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BlackRock’s Take on Sustainability in the Boardroom

Michelle Edkins is a Managing Director at BlackRock and Global Head of its Investment Stewardship team of 22 specialists based in five regions. Edkins, who spoke to Ethisphere’s Aarti Maharaj, is responsible for the team’s engagement and proxy voting activities in relation to the companies in which BlackRock invests on behalf of clients.  She also serves on the firm’s Human Capital and Government Relations Steering Committees. Check out the full interview below.

Based on your experience, why does good stewardship matter to investors?

Edkins: The primary reason is that many investors are trying to achieve long-term financial goals. Many factors that contribute to meeting these are addressed through dialogue. Increasingly, the issues on which shareholders are engaging companies are more complex and nuanced, and dialogue is an important part of mutual understanding. For many years, the focus was purely on proxy voting, which is an important accountability mechanism, but not always a clear signal of what investors want. Stewardship-focused engagement helps companies understand investors’ concerns and expectations.

Is there a way where sustainability could be used as a form of risk management?

Sustainability with companies can be misunderstood as a sideline rather than as a central business issue. Many organizations consider sustainability activities as philanthropy and CSR, putting the function in a bit of a silo. Yet sound business practices where companies are addressing all facets of the risk and opportunity in their business will lead to sustainable financial returns.

Can you share any best practices ideas around how to foster robust board-shareholder communication? The most important thing is

The most important thing is focus. When there is clarity of purpose, the right people will attend the meeting, each party will come prepared and it will be productive. Even if you agree to disagree on the issue under discussion, each party will understand why.

Click here to download and read the full interview in our Q4 issue.

Michelle Edkins is responsible for BlackRock’s engagement and proxy voting activities related to the companies in which BlackRock invests. Michelle is an active participant in the public corporate governance debate, and regularly speaks and writes about good stewardship for company performance and how a strong ethics and compliance program creates value for shareholders and contributes to the longevity of an organization.

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