Switzerland's largest public pension funds blacklist Bolloré

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Gotham City | 12 September 2023 [FR]

Loose translation by GRAIN from the original

Switzerland's largest public pension funds blacklist Bolloré

The Swiss association of the largest public pension funds, which manage investments of CHF 100 billion, has decided to exclude shares in the French group Bolloré SE. The exclusion is justified by “potential human rights violations in Liberia, Cambodia and Sierra Leone”.
The measure is exceptional in a country as liberal as Switzerland: the country's largest pension funds have decided to exclude the French company Bolloré SE from their “investment universe”, on the basis of ESG criteria.
The decision was taken by the Swiss Association for Responsible Investment (ASIR), which sets the sustainable investment guidelines for Switzerland's largest pension funds. Its members include the pension funds of federal civil servants (CHF 39 billion under management), employees of the Canton of Zurich (CHF 36 billion) and the compulsory Swiss retirement fund, the AVS (CHF 37 billion).
The decision, which is formally an exclusion “recommendation”, requires ASIR members to refrain from investing in Bolloré SE shares listed on the Paris stock exchange.
“Shareholder dialogue”
Questioned by Gotham City, a spokesperson explained that the association had initiated a “shareholder dialogue” with the French group “following potential human rights violations in Liberia, Cambodia and Sierra Leone through its subsidiary Socfin”.
“Since the company did not respond constructively to our attempts at dialogue, we have decided to recommend exclusion to our members”, continued the ASIR representative.
The logistics group is facing accusations of abuse and illegal exploitation of natural resources in several countries. In 2021, Bolloré SE signed a public interest judicial agreement (CJIP) and paid €12 million to put an end to a French investigation into corruption in Togo.
This is the first time that a French company has been added to the ASIR exclusion list. This list mainly targets Indian or Chinese companies active in the manufacture of weapons or suspected of participating in banned nuclear weapons programmes.

The Bolloré group was added to this list in June 2023 in the “conduct-related exclusion” category.
It remains to be seen whether the managers of ASIR member pension funds will apply the ESG criteria recommended by their own supervisory body.
According to the latest figures available, the reserve fund of the compulsory AVS pension fund had invested CHF 1.6 million in Bolloré shares as at 30 June 2023. The Publica fund for federal civil servants had a more modest amount of CHF 170,000 at 31 December 2022.

“Complex process”
When contacted, the Publica fund assured us that the withdrawal of this investment is in progress. “At the end of August 2023, we still held two Bolloré positions worth around CHF 30,000,” says its spokesperson. “ASIR's recommendation for exclusion came on 21 June 2023. As our complex exclusion process takes place every year in May, it was too late to exclude Bolloré. We will exclude Bolloré from our portfolio at the end of May 2024.”
The situation seems more delicate for Compenswiss, the public body responsible for
managing the AVS reserve fund. When questioned by Gotham City, it stated that “ASIR's exclusion recommendations are subject to an internal process at the end of which the Board of Directors' Investment Committee ultimately decides whether or not to exclude or reinstate the securities.”
“This process takes place twice a year, and any new exclusions or reinstatements are implemented at the time of the index rebalancing on 1 December and 1 June respectively. The case of Bolloré SE will be presented shortly, and if the exclusion is confirmed, the stock will be sold on 30 November.”
The possible liquidation of the shares held by Compenswiss to the tune of CHF 1.6 million, if it were to take place all at once, could have an influence on the share price. This amount is almost 20 times greater than the average volume of Bolloré shares traded each day on the Paris stock exchange. The share price has risen by almost 50% since 2021.
Bolloré SE's Investor Relations Director, Xavier Le Roy, and Financial Communications Director, Emmanuel Fossorier, did not respond to our questions.

Republished with the permission of Gotham City
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