The annual meetings of the Ethos Engagement Pools Switzerland and International took place this Thursday in Bern. Climate change, respect for human rights, governance, biodiversity: the members of the two programmes validated the priority ESG themes that will be discussed with Swiss and foreign companies next year.

The annual meetings of Ethos' two shareholder dialogue programmes - the Ethos Engagement Pool (EEP) Switzerland and the EEP International - were held on Thursday in Bern. The members of the two pools were able to validate the priority engagement themes that will be addressed in 2024 during the exchanges with Swiss and foreign companies.

For EEP Switzerland, the themes of climate change, governance, working conditions/respect for human rights (particularly in supply chains) and standardised environmental and social reporting were renewed. It was also decided to focus on promoting diversity and equal pay within companies. Finally, the theme of biodiversity and nature protection was introduced. All these topics will be discussed with the companies targeted by this engagement programme in 2024, i.e. the 150 largest listed companies in Switzerland (99% of the market capitalisation of the SPI index).

For the EEP International, the priority themes for 2024 remain unchanged: climate change, biodiversity, human rights and workers' rights, and governance. 

A campaign for credible "Net Zero" strategies

The annual meeting also provided an opportunity to present the main results of the dialogue conducted over the past year. For Switzerland, these included the study on corporate digital responsibility and the discussions held with the main greenhouse gas emitters to encourage them to reduce their emissions and thus respect their climate commitments. 

Internationally, some of the 2023 collective engagement initiatives were detailed, whether to promote the payment of a decent living wage in the United States or to combat plastic pollution. Launched in July 2023, the direct engagement campaign for "credible net zero strategies", which targets 10 carbon-intensive companies to encourage them to set emissions reduction targets validated by science and to align their investments with a +1.5°C scenario, was also presented.

As in previous years, a representative of a company listed in Switzerland was invited to share his or her views on share-holder dialogue with the members of the Ethos Engagement Pools. This year, Saskia Günther, Head of Sustainability at Swisscom, spoke about the main issues facing a major player in the telecommunications sector. She also took the opportunity to present "ESG4Boards", an initiative she has launched to ensure that sustainability expertise is represented on every board of directors in Switzerland.

Romain Poivet, Head of Climate and Energy Engagement at the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), then presented his organisation as well as various WBA initiatives in which Ethos and EEP International members are involved, from human rights to digital inclusion. He also presented the ACT methodology, which enables to assess companies' climate strategies.

A growing number of members

Engagement is now recognised as one of the pillars of active and responsible ownership and is an integral part of the principles contained in the "Swiss Stewardship Code", a set of guidelines designed to promote the active exercise of share-holder rights in Switzerland, published by AMAS and SSF in October. 

It is therefore not surprising that engagement strategies are being adopted by a growing number of institutional investors, starting with pension funds. The number of members of EEP Switzerland rose from 167 to 179 over the past year, with assets of around CHF 346 billion. EEP International reached 111 members, 11 more than a year ago, with assets of over CHF 280 billion.