ShareAction’s work is diverse and she groups topics into three areas:
pushing for change in investee companies,
tracking progress and
encouraging individuals to hold their funds to account.
The first involves forming coalitions to tackle responsible investment issues. This includes ShareAction’s Workforce Disclosure Initiative, which presses large groups to provide quality data on supply chains and check to see that board members have oversight of the workforce.
The WDI is supported by more than 120 investors with a total of $13tn in assets. The backers include Amundi, Legal & General Investment Management and Schroders.
The second area looks at the effectiveness of money managers in pressing for responsible investment.
ShareAction publishes reports that rank the progress of pension funds, asset managers and insurance companies.
This often involves holding feet to the fire. One report last year, for example, analyzed voting and accused some fund managers of being too cosy with managements.
Does the dual role of working closely with asset managers one day and pricking their conscience the next cause friction?“
It’s never been a problem,” Ms Howarth says briskly, adding that such reports drive productive conversations.
She says being independent of the industry is critical. ShareAction is funded by charitable trusts and foundations including the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Friends Provident Foundation. “This has given us an incredible ability to speak truth to power,” she says.Individuals, some of whom have retired from the world of finance, donate privately to the group. When asked if such contributions may be an effort to ease consciences, she is diplomatic: “I don’t tend to grill them intensively on motivations. Clearly people that have done well in finance are in a position to give.”