The Board's approach to ESG
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues can present both opportunities and threats to long-term investment performance. These ethical and sustainability issues cannot be ignored, and your Board is committed to ensuring that we have appointed a manager that applies the highest standards of ESG practice. The Board believes effective engagement with management is, in most cases, the most effective way of driving meaningful change in the behaviour of investee company management. This is particularly true for the Manager given the extent of BlackRock’s shareholder engagement (BlackRock held 3,040 engagements with 2,020 companies based in 54 markets for the year to 30 June 2020). As well as the advantages afforded by its scale, the Board believes that BlackRock is well placed as Manager to fulfil these requirements due to the integration of ESG into its investment processes, the emphasis it places on sustainability, its collaborative approach in its investment stewardship activities and its position in the industry as one of the largest suppliers of sustainable investment products in the global market.
Sustainable investing: BlackRock's approach
Sustainability is BlackRock’s standard for investing, based on the investment conviction that integrating sustainability can help investors build more resilient portfolios and achieve better long-term, risk-adjusted returns. BlackRock believes that climate change is a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects and that it will have a significant and lasting impact on economic growth and prosperity. BlackRock believes that climate risk equates to investment risk and this will drive a profound reassessment of risk and asset values as investors seek to react to the impact of climate policy changes. This in turn is likely to drive a significant reallocation of capital away from traditional carbon intensive industries over the next decade. More information in respect of the actions taken by BlackRock in 2020 on making sustainability the new standard for investing can be found at www.blackrock.com/corporate/literature/publication/our-2020-sustainability-actions.pdf.
Environmental, Social and Governance: integration into BlackRock’s investment management process
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing is often conflated or used interchangeably with the term “sustainable investing.” BlackRock has identified sustainable investing as being the overall framework and ESG as a data toolkit for identifying and informing its solutions. BlackRock has defined ESG Integration as the practice of incorporating material ESG information and consideration of sustainability risks into investment decisions in order to enhance risk-adjusted returns. BlackRock recognises the relevance of material ESG information across all asset classes and styles of portfolio management. ESG information and sustainability risks are included as a consideration in investment research, portfolio construction, portfolio review, and investment stewardship processes. The Investment Manager considers ESG insights and data, including sustainability risks, within the total set of information in its research process and makes a determination as to the materiality of such information in its investment process. ESG insights are not the sole consideration when making investment decisions and the extent to which ESG insights are considered during investment decision making will also be determined by the characteristics or objectives of the Company. The Investment Manager’s evaluation of ESG data may be subjective and could change over time in light of emerging sustainability risks or changing market conditions. This approach is consistent with the Investment Manager’s regulatory duty to manage the Company in accordance with its investment objectives and policy and in the best interests of the Company’s investors. The Investment Manager’s Risk and Quantitative Analysis group will review portfolios to ensure that sustainability risks are considered regularly alongside traditional financial risks, that investment decisions are taken in light of relevant sustainability risks and that decisions exposing portfolios to sustainability risks are deliberate, and the risks diversified and scaled according to the investment objectives of the Company.
BlackRock’s approach to ESG integration is to broaden the total amount of information the Investment Manager considers with the aim of improving investment analysis and understanding the likely impact of sustainability risks on the Company’s investments. The Investment Manager assesses a variety of economic and financial indicators, which may include ESG data and insights, to make investment decisions appropriate for the Company’s objectives. This can include relevant third-party insights or data, internal research or engagement commentary and input from BlackRock Investment Stewardship.
Sustainability risks are identified at various steps of the investment process, where relevant, from research, allocation, selection, portfolio construction decisions, or management engagement, and are considered relative to the Company’s risk and return objectives. Assessment of these risks is done relative to their materiality (i.e. likeliness of impacting returns of the investment) and in tandem with other risk assessments (e.g. liquidity, valuation, etc.).
ESG integration does not change the Company’s investment objective or constrain the Investment Manager’s investable universe, and does not mean that an ESG investment strategy or exclusionary screens has been or will be adopted by the Company. Similarly, ESG integration does not determine the extent to which the Company may be impacted by sustainability risks.
BlackRock undertakes investment stewardship engagements and proxy voting with the goal of protecting and enhancing the long-term value of clients’ investments for relevant asset classes. In our experience, sustainable financial performance and value creation are enhanced by sound governance practices, including risk management oversight, board accountability, and compliance with regulations. We focus on board composition, effectiveness and accountability as a top priority. In our experience, high standards of corporate governance are the foundations of board leadership and oversight. We engage to better understand how boards assess their effectiveness and performance, as well as their position on director responsibilities and commitments, turnover and succession planning, crisis management and diversity. BlackRock takes a long-term perspective in its investment stewardship work informed by two key characteristics of our business: the majority of our investors are saving for long-term goals, so we presume they are long-term shareholders; and BlackRock offers strategies with varying investment horizons, which means BlackRock has long-term relationships with its investee companies. For further detail regarding BlackRock’s Investment Stewardship approach please refer to the website at https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/about-us/investment-stewardship#ourresponsibility.
Engagement with portfolio companies
The Board receive regular updates from the Investment Manager in respect of engagement activity undertaken in respect of portfolio companies. Over the year to 28 February 2021, 53 total company engagements were held with the management teams of 40 portfolio companies representing 40% of the portfolio by value at 28 February 2021. To put this into context, there were 123 companies in the BlackRock Smaller Companies Trust plc’s portfolio at 28 February 2021. In total 1,548 proposals were voted on at 128 shareholder meetings.