A fund established by an employer to help and organize the investment of employees' retirementfunds contributed bythe employer andemployees. The pension fund isa common asset poolmeant tocreate stable growth over the long term, andprovide pensions for employees when they reach the end of their workingyears and commence retirement.
Pension funds are commonly run by some sort of financial third party for the company and its employees, although some larger corporations run their pension funds in-house. Pension funds control comparatively large amounts of resources and represent the largest institutional investor in many nations.
The chief mandate of pension funds is to create financial returns for its beneficiaries. Typically, trustees appointed by the employer or other plan sponsors bear the legal responsibility for controlling the assets of a pension fund.
However, trustees of pension funds often delegate the investment related decision-making to professional fund managers and an agreement between the trustees and the fund manager governs their relationship. This agreement usually makes fund managers successfully subject to the same prudential investment obligations as trustees. Moreover, fund managers often have a contractual obligation to provide service or advice that enable trustees to meet their fiduciary duties.
Thus any breach in fiduciary duties by pension fund trustees/managers is liable to make them compensate beneficiaries for the losses attributable to this breach of duty. This understanding of fiduciary duty has often limited pension funds from taking extra-financial criteria into account in the investment process.
A regulation to enable pension funds to lawfully take ESG (environment, social and corporate governance) factors into account if it has a material impact on corporate financial risks and returns can go a long way to dismiss the idea that inclusion of extra-financial criteria into investment process is a break of fiduciary duty. In fact, such a suggestion was put forward by the lawmakers as early as in 1993 in Canada where the Manitoba Law Reform Commission recommended that the province alter its legislation to permit trustees to consider non-financial criteria in their investment policies.
In 2005, Canada Pension Plan (a causal, earnings-related social insurance plan managed by the federal government) revised its investment policy to include ESG factors to the degree that they influence long-term risk and return.
Amusingly, the CPP Investment Board's “overriding” accountability persists to be “maximizing investment profits without undue risk”. But the fact that the CPP Investment Board has begun to recognize the materiality of ESG issues without any amendment to its legislative contract is noteworthy. Even a report by United Nations Environment Program in 2005 suggested that investment manager's fiduciary duties should not necessarily prevent or overly delay addition of ESG factors into the investment process.