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[Event Recap] [BASIC Event] Sustainable Development Goals & Socially Responsible Investing: Focus on Inequality with Carly Greenberg, Rob Wilson, and Sonia Kowal

Dylan Brix

Editor's Note: Special thank you to Dylan Brix for writing up this event summary. Follow Dylan on Twitter at @dylanbrix. 

On Thursday, October 22, 2015, the Boston Area Sustainable Investment Consortium held a seminar on Income Inequality & Poverty. The seminar was hosted at the offices of MFS Investment Management in Back Bay. The panelists included Carly Greenberg of Walden Asset Management, Rob Wilson of MFS Investment Management and Sonia Kowal of Zevin Asset Management.  

Wilson, ESG Analyst at MFS, started the seminar with an examination of the macroeconomic analysis of the increasing wealth disparity in developed markets. As he shared his research, Wilson focused on key inequality phenomena including growing low-leverage jobs, decreasing social mobility, and the increasing concentration of wealth. From a focus on the evidence of rising inequality, Wilson transitioned to an investigation of the drivers of inequality. He highlighted influential trends such as outsourcing, automation, and unions losing power. Finally, he framed the research in terms of the ramifications for asset managers. Wilson warned that as economic inequality grows in developed markets, the stability of the investment options for investors will be threatened. Risks will include debt bubbles, weaker democracies, and unpredictable policy changes. As Wilson illustrated, asset allocators will be challenged to adapt. 

Kowal presented on the inequalities perpetrated by the US prison system. She highlighted that incarceration leads to a virtually inescapable cycle of poverty. Kowal provided the audience with detailed examples of how a criminal record automatically eliminates candidates from consideration for the vast majority of jobs. She shared the shocking statistic that two-thirds of incarcerated people never work again. After setting up the problem, Kowal presented solutions. She provided the audience with a set of requests that investors can use to open dialogue with corporations regarding fair hiring practices. Kowal is campaigning companies to review their criminal background check policies, create good jobs in low income communities, and pay living wages.  

Greenberg’s  comments were centered on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She gave the audience a tutorial of the SDG Compass, which is a tool generated by the UN Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development. The SDG Compass guides companies toward realizing their ESG objectives.  Greenberg highlighted that among the issues addressed by the Sustainable Development Goals, poverty alleviation is a top challenge. Tying the Sustainable Development Goals back to the theme of the seminar, Greenberg discussed the role that access to credit plays in breaking the cycle of poverty. As she explained, populations that are systematically denied credit suffer an almost insurmountable disadvantage in accumulating wealth.  

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