example is the Ulula app, which allows employees worldwide to pass complaints anonymously.” Funds could also use the knowledge of trade unions and NGOs to assess the local conditions of workers.