On October 14, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) published a proposed regulation entitled “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights” (the “Proposed Rule”).  The Proposed Rule is the latest in a series of DOL guidance and regulations regarding a plan fiduciary’s consideration of environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors when making investment decisions for ERISA plans and the exercise of shareholder rights by such plans. The Proposed Rule follows prior regulations issued by the DOL under President Trump in 2020 regarding both ESG (the “2020 ESG Rule”) and proxy voting (the “2020 Proxy Rule,” together with the 2020 ESG Rule, the “2020 Rules”). The 2020 Rules themselves followed a series of sub-regulatory guidance by the DOL, which issued guidance on these topics under each of the Clinton[1], Bush[2], Obama[3] and Trump[4] administrations. While the bedrock principals under the guidance largely remained unchanged, the gloss and tenor of the guidance has shifted, depending upon the political views of the White House’s then-current occupant.

Continue Reading US Regulator Shifts Toward Favorable View on ESG Investing and the Exercise of Shareholder Rights in New Regulation

‘With the most significant change since the GRI Standards launched in 2016, the revised Universal Standards set a new global benchmark for corporate transparency. Fully addressing gaps between the available disclosure frameworks and intergovernmental expectations for responsible business, including human rights reporting, they will enable more effective and comprehensive reporting than ever before.’

Judy Kuszewski, Chair of GRI’s Independent Global Sustainability Standard’s Board

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) have revised their Universal Standards to emphasize and require more transparency in reporting on human rights impacts and due diligence obligations. This is a significant update because all entities reporting in accordance with the GRI standards are required to report on the Universal Standards (now GRI 1, 2 and 3). Previously, human rights-related disclosures were addressed largely in the GRI 400 series on Social topics, on which an organization is required to report only if it determines those topics to be material. Under the revised Universal Standards, all companies reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards will need to be able to identify (and disclose) how they identify severe risks to the economy, environment and people—this now clearly includes impacts on human rights connected with their business, and what they are doing to address these risks.

This development is part of a multi-phase project to update the GRI’s human rights-related disclosures, and the emphasis on “double materiality” brings the GRI standards in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and emerging mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation (see our Previous Blogs here and here).  For companies that already adhere to the UNGPs, these revisions may not present a significant new challenge in practice; however, for companies that have not to date sought to explicitly adhere to the UNGPs, this will present a new challenge in terms of meeting the revised GRI standards.


Continue Reading Business and Human Rights: Revised GRI Standards Integrate UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and Foreshadow Emerging Mandatory Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence Legislation

On September 15, 2021, the Central Bank of Brazil (BCB) released its first “Report on Social, Environmental and Climate-related Risks and Opportunities”. Based on the recommendations by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD), and the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), the publication highlights the potential impacts of social, environmental, and climate-related issues on Brazil’s economy and financial stability, and details the initiatives aimed at assessing, disclosing and managing ESG risks and opportunities within the BCB structure and in the financial system.

Continue Reading Brazil’s Central Bank and National Monetary Council Publish New Rules on Disclosure and Management of Social, Environmental and Climate-related Risks

Much has been going on over a hot summer of ESG (incidentally, July is reported to have been the world’s hottest month ever recorded). In this Blog Post, we help make sense of the busy season and highlight important developments across Europe and Asia, including:

  • The EU’s “Fit for 55” Package and Taxonomy
  • Carbon Disclosures in the UK
  • The Launch of the TNFD
  • Increasing ESG Litigation
  • Climate-related Regulation in Asia


Continue Reading The Summer of ESG: Developments from Europe and Asia

On 15 July 2021, Hong Kong’s Green and Sustainable Finance Cross-Agency Steering Group (Steering Group), representing a critical mass of Hong Kong’s financial regulatory bodies, announced next steps to advance green and sustainable finance in the Special Administrative Region (the Announcement). According to the Announcement, the regulators will prioritize:

  • climate-related disclosures;
  • carbon market opportunities; and
  • a new cross-sector platform to help the financial industry manage climate change-related risks and opportunities.

In this Blog Post, we highlight key aspects of the Announcement and points for market participants to consider as Hong Kong moves toward a more sustainable future.


Continue Reading Mandatory Climate Disclosures, Carbon Markets Attract Regulatory Attention in Hong Kong

As part of national plans to cut carbon emissions, the UK Cabinet Office released a Procurement Policy Note on 5 June 2021 (“PPN 06/21“, or the “PPN“): this mandates the assessment of Carbon Reduction Plans by UK central government departments as part of the procurement of large public contracts.

Key aspects of the Public Procurement Notice

  • UK Procurement Policy Note 06/21 requires a bidder for large public contracts (exceeding £5 million per annum) to produce a Carbon Reduction Plan (CRP) setting out how it intends to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by the year 2050 (compared to 1990 levels).
  • This relates to regulated contracts for goods, services and/or works awarded by UK central government departments, their executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies.
  • This will apply to procurement processes commenced on or after 30 September 2021 – bidders should take steps now to prepare for compliance, which might require new data collection and reporting procedures.


Continue Reading ESG and UK Public Procurement: Carbon Reduction Requirements

In our blog post on 13 May 2021, we discussed the consultation papers published by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (“CSRC”) on proposed ESG-related amendments to the disclosure rules applicable to listed companies. On 28 June 2021, the CSRC published the final set of amendments (“Final Amendments”) to the disclosure rules applicable to annual reports and half-year reports, respectively, together with relevant explanations to the amendments (“Explanations”).

Continue Reading China Publishes Environmental and Social Disclosure Rules for Listed Companies

Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) has issued new guidelines on enhanced disclosures required for Hong Kong-authorised funds incorporating environmental, social and governance factors as their key investment focus (ESG funds).

The new guidance, announced on 29 June 2021 via a circular (the Circular), will take effect from 1 January 2022, supplanting existing guidelines last updated in April 2019.


Continue Reading New Hong Kong Guidelines on Enhanced Disclosures for ESG Funds in 2022