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Feb 15, 2023

Norges expands focus on social issues in company meetings

Engagement report says 66 percent of corporate meetings covered ESG last year

Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund cranked up its focus on human capital and other social issues in discussions with companies during 2022, according to a report from the investor that details its engagement practices.

Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), which manages the $1.2 tn oil fund, says it held 516 company meetings in 2022 where human capital was discussed, a big jump from 301 the previous year and just 133 in 2020.

Mug and meeting
Photo: Chris Montgomery

There has also been a steady rise in engagement around consumer interests, an area that covers how businesses interact with their customers, from marketing practices to the quality of goods and services. Last year, NBIM raised this topic in 179 company meetings, compared with 54 two years ago.

Overall, NBIM took part in 2,911 meetings with 1,307 companies during 2022, explains its Responsible investment report. The most popular topic of conversation was capital allocation, followed by climate change. Underlining the fund’s focus on ESG, sustainability topics came up in 66 percent of meetings.

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To support its engagement on human capital, NBIM released a new set of expectations for companies last August, covering topics from board-level oversight to setting up channels for whistleblowing. ‘How companies invest in people is becoming increasingly important for value creation and profitability,’ it said at the time.

Meanwhile, more details on consumer interests are forthcoming. In an update to its strategic plan in December, the investment giant said it planned to let the market know more about its views on the subject. How companies use artificial intelligence to interact with consumers is likely to be a focus area, given the huge interest in ChatGPT and other chatbots.

NBIM’s engagement report also discusses the backlash against ESG. In the foreword, CEO Nicolai Tangen describes the politicization of ESG as ‘worrying’.

‘Responsible companies know the environmental and social consequences of their operations, pursue opportunities and address risks,’ he said. ‘This is simply good business management.

‘For me, ESG is not politics – it is common sense. We integrate ESG considerations into our analyses in order to make better investment decisions. This is how we build wealth for future generations.’