The JUST Report: Is the ESG Backlash Stopping Companies From Being More Just?

(John Feingersh)

In the face of the backlash against ESG and stakeholder capitalism, have companies eased off in their actions to become more just? Our latest corporate engagement data suggests not

This year, 350 companies engaged with our corporate portal, which is the online platform we created to interact with companies during the ranking process and which is crucial to building credibility, transparency, and trust. This is the most ever, a 40% increase over last year and up from just 74 in 2017. The number of company comments our analysts processed hit 13,952 (almost double last year), with a significant portion providing new or updated datapoints. The total number of companies engaged by JUST now stands at 578, up 296% since 2017. 

When it comes to actual changes in company performance on the issues we track, we’re also seeing continued progress. For example:

  • At least 54 of the companies we rank (employing more than 6.5 million US workers) have lifted wages in the past two years 
  • 31% have now set Net Zero by 2050 or earlier targets, up from 17% a year ago
  • 380 disclose conducting pay equity analyses, up from 132 in 2018 
  • 528 have at least 30% women on their board, up from 138 in 2018 
  • 413 link executive pay to ESG performance, up from a mere 97 in 2018. 

I also note we now have 13 companies directly participating in our Worker Financial Wellness Initiative, several of which have implemented meaningful changes in the past few months. 

One final point: Our flagship JUST Index continues to beat its benchmark, and our latest research indicates that a basket of the most improved companies in the rankings outperformed the least improved by almost 7% in 2022 thru June 30, 2022.

The backlash may make companies more cautious about taking a stance publicly on hot button social issues, but they don’t seem (yet) to be easing up on their actual performance.  

Be well,

Martin Whittaker

This Week in Stakeholder Capitalism 

Chobani has withdrawn its IPO plans in light of recent stock market turmoil. 

Google’s cafeteria workers quietly unionized during the pandemic.

Hilton and Marriott hotels are adopting pay-on-demand services in order to compete for talent, enabling workers to be paid on the same day they worked, eliminating a two-week pay cycle. 

Starbucks has named its next CEO, Laxman Narasimhan. 

UPS is in contract negotiations with the Teamsters Union, which is preparing for a strike. 

What’s Happening at JUST

Investing in workers today requires creating truly JUST Jobs. But what is a JUST Job? This convening will set out to answer that question by exploring specific ways in which companies can close the gap toward all workers earning a living wage, mobilize around equity and mobility, and deliver on the DEI commitments that are crucial to evolving the modern workforce. Sign up to be a part of this conversation here.

Today Martin will join Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, at a Ford Foundation andWashington Post Live event today, September 9, at noon ET, on the Future of Work. They’ll discuss how businesses are listening to and engaging with their employees to help navigate this period of mass disruption. Register to watch live here. 

On September 22, Martin will be joining The Nest Summit during Climate Week NYC to discuss The State of Corporate Climate Commitment. Who is actually walking the walk? Register to attend this and many other conversations at the event here.

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The Forum

(Alastair Grant/Getty Images)

“All these anti-ESG crusaders position themselves as defenders of the free market. But they are attempting to use government to block private firms from acting in the best interests of their clients, including retired police officers, teachers and many others who depend upon public pensions. And in doing so, they are turning the most basic investment rules on their head.”

“The combined pinch of historic inflation and market fluctuations contributed to a rare drop in financial health for higher income households, while lower income earners experienced employment-related improvements like wage increases or new jobs. Even with those modest gains, lower income households are in a precarious position due to systemic financial barriers and wealth disparities.” 

“I just signed a landmark bill that will give fast food workers the voice they have long deserved – a say in shaping the workplace standards at their jobs.”

Must-Reads of the Week

Bloomberg writes about California’s new law requiring that companies post salary ranges on all of their jobs listings in a bid for more transparency. 

The New York Times DealBook highlights BlackRock’s pushback to recent anti-ESG criticism, firing off a letter to 19 state attorneys general rebuffing claims made about the company.

The Washington Post makes the case for why the apprenticeship model needs to be more widely adopted throughout the U.S. in the face of exorbitant college costs and a lack of skills in critical infrastructure jobs. 

The New York Times looks at the Fed’s proposed rule that would make more companies legally liable for labor law violations committed by their contractors or franchisees.

Fortune reports on Larry Fink’s latest statement that companies must bring workers back to the office in order to stem inflation, and how that fits into the ongoing debate about post-pandemic office life. 

Chart of the Week 

This chart comes from our deeper look at our 2022 data review period, showing that more companies than ever are engaging with our Rankings data collection. Learn more here.

Get to Know JUST 

Dan Ariely
JUST Capital Board Member
Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and a founding member of Duke’s Center for Advanced Hindsight. He’s authored several books, produced a documentary, and created a board game to bring his research findings to a non-academic audience and help more people discover how to use behavioral economics to enrich their own lives.    

​​​​​Dan recently shared his concerns about the SEC’s new executive compensation rule, which will require companies to disclose how CEO pay aligns with long-term financial performance, in Fortune. He writes that the SEC’s regulation could unintentionally harm company culture and, ultimately, detract from creating long-term value. “For executive salaries, I want something that would be similar to the way we think about judges: I want them not to worry about money and I want them to take the long-term view.” Read more on his thoughts here. ​​​​​​

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