AXA Investment Managers, Sycomore Asset Management and Trillium Asset Management are among 27 global investors representing $2,117bn in assets under management that are calling on technology companies to better assess the mental and wellbeing impacts of their products, or face votes against management or ESG score downgrades.
The coalition of investors are concerned about the effects new technologies can have on people’s mental health and wellbeing, saying screen overuse, in the early stages of human development, can lead to concentration and behavioural disorders, including depression and isolation. Research from the UK Royal Society for Public Health in 2017 found social media can contribute to increased stress and low self-esteem.
“We consider these to be an ESG risk for investors”, the coalition said in a joint statement on 29 June 2023.
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Marie Vallaeys, ESG analyst at Sycomore AM and co-chair of the coalition, added: “The potential negative impacts of technology on end user mental health and wellbeing have long been underestimated by companies.”
The group is now conducting a collaborative engagement with companies in the hardware, media, internet, gaming, software, edtech and the telecommunications space, with the lead investors of the initiative expected to deliver feedback on these engagements by the end of September this year.
These companies include Alphabet, Amazon, Netflix, Meta and Zoom, subject to group discussions.
“Whereas engagement actions on digital rights, facial recognition and AI ethics have already been initiated, we are proud to join forces to make companies in the tech sector understand that user wellbeing is a rising concern for active ESG investors,” Vallaeys added.
“We aim to lead concrete policies and measures.”
These measures include asking companies to:
- Define a policy and implement measures to mitigate risks of addiction and potential adversary effects on end consumer mental health and wellbeing.
- Establish a high-level commitment to keep children safe online in business codes, human rights policies or risk assessment frameworks; for example, setting up a child safety policy and dedicated website. Setting specific goals and disclosing the progress.
- High-level commitment should be supported by specific goals/targets (although not quantitative, given the topic). In addition, setting specific goals allows shareholders to monitor the improvements and progress made by the companies on this topic.
- Develop a mechanism to report on harmful online content, cooperating with authorities to report online abuse, and partnering with third parties on online safety.
- Governance, transparency and disclosure around content control for their products.
- Support educational initiatives for online safety and other initiatives related to technology, mental health and wellbeing.
“Initiating discussions is a first step, and we sincerely hope that companies will be open to a constructive dialogue,” said Théo Kotula, ESG analyst at AXA IM and co-chair of the coalition.
“We aim for a positive outcome collectively, but if the latter is unsatisfactory, each member may have to consider initiating their own escalation tactics, from downgrading the ESG score, to voting against management during AGMs or filing shareholder resolutions.”
The full list of signatories is:
Achmea Investment Management
Adrian Dominican Sisters, Portfolio Advisory Board
AXA Investment Managers
Bon Secours Mercy Health
Boston Common Asset Management
Congregation of St. Joseph
Dana Investment Advisors
Daughters of Charity, Province of St. Louise
Dorval Asset Management
EFG Asset Management
Ethos Fund/Engagement Pool International
Fondo Pensione per il Personale delle Aziende del
La Financière de L’Echiquier
La Française Asset Management
Mercy Investment Services,Inc.
National Employment Savings Trust (NEST)
Ofi Invest Asset Management
Providence St. Joseph Health
Stichting Pensioenfonds voor Huisartsen
Sycomore Asset Management
Trillium Asset Management U Ethical