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Jan 23, 2020

Coalition calls for year of investor action on antimicrobial resistance

Campaign launched at World Economic Forum in Davos

A variety of organizations, including an investor network and the UK government’s health department, have called for investors to address the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR): superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. 

The coalition wants to see a year of action by investors to tackle AMR. 

Resistance to drugs occurs naturally but is accelerated by practices such as unnecessary prescription of antibiotics to humans and the mass medication of livestock.

AMR is a ‘major global threat of increasing concern to human and animal health,’ according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

While it is hard to measure the full impact, a UK government study in 2016 put the number of deaths due to AMR globally at 700,000 a year.

The campaign, launched this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, is backed by investor network FAIRR Initiative, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care, the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment and the Access to Medicine Foundation.

‘During this year-long initiative, investors will be encouraged to assess and integrate risks, opportunities and impacts through an ‘AMR lens’ – considering antimicrobial resistance when making decisions and engaging with investees,’ says the coalition in a statement.

FAIRR, which focuses on ESG risks in animal production, has campaigned on the topic of antibiotics since 2016. It currently uses an evaluation framework to benchmark the practices of 20 companies involved in the food and drink industries.

Of the 20 companies, 17 now have a publicly available policy on antibiotics use, compared with just one in 2016, according to FAIRR. 

‘Everyone at Davos knows about the climate emergency; left unchecked, antibiotic resistance will kill us way before climate change does,’ says Jeremy Coller, the founder of FAIRR who is also chief investment officer at Coller Capital, in a statement.

‘Our defenses against AMR are wearing thinner by the day, and the microbes are getting tougher. We need urgent global change to combat AMR – and that needs investors in the driving seat.’

The launch of the campaign comes as investors face pressure on a number of fronts to better address ESG issues through their investments.

European countries are currently rolling out the Shareholder Rights Directive II (SRD II), which calls for investors to incorporate non-financial issues into their evaluation of company performance and pay. 

‘The profound direction of travel is toward a more ESG-oriented asset management community,’ said Richard Davis, founder and managing director of RD:IR, in an interview with IR Magazine last year on the impact of SRD II. 

This year also sees the UK Stewardship Code 2020 come into effect. The beefed-up code encourages asset managers and owners to address ESG issues across all asset classes.