ESG Viewpoint – Living wage in the retail sector

Discover how we expanded our engagement with retailers in 2020 beyond the Living Wage to include broader social themes during the pandemic.
February 2021
Tim Bonds

Tim Bonds

Associate, Responsible Investment
Tenisha Elliott

Tenisha Elliott

Senior Associate, Responsible Investment
Nina Roth

Nina Roth

Director, Responsible Investment
Let’s talk about risk

The value of investments and any income derived from them can go down as well as up and investors may not get back the original amount invested.

Views and opinions have been arrived at by BMO Global Asset Management and should not be considered to be a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any companies that may be mentioned.

The information, opinions, estimates or forecasts contained in this document were obtained from sources reasonably believed to be reliable and are subject to change at any time.

2020 was a catastrophic year for many retailers as Covid-19 restrictions tightened in a bid to temper the spread of the virus. However, the knock-on effects felt by the retail sector were not uniform. Essential shops remained open, with food retailers even recording a boost in revenue, while the rest of the high-street felt the brunt of an economic downturn as non-essential shops were forced to shut.

Despite differing economic fortunes, one common theme rose to the fore across all sectors during 2020: labour standards and particularly the duty of care/responsibility that every company has to its workforce. We have long believed that strong labour standards can positively impact corporate performance: enhanced employee satisfaction and increased productivity, better reputation and increased customer satisfaction all point to a healthier bottom line. Early evidence suggests that companies that better managed their human resources before and during the pandemic outperformed those that did not.

So how exactly did companies operate during the pandemic – did they uphold strong labour standards and care for their workforces?

We broadened our previous engagement with companies on the Living Wage to include broader social themes, including:

  • Occupational health and safety, including the provision of protective gear
  • Paid sick leave considerations, and its continuation beyond the pandemic
  • Support of staff who are impacted by childcare closures
  • Pay premiums for customer-facing roles
  • The provision of mental health support
  • Discussions around managing redundancies mindfully

While we saw many instances of positive change, such as temporary wage increases and one-time bonuses, we continue to encourage companies to make these changes permanent.

During the year ahead, as well as engaging on wages and improved disclosure thereof, we will look to expand into topics such as freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Interested in learning more?

Let’s talk about risk

The value of investments and any income derived from them can go down as well as up and investors may not get back the original amount invested.

Views and opinions have been arrived at by BMO Global Asset Management and should not be considered to be a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any companies that may be mentioned.

The information, opinions, estimates or forecasts contained in this document were obtained from sources reasonably believed to be reliable and are subject to change at any time.

Use our handy glossary to look up any technical terms you are unfamiliar with.

Download the full viewpoint to discover details of our engagement with ten focus companies, collaborative initiatives we joined and our thoughts for 2021.

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