(Bloomberg) -- Investors are generally ignoring the significant risks posed by poor human health, a glaring omission in the era of Covid-19.
Much like climate change, health poses a systemic risk that investors “cannot diversify away from,” according to a new report from ShareAction, a U.K. nonprofit focused on responsible investing. Through interviews with 30 asset managers, the group found that most aren’t investing in a way that protects human health.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made clear the link between health and economic performance. It has also shown that investors who profess to consider environmental, social and governance issues when allocating their capital have many blind spots. In pure financial terms, there’s a lot at stake. The U.K. loses around 300 billion pounds ($406 billion) in economic output each year due to the poor health of its citizens.
“The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the impact our collective health can have on economic prosperity,” said Jessica Attard, head of health at ShareAction. “Good health is an economic asset that investors can no longer afford to ignore.”
Through the course of its interviews, ShareAction found that most asset managers “do not currently prioritize health in their stewardship approach” and don’t exclude “health-harmful sectors,” such as tobacco and alcohol manufacturers, companies that rely on gig workers or those contributing to air pollution, from the majority of their funds. Even ethical funds that may have exclusions “do not tend to proactively invest in companies with a positive impact on health.”
ShareAction is calling on all investors to review their responsible investment policies “to ensure health is a key lens through which they assess company sustainability,” said Attard.
The charity has developed a new framework to help investors gauge the impact of their portfolios on health. Designed to mirror the scope 1, 2 and 3 system for measuring companies’ climate impacts, the framework covers the health of workers, looking at things such as workplace health practices in sectors such as logistics and construction. It also looks at consumers of the goods a company sells, with industries like food and tobacco in focus, as well as communities in which issues such as air quality and anti-microbial resistance will be considered.
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