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ESG: the filter that lets everything through

Deliveroo riders gig economy from Alamy 31Mar21
By Jon Hay
31 Mar 2021

Deliveroo and its shareholders raised £1.5bn this week. The IPO was a dog, priced at the bottom of its range and falling 20% on its debut. But it’s hard to feel sympathy for the investors.

All the world knew, at least a week before the book closed, that Deliveroo workers were treated like tools, paid sometimes as little as £2 an hour. That would have been unacceptable in 1987, when GlobalCapital was born.

Credit to Aviva, Hargreaves Lansdown, Rathbones, L&G and the others that refused to buy the IPO — and said so publicly.

But many of the other big household name investors bought in. Somehow, Deliveroo passed their ESG checks. It must be amazing on environment and governance.

And how often do investors take a stand like that in the capital markets? Is nothing bad ever done by all the other companies and governments?

Also this week, Korea National Oil Corp raised $700m of bonds. Bank of America, Citi, Crédit Agricole, HSBC, JP Morgan and Standard Chartered placed them. KNOC produces oil in Canada’s tar sands. Puzzlingly, several of the leads have policies that appear to exclude oil sands.

So have 50 big investors. We don’t know if they were among the 60-plus that bought KNOC’s bond. But it is fairly likely some of those 60 are concerned about climate change.

Wouldn’t it have been better for their whole portfolios to have sent KNOC a public message, by not buying, that it needs to get on with transitioning to a post-fossil world?

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, it was on MTV in 1987.

Additional reporting by Sam Kerr

By Jon Hay
31 Mar 2021