Shareholder activism in Belgium: boon or curse for sustainable value creation?

A teaser for the conference on 9 June 2022

Shareholder activism used to be rare in Belgium. According to two studies, there were only 9 hedge fund activist engagements in Belgium between 2000 and 2010, and 7 between 2010 and 2018. This is much lower than the number of activist campaigns in the US, even in comparison to the total number of listed companies. However, shareholder activism is said to enter a “golden age” in Europe, with more corporations than ever at risk of activism. A second important trend is the rise of “ESG activism”, where the tools of shareholder activism are used to pursue “ESG” (environmental, social and governance) objectives. Such ESG activism can be pursued because the activist believes that it could contribute to long-term shareholder value, but also from a non-profit perspective. An example of the latter is the “one share ESG activism” campaign against Solvay by the hedge fund Bluebell, which has urged Solvay to stop the discharge into the sea of waste from a soda ash production plant in Italy.

Shareholder activism in Belgium, and especially the recent trend of ESG activism, has not received much attention in Belgian legal scholarship, however. To fill this gap, we (the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB) and the Jean-Pierre Blumberg Chair at the University of Antwerp) have decided to organize a one-day conference on 9 June 2022 to explore the present and future of activism in Belgium. 

Below, I give a small teaser of my introductory presentation.

Continue reading “Shareholder activism in Belgium: boon or curse for sustainable value creation?”

Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence – voorstel Commissie gepubliceerd

Vandaag heeft de Europese Commissie haar langverwachte voorstel inzake Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence gepubliceerd. Met dat voorstel wil de Europese Commissie ondernemingen verplichten het risico op schendingen van mensenrechten en milieuschade in hun waardeketen preventief op te sporen. 

Aan grote ondernemingen of kleinere ondernemingen (met meer dan 250 werknemers) actief in bepaalde risico-sectoren wordt een due diligence verplichting opgelegd. In het bijzonder wordt gewezen op art. 25 van het voorstel, dat betrekking heeft op de zorgvuldigheidsplicht van bestuurders:

‘1. Member States shall ensure that, when fulfilling their duty to act in the best interest of the company, directors of companies referred to in Article 2(1) take into account the consequences of their decisions for sustainability matters, including, where applicable, human rights, climate change and environmental consequences, including in the short,
medium and long term.

2. Member States shall ensure that their laws, regulations and administrative provisions providing for a breach of directors’ duties apply also to the provisions of this Article.’

Dit voorstel zal in de komende maanden het voorwerp van onderhandelingen uitmaken van Europese onderhandelingen. Verwacht wordt dat deze onderhandelingen intens zullen zijn.

Sustainability is no longer in the eye of the beholder: an overview of the Taxonomy Regulation

Funds that took due account of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in their investment strategies generally outperformed their conventional counterparts during the Corona pandemic (FT, 3 April 2020). At the same time there is an omnipresent call to align the economic recovery in Europe with the ‘green transition’ (FT, 18 June 2020). In sharp contrast to this emphasis on the importance for investors to take ESG factors on board when making investment decisions stands the uncertainty about the requirements an investment must meet to be actually sustainable.

On 18 June 2020 the European Parliament decided to remedy the lack of clarity by adopting the Taxonomy Regulation[1] which defines an environmentally sustainable economic activity. More specifically, it sets out the broader framework within which the European Commission will have to come up with the technical criteria an economic activity must adhere to in order to be considered environmentally sustainable. This contribution will give an overview of the key changes brought by the Taxonomy Regulation.

The definition of what makes an economic activity sustainable will lie at the center of an emerging legal framework for sustainable finance. Creating  such a legal framework pioneered as a priority in the Action Plan on Building a Capital Markets Union of 2015 and was translated in more concrete policy in the Action Plan: Financing Sustainable Growth of 2018 based on a blueprint designed by the High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance. In particular the latter Action Plan’s goal to reorient capital flows towards sustainable investments justified the adoption of a detailed EU classification system – or taxonomy – to make it clear for investors which activities qualify as ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’.[2] Continue reading “Sustainability is no longer in the eye of the beholder: an overview of the Taxonomy Regulation”

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