The annual meetings of the Swiss and International Ethos Engagement Pools took place this Thursday in Bern to review the dialogue activities carried out in 2021 and to define the priority areas for next year.

The annual sessions of the shareholder dialogue programs of Ethos – the Ethos Engagement Pool (EEP) Switzerland and the Ethos Engagement Pool International – were held this Thursday, both physically in Bern as well as by video conference. The members of the two pools were presented with the dialogue activities carried out by Ethos during this year 2021 at Swiss and international level.

As every year, a representative of a Swiss-listed company was invited to present his perception of shareholder dialogue. This year, Mr. Christian Petit, CEO of Romande Energie, presented the ESG strategy of his company, with the ambition of making the French-speaking part of Switzerland the first carbon-free region of the country while exiting nuclear. Mr. Petit explained why it is important for companies to maintain dialogue with all stakeholders, including shareholders, when developing and implementing such a strategy.

Charles Radclyffe, CEO of the British company EthicsGrade, specialised in the rating of companies in terms of digital responsibility, then presented the first results of an exclusive study carried out in partnership with Ethos on the practices of the 48 Swiss companies included in the SMI Expanded index. This study, which followed the decision in 2020 by the members of the EEP Switzerland to include the digital issue among the themes of dialogue with companies, looked at digital responsibility and more particularly at the practices of companies in seven areas: digital governance, transparency, data protection, artificial intelligence, sensitive activities, social and environmental impact. While the study will be published in the coming weeks, the first results show a clear lack of transparency from the companies in terms of digital responsibility.

Biodiversity as a topic in its own right

The members of EEP Switzerland also validated the engagement themes for 2022, that is, the subjects that will be systematically addressed in dialogue activities with the 150 largest listed companies in Switzerland. These topics include climate change (strategy, transparency, objectives), the principles of good governance (composition of the Board of Directors, remuneration, business ethics), working conditions and respect for human rights (including within supply chains), social and environmental reporting as well as digital responsibility. It was also decided to renew the study with EthicsGrade to measure the evolution of practices and to emphasize certain points during dialogue activities, such as the need for companies to adopt a code of digital responsibility or to reduce the environmental footprint of their IT equipment.

Finally, the members of EEP International also validated on Thursday the topics of dialogue for 2022. Three areas remain priorities: climate change, human rights and labor rights, good governance. The members of the EEP International have also decided to open a dialogue with controversial international companies over potential violations of international standards. Ethos also plans to emphasize the digital responsibility of international companies as well as the necessary protection of biodiversity. It will thus be a question of pleading with the companies targeted by dialogue campaigns in favor of the protection of the oceans, the limitation of deforestation, the reduction of atmospheric pollution, the transition from industrial agriculture to regenerative agriculture or the promotion of circular economy models.

At the end of October, the EEP Switzerland had 153 members – the vast majority being Swiss pension funds – representing CHF 295 billion under management. The EEP International had 77 members representing CHF 217 billion under management.