CSR or ESG?

Insight

Published

06 July 2021

Wikipedia defines Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as follows:

“CSR is a type of international private business self-regulation that aims to contribute to societal goals of a philanthropic, activist, or charitable nature by engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically-oriented practices.”

And in 21st Century Britain most employers – regardless of size or sector – should now recognise this term, and indeed many will have their own CSR policy very much embedded within their corporate culture and objectives already.

Now in its simplest form CSR represents a corporate moral code that the employer plans to maintain, expects employees to follow, and should also be reflected within the employer’s supply chain too. 

This last point of the above CSR criteria is potentially important, yet it remains questionable as to how many employers fully investigate the ethical credentials of all their suppliers.  And that is almost certainly true of the Employee Benefits market also.

CSR or ESG?

Yet something similar is already very much a feature of the company-sponsored pension space. The subject of Environmental, Social and corporate Governance (ESG) has taken on a new importance for employers in recent months, and we wrote in detail on this important topic in May (please see this link).

Now the criteria dictating ESG investments are not necessarily the same as the corporate ethos that helps shape the employer’s own CSR policy.  But both are a very public statement that the employer is aiming to make the right decision and investments, whilst also seeking to avoid funding the wrong ones.  So it follows that a Venn diagram of each concept would surely overlap in many (perhaps even most) significant areas.

It’s therefore quite possible to accept that many employer pension schemes are already well down a path that will eventually been seen to be both fully ESG and CSR friendly.

Other benefits?

But what about the remainder of the employer-sponsored Employee Benefits package?

The CSR/ESG debate and focus has yet to really settle on benefits such as Private Medical Insurance, Group Income Protection, and Group Life Assurance policies, possibly because (unlike pension savings) there is not usually any investment content to the premium paid. 

Yet the providers of these insurances are still suppliers to the sponsoring employer, even if they are often not particularly high-profile ones.  So ultimately employers with a strong CSR stance may also be expected to look at these suppliers – and their CSR & ESG credentials – in much greater detail too. 

And that moment may have come a little closer recently after one of Europe’s largest asset managers excluded two insurers of UK Employee Benefits from its ESG investment portfolios for not meeting all of their ESG investment criteria.

What now?

So where does that leave those employers with a strong CSR ethos regarding Employee Benefits providers and selection?

At present the debate about what level of CSR and/or ESG compliance is required from insurers and providers is still at a very early stage, and indeed it’s quite possible that a provider removed from one ESG investment listing might still be included on others.  So there is still some way to go until uniformity in industry approach and reaction is agreed and standardised, and we will of course update you on this area in the future.

In the meantime employers concerned about this issue should speak to their usual Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing consultant who will be able to discuss these issues in more detail, and direct the employer accordingly.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.

(Published 06/07/21)

Steve Herbert

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

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