Investors from across France came together in late March to discuss why and how they can advance respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The event, hosted by Amundi, the largest European asset manager, in their office in Paris, was organized by UNI Global Union and the French Sustainable Investment Forum (French SIF) and was attended by more than over two dozen investors – including many of Europe’s largest players.

The event’s organizers highlighted the recently released report “Shared Prosperity: The investor case for Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining,” which explains how value is created when workers exercise their labour rights. Key concepts in the study include implementing corporate-wide human rights due diligence, improving occupational health and safety, and making workplaces more diverse and inclusive. It also provides recommendations on how investors should integrate these considerations into their engagement and stewardship practices with investee companies.

To emphasize this point, an investor panel – with representatives from Amundi, Groupama AM, and OFI Invest Asset Management – spoke about concrete examples of where they acted upon freedom of association and collective bargaining in their stewardship, and what they have learned from these experiences.

The discussion made clear the financial and material case for investors to engage around workers’ rights, as it brings benefits, but it also illuminated the risks – financial, reputational, operational, regulatory and other legal risks – to not doing so. In particular, the discussion highlighted how investors are seeking to overcome identifying and influencing the companies with systemic labour rights risks prior to their elevation to material risks.

An employee from a California Amazon warehouse showed the importance of hearing from workers directly. The employee spoke of the severe health and safety risks, including from heat exposure and a culture of under-reporting, and the importance of workers organising to address these issues. Investors were encouraged to engage with unions to access this information, which goes beyond what investors receive from companies and company-backed social audits.

“As we have seen in the case of French companies in recent months, issues around working conditions are often exacerbated when trade unions are not present in all sites or geographical areas where the company is based. This entails not only a reputational risk for investors who are exposed to it but also a real financial risk,” said Marie Marchais, Responsible for Engagement, FIR.

“We are excited about the interest from investors and the growing momentum to do more on workers’ rights,” said Lisa Nathan, UNI’s Senior Investor Engagement Advisor. “We encourage any investors interested in learning more about this topic to get in touch.