All the latest company, NGO and multilateral organisation research

Women in Europe’s boardrooms

The European commission is threatening radical measures to increase the number of women in boardrooms. Under proposed legislation, publicly listed companies in Europe will be fined if fewer than 40% of their non-exec board positions are occupied by women come 2020. Data for the EU’s 27 member states suggests women currently occupy around one seventh (14%) of board positions in large firms. If passed, the new regulations will target companies with more than 250 employees or with revenues of more than €50m. The news follows research from campaign group Boardwatch, which shows that only four of the 87 executives appointed by FTSE 100 companies in the past two years have been women. The report finds that 6.5% of executives in the UK’s largest firms are women (up from 5.5% in January 2011). That percentage creeps up to 16.7% for director-level posts.

Green biz attracts $1tn a year

If the researchers are to be believed, green businesses are coming through the global recession rosier than ever. Private investors are betting almost $1tn annually on eco-businesses and green tech, according to Ethical Markets Media. The organisation’s Green Transition Scoreboard suggests financiers have invested $3.6tn in the sector since July 2007.

The parameters of Ethical Markets Media’s research include green building, renewable energy, smart grid and clean tech. The biggest investors herald from Germany, Japan and the US, while China, Brazil and India lead the eco-investment list for emerging economies. A report by the Green Alliance, an environmental thinktank, substantiates the trends for the UK. Investment in low-carbon industries has grown at between 4% and 5% since the financial crisis of 2008. The sector was estimated to be worth £122bn in 2011 and accounts for 939,600 jobs, according to The Green Economy: A UK success story.

Ethical Media markets

Green Alliance

Sloppy supplier strategies

A benchmark study of global food companies finds that environmental supply chain policies are short on standards and weak on training. Eight of the world’s largest food producers were judged by analyst firm Verdantix not to be ready for future resource scarcity issues, among other failures. The list of laggards includes the likes of General Mills, Kellogg’s, Kraft and Nestlé. In contrast, four of their peers are reckoned to have invested in robust codes of conduct for suppliers: Danone, Heinz, PepsiCo and Unilever.

Gadgets gradually less conflictive

Intel leads the pack on eliminating conflict mineral from its supply chain, a report by campaign group Enough finds. The US consumer electronics firm is awarded a 60% score for “progress towards responsible sourcing”. Intel wins praise for being the first to publicly commit to producing a fully conflict-free product – a microprocessor due for release next year.

Only one other of the two-dozen companies assessed – HP – scores above 50%. Household brands IBM, Sony and Samsung feature among the poorest performers, coming joint 14th with 27%. In the bottom tier, in single figures, are Canon, Nikon, Sharp, HTC and Nintendo. Enough notes some significant progress since its last report in 2010. Key developments include business-led initiatives to clean up Congo’s mining sector and the practice of smelter audits. HP, Toshiba, Apple and Nokia, for instance, say they will require their suppliers to use only audited, conflict-free smelters – once enough are available, that is.  

Disaster risk atlas pinpoints Asia

Asia has pulled the short straw as far as natural disasters go, with Central America and the Caribbean close behind. A report into the vulnerability of supply chains by analysis firm Maplecroft places six Asian countries in its top-risk list. The Natural Hazards Risk Atlas singles out Bangladesh, the Philippines, Burma, India, Laos and Vietnam as having the most to lose in relative terms from flooding, earthquakes, tropical cyclones and other natural disasters.

The Dominican Republic, Honduras and Haiti round out the luckless list of nine countries with the greatest proportion of their economic output at risk from disasters. Reinsurer Munich Re calculates that natural disasters accounted for $380bn in economic losses last year. More than half (55%) of that figure derived from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In absolute terms, Japan, China, Taiwan and Mexico top Maplecroft’s list of economic exposure to natural disasters.

China’s urban-rural divide

At 690 million, the number of residents in China’s towns and cities is now 34 million higher than that of their rural counterparts. China’s urban population has more than doubled since 1982, the China City Development Report No 5 finds. The report – published under the marginally snazzier title The Urban Blue Book – is packed with eye-opening statistics. Take the pay gap, for instance. Urban residents earn 5.2 times more than the average country dweller, and enjoy disposable incomes more than three times higher. In general, the urban-rural income gap is racing ahead. Challenges and opportunities associated with rapid urbanisation will continue as a daily reality for foreign investors operating in China: the Chinese authorities are anticipating 500 million new urban residents over the next two decades.

China’s wind power boom

China has stormed ahead of the US and Germany to become the world’s largest wind power producer. In just six years, the Asia giant’s wind power generating capacity has leapt from 2GW to 52.6GW. And it doesn’t stop there. The Chinese government is hoping to nearly double that capacity to 100GW by 2015, and then double it again by 2020. 

China generated 70.6TWh (terawatt hours) of wind power in 2011, according to the State Grid Corporation of China. The government-owned power utility has established a sophisticated wind power forecast system, as well as a power dispatching and monitoring network covering 570 wind plants in 26 provinces. The news is in line with the Renewable Energy Attractiveness Index by accountancy firm Ernst & Young, which gives China the top spot during the third quarter of 2012.



Organisation snapshots

Transparency low for India

Transparency on corporate responsibility in India remains the preserve of only a handful of large companies, with most small businesses silent on the subject, a new report finds. Only 80 Indian companies currently issue regular sustainability reports. Of these, three-quarters adhere to the Global Report Initiative’s (GRI) benchmark Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. The findings appear in a study entitled Sustainability Reporting – Practices and Trends in India 2012, jointly published by GRI, the German development agency GIZ, and India’s Thought Arbitrage Research Institute. The report comes as the Securities and Exchange Board of India puts pressure on India’s largest 100 listed companies to report on their sustainability activities. The Indian parliament is also getting in on the act, suggesting that a clause should be added to the new Indian Companies Bill that would make it mandatory for large firms to spend 2% of their net profit on corporate responsibility initiatives.

Genie is out, and mobile

Mobile phone subscriptions now number about six billion. Users are slightly lower (as some people own more than one phone), but three-quarters of the world’s population is reckoned to have access to a mobile. That’s more than have access to clean water or a bank account, according to the World Bank’s annual Information and Communications for Development report. The report focuses in particular on the so-called “app economy” and the benefits that smartphone applications are bringing in areas such as health, agriculture and financial services.

Food waste worries

About one third of food is lost in production or transport-related inefficiencies or is wasted by consumers, the Stockholm International Water Institute maintains. In a further skewing of the global food chain, 1.5 billion people are estimated to over-eat, while about 900 million suffer malnourishment. The claims were made at World Water Week in Stockholm in August. Among other challenges facing delegates at the conference is how to ensure water supplies to cope with the 70% jump in food demand that is expected by 2050.

Company insights

Marriott: job creation

Hotel chain Marriott International has helped place more than 13,500 young disabled people into mainstream employment in the US over the past two decades, the company reveals in its second annual sustainability report. The jobs were found with about 3,500 employers thanks to the intervention of the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities. The foundation was set up in 1991 to provide young disabled people with job training and life skills. It operates in nine US cities. Marriott is involved in other youth employment initiatives, such as the Youth Career Initiative, SOS Children’s Villages and The Prince’s Trust.

FedEx: aircraft emissions

US freight company FedEx has reduced its aircraft emissions intensity by nearly 14% since 2005, according to its 2012 global citizenship report. As a result, the company, which earned $43bn in revenue in its latest full year, is increasing the reduction target for its aircraft-related emissions to 30% by 2020. The target previously stood at 20%.

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