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Issues for Boards 2021
We have summarised some of the key points below. Alternatively, please download the full publication for wider insight.
Significant changes in attitudes and approaches to environmental, social and governance
issues (ESG) were already on the horizon a year ago, but events in the last 12 months
have accelerated the pace of change. Although the global pandemic’s impact on the
economy is a major concern, it and other events of 2020 have illuminated and amplified
the need to tackle issues such as social injustice, inequality, racial bias, climate change
and the ever-growing role of technology and digitisation.
If 2020 was the year ESG became mainstream, this year will be about setting a strategy and getting to grips with data and disclosure. Companies are seeing the need to integrate ESG into the heart of their strategy, as they face demands for clear plans on transitioning to a zero emission economy and cleaner energy usage.
Following an intense campaign from activist fund manager Sir Chris Hohn, in 2020 the Spanish airport group Aena became the first major company in the world to agree to regular climate votes. Companies that may be the target of climate, or other ESG activism, are faced with a choice: whether to take a proactive approach to addressing concerns or to wait to react to proposals put forward by investors.
Covid-19 has been the ultimate workplace disrupter. Businesses should view this as an opportunity not an obstacle. Rather than expecting a return to normal, companies should begin actively preparing for the future workplace.
Reflecting the Covid landscape in executive pay
In the wake of the Covid pandemic, executive pay has come under a sharper spotlight, as employees have been furloughed or made redundant. Boards must be ready to explain and justify their decisions on executive pay to shareholders, investors, regulators, employees and the wider community.
Geopolitical tensions and the fear of ceding advantage in the fourth industrial revolution mean that more governments are seeking to intervene in corporate transactions to protect national interests. Businesses undertaking M&A will need to understand and navigate a climate of much increased regulatory scrutiny in the form of both strengthened foreign investment rules and a post Brexit change in the merger control landscape.
Multinational groups continue to be a target for litigation at parent level in relation to circumstances that have arisen at subsidiary level, typically overseas. The UK Supreme Court has recently opened the way for a hearing on environmental damage allegedly caused by an overseas subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell.
In an unexpected lockdown twist, millions of people became fixated on the inner workings of formal meetings. The recent viral video of the unintentionally hilarious power tussle at a Zoom meeting of Handforth Parish Council highlights many practical points for running a successful meeting or stakeholder event – and things to avoid at all costs.
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