ESG investors face a new threat in the age of coronavirus: "social washing."
Much like the greenwashing that exaggerates or misrepresents the environmental credentials of a project or a company, social washing can occur when the impact of an investment on labor rights or human rights are falsely overstated, said Arthur Krebbers, head of sustainable finance for corporates at Royal Bank of Scotland Group's NatWest Markets unit. And it's a growing risk as investors focus more attention on social issues.
In the past six weeks, NatWest has seen a significant increase in inquiries from clients on issues such as sick leave for workers and the rights of contract workers.
The coronavirus outbreak is awakening fund managers who consider environmental, social and governance issues when investing to blind spots in their analysis of companies. While fighting climate change has been the top priority for many ESG funds, the spreading pandemic is prompting investors to put a greater emphasis on the "S" of ESG and consider how companies treat employees during the pandemic.