Sustainable investing by excluding countries

12 May 2022 | 4 min. readingtime

Our investment policy focuses on sustainable and responsible investment. Not just businesses, but also countries must meet our criteria. To that end we pursue a strict exclusion policy, which is reviewed once a year. In short, a sustainable investment policy as a means to contribute to creating a better world on behalf of our clients.

Three criteria

The country exclusion policy is based on the a.s.r. SRI policy (Socially Responsible Investment policy). It consists of the following three criteria:

  1. Political rights and civil liberties
  2. Corruption
  3. Environmental performance

If a country fails on any of these criteria, it is excluded altogether, regardless of its performance in other areas. The scores are determined by NGOs and are always based on the previous year. Their methodologies are assessed by means of an audit before they are included in our SRI policy. The list ‘Excluded countries’ specifies which countries have been excluded.

Political rights and civil liberties

The way a country deals with political rights and civil liberties is one of the SRI criteria. The organisation Freedom House assesses the situation and classifies countries as ‘Free’, ‘Partly Free’ or ‘Not Free’. Countries classified as ‘Not Free’ are excluded by a.s.r., all in all 46 countries worldwide at present.

Corruption

The level of corruption also determines whether or not we invest in a country. We base our investment decision on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which rates countries on a scale from 100 (very limited level of corruption) to 0 (highly corrupt). For our exclusion policy, we apply a threshold of at least 30. Based on this Corruption Perception Index, we have now excluded 64 countries.

Environmental performance

The third SRI criterion is environmental performance. A country is excluded if it does not sufficiently deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We use the average of four of the 17 SDGs: SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy, SDG 13 Climate Action, SDG 14 Life Below Water and SDG 15 Life on Land. A country is excluded if its average score on these goals is less than 50.

Mexico: slightly up in the Corruption Perception Index

One example of a country excluded for reasons of corruption is Mexico. In 2019 its score was 29, but now its score has gone up to 31. This can be ascribed to the 2020 election results. The current President López Obrador was elected in that year. One of his election promises was to crack down on corruption. Also, he indicated that he may put an investigation into three former presidents to a referendum next year. This could be the beginning of change in a country long plagued by an ‘impunity pact’. In concrete terms nothing much has changed yet, but there are signs that corruption is indeed being tackled. This is why Mexico has moved slightly up in the Corruption Perception Index.

Russia: still excluded

Another country excluded by us is Russia, because of its lack of democratic freedoms. A prime example of this lack of liberties is the case of Navalny. A popular opposition leader, he has been poisoned and arrested and recently had his prison sentence extended yet again in proceedings that are globally considered a show trial. In addition, his political party has been labelled a terrorist organisation. It will therefore come as no surprise that a country where things like this happen is classified as ‘Not Free’. On top of that, there are of course the recent developments in Ukraine, which make it likely that Russia will also score very poorly in the Corruption Perception Index.

Short-term politics versus long-term focus

With countries – even more so than with companies – it is extremely complicated to make an impact. Companies can be influenced through engagement and can be more easily swayed by a withdrawal of investments, for example. Investment in countries involves dealing with their political leaders or parties, whose usually short-term vision clashes with the long-term focus needed to bring about changes in terms of freedom, sustainability and corruption.

Sustainable investment, an important step

Nevertheless, we will continue our efforts to try and influence countries by means of our investment policy. Our exceptional transparency on this point inspires other institutions and businesses to also take a stand. Together we are more effective. For instance when we joined forces in an investor collective to call the Brazilian government to account on issues of deforestation and soy production. Initiating change is an exasperatingly slow, step-by-step process. But our sustainable investment policy is an important step nonetheless.

Read more about sustainable investment.

  • Sustainability

Author

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Raquel Criado Larrea

Head of Sustainable Investments

Raquel is responsible for SRI policy and implementation at ASR Nederland.

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