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Apr 14, 2023

The week in GRC: LGIM to back climate proposals at banks and Hong Kong plans mandatory climate disclosures by companies

This week’s governance, compliance and risk-management stories from around the web

CNBC reported that Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla signed on to an industry letter in support of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authority to regulate drugs, after a federal judge in Texas suspended the agency’s approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. Bourla was among more than 200 pharmaceutical company executives who signed the letter after US Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s controversial ruling.

The executives wrote that the decision ‘ignores decades of scientific evidence and legal precedent.’ They also raised concerns that the ruling will ‘set a precedent’ for diminishing the FDA’s authority over drug approvals, which would create uncertainty for the entire industry.

‘If courts can overturn drug approvals without regard for science or evidence, or for the complexity required to fully vet the safety and efficacy of new drugs, any medicine is at risk for the same outcome as mifepristone,’ the executives wrote. They added that regulatory uncertainty will likely reduce incentives for investing in new drugs.

The FDA declined to comment on the letter, directing CNBC to a previous agency statement.

The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reported that EY dropped its plan to split its auditing and consulting wings. Global leaders of the firm said they were ‘stopping work on the project’ because the heads of EY’s US arm, the biggest member of the global network, had decided not to move forward, according to a note sent to the firm’s partners. EY’s global leaders said in the note that they remained committed to the principle of splitting the auditing and consulting businesses but it isn’t clear how a split could be redesigned in a way that reaches consensus.

‘The fact that this deal, as constructed, now seems unlikely to go ahead, doesn’t mean the thinking that underpinned it was wrong,’ said Fiona Czerniawska, CEO of research firm Source. ‘Clients are still looking for different delivery models.’

– The Financial Stability Board (FSB) said rules it introduced after the global financial crisis had prevented contagion from the latest banking sector turmoil, but it would remain vigilant as the outlook has become more challenging, Reuters reported. After the 2007-2009 crisis, the FSB developed rules on how to better capitalize banks and quickly ‘resolve’ or wind them down if need be, without public aid.

The willingness of regulators to apply the rules was tested last month as US authorities handled the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and the Swiss authorities addressed UBS’ takeover of Credit Suisse.

The latest episode originated in the financial sector and therefore ‘put to the test’ the G20’s financial reforms, noted FSB chair Klaas Knot. He said ‘rapid and effective’ actions by authorities in Switzerland, the US and other jurisdictions maintained global financial stability.

CNBC reported that former attorney general Bill Barr will help to lead a new group formed by a business lobbying organization that aims to be an alternative to the US Chamber of Commerce. Barr will chair an advisory board for a project called the Center for Legal Action.

The group is part of the American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce, the business lobbying group that launched last year, which bills itself as a business lobbying group that fights ‘against outdated regulations, future-killing tax policies and the corporate cronyism and backroom DC deal-making that close down our economic future’, according to a memo pitch to potential members. The new group aims to challenge regulations introduced by the Biden administration. Barr said the newly formed project would engage on the SEC’s proposed climate-risk disclosure rule.

– Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), the UK’s largest asset manager, said it would back a number of climate-focused shareholder resolutions at the AGMs of eight leading US and Canadian banks, according to Reuters. LGIM said it would back proposals at the companies seeking a time-bound policy to phase out lending and underwriting for fossil fuel exploration and development. The firm said it was going public as part of an escalation strategy after backing several climate votes last year.

‘We continue to consider that decarbonization of the banking sector and its clients is key to ensuring that the goals of the Paris Agreement are met,’ said LGIM in a statement. ‘Accordingly, we believe our support of many of these resolutions – depending always on the specifics of their drafting language and advisory or binding nature – is warranted.’

Reuters reported that the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) said it had set up a task force on ChatGPT, a potentially important first step toward a common policy on setting privacy rules on artificial intelligence (AI). The EDPB’s initiative follows a unilateral move by the Italian government to curb ChatGPT – a stance that Germany’s commissioner for data protection said could be followed in Europe’s biggest economy. Experts, the US government and several other European governments have expressed concern about the rapid pace of adoption of ChatGPT and similar AI products.

The EDPB is an independent body that oversees data protection rules in the European Union, and it is composed of national data protection watchdogs.

Reuters reported that the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong (HKEX) plans to make it mandatory for its listed companies to make climate-related disclosures. The exchange has launched a three-month consultation over the plan, proposed under its ESG framework. HKEX said requiring all listed companies to make climate-related disclosures in their ESG reports marks an upgrade from the existing ‘comply or explain’ regime.

Issuers at present are allowed to skip such requirements if they can explain why they can’t comply with environmental norms. The exchange said its new disclosure regime is aligned with the International Sustainability Standards Board.

– ISS and Glass Lewis recommended that BP shareholders oppose a climate resolution filed by activist group Follow This at the company’s AGM later this month, according to Reuters. Follow This said in December that it had co-filed resolutions with six major institutional investors ahead of the AGMs of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell. Follow This wants the companies to commit to absolute carbon emissions cuts by 2030, in line with the Paris climate deal. That includes Scope 3 emissions.

‘The proposal would represent a change in strategy from the one developed by the board, which implies a potential constraint on the board to develop and implement strategy,’ said ISS in a note to investors. Glass Lewis, meanwhile, said in a note that the Follow This resolution ‘fails to acknowledge the significant uncertainty and complexity in managing and measuring Scope 3 emissions.’

Follow This founder Mark van Baal said in reaction: ‘ISS and Glass Lewis advise what they believe is best for the company rather than what is best for the global economy. In the case of BP, ISS and [Glass Lewis] appear to believe that increasing overall emissions by 2030 is beneficial to the company.’

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