How Responsible Investing Empowers Communities

What say do communities have when a corporation decides to launch a project that will have an impact on their environment, health, lifestyle or local economy?

Rosalie Vendette | Desjardins Group

Industrial and commercial development can often affect local residents. Where Desjardins is a shareholder in the corporation that is leading the project, we strive to ensure that the community has a say in the matter.

From mining to transportation, there are numerous projects underway each year in Canada and abroad, run by the companies whose stock we own in our investment portfolios. More often than not, these projects affect nearby populations and, more and more, companies need the community's support to operate.

In fact, a lack of social license can significantly delay a corporation from obtaining the necessary permits and approvals to proceed with a development project; or worse, kill it after millions or billions have already been invested. 

What say do communities have when a corporation decides to launch a project that will have an impact on their environment, health, lifestyle or local economy? The process by which corporations obtain that approval, or address opposition, matters to us. So, it is natural that we ask companies about it.

A good example of this is when, in 2012, we asked Enbridge publicly about how they planned to manage the social risks related to project Northern Gateway Pipeline. We did so at the Annual General Meeting, because we felt that their responses to us in private were not satisfactory. See the resolution we proposed on the right.  
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Many years later, the outcry from the local Indigenous community played a role in the Federal Government rejecting the project in fall, 2016: "It has become clear that this project is not in the best interest of the local affected communities, including Indigenous Peoples," Trudeau said, describing the local area as the "jewel" of B.C.*  

Consent from Indigenous Communities
We don't just ask corporations about this. We also invest our efforts into promoting best practices to companies and sectors. For example, in cases where Indigenous populations may be impacted, we encourage companies to adhere to the concept of Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) inspired by article 10 of the UN Declaration of Indigenous peoples

We have worked with the Boreal Leadership Council to produce documents explaining FPIC and provided a model that we hope companies will use to develop strong policies and mechanisms to obtain community support and maintain it throughout the life of the project.

We also speak out about it. This year, I was on a panel at the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum Convention to talk about what we do, FPIC amongst the topic presented.

By directly engaging with companies in our investment portfolios and exercising our rights as shareholders to influence their social, environmental and governance practices, we are able to fulfill our mission to improve the economic and social well-being of people and communities.

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