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Global Emerging Markets: ESG Materiality, Q3 2020

Welcome to the Global Emerging Markets’ ESG Materiality commentary – a quarterly publication that demonstrates our engagement activity with portfolio companies and showcases holdings that are creating positive impact aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, we explore an environmental, social and governance (ESG) theme and its implications for the asset class.

Engaging on digital human rights

We have exposure to a Chinese internet giant that enables digital inclusion through platforms that have changed the lives of over a billion users, transforming the way they interact, transact, travel and relax. Its messaging app connects people with an ever-expanding range of services while the company’s cloud technology fast-tracks productivity gains for businesses. The group is also investing heavily in artificial intelligence (AI), especially in the healthcare sector where the firm has developed a medical imaging application.

A number of ESG themes – from digital rights to climate change – have become relevant for this industry. Local authorities have recently started to focus on anti-trust issues. Geopolitics has become part of the picture too since President Donald Trump announced a ban on any transaction that is related to the company’s messaging app1 – sending an unfriendly message to Beijing.

 Via our stewardship experts in EOS, we have been engaging with the Chinese internet giant on digital human rights for years. In April this year, for example we discussed our concerns with the company about data privacy in its health code mini system in China. Specifically, we wanted assurance that health code user data is treated in compliance with applicable data privacy laws and best practice expectations. The company told us that the health code does not track location data without users’ explicit consent; it is based on a user's self-declaration of personal health information collected by government online health surveys.

Creating positive impact

We have exposure to a leading contract research organisation that performs Phase I-IV clinical trials, bioequivalent tests, registration filings, data management and statistical analysis, thereby offering pharma clients a one-stop solution for the Chinese market. Aligned to SDG 3, the company aims to accelerate medical product development with cost-efficiency and quality.

In 2015, the Chinese National Medical Products Administration implemented significant reforms, triggering an acceleration in the country’s medical drug research programmes. These reforms should act as tailwinds for the company, stoking further growth in the country’s clinical drug trials. In addition, global consulting firm Frost & Sullivan estimates that the research and development outsourcing trend is set to ramp up globally as drug manufacturers seek further cost efficiencies.

In focus: Human rights risks in the social media sector

Social media platforms have become ubiquitous, connecting us with friends and colleagues. The online networks have also carved out a significant role in disseminating news and views.

The United Nations recognises that public access to information and the protection of fundamental freedoms – in accordance with national legislation and international agreements – is instrumental in achieving sustainable development across the world. However, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), press freedom is increasingly challenged in the digital age.

In our quarterly report, we ask: should social media platforms control the content they disseminate? We also assess social media scene in emerging markets and explain why we, as investors and stewards, must raise international standards through advocacy and corporate disclosure through engagement.

To dive into the details, read the full report here.

Risk profile
  • Nothing in this document constitutes a solicitation or offer to any person to buy or sell any related securities or financial instruments.
  • Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results and targets are not guaranteed.
  1. 1For more information, see https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-addressing-threat-posed-wechat/.

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