The ‘S’ of the Brazilian ESG will not evolve without dialogue with CSOs

The B3 (Stock Exchange in Brazil) revealed last year that it would have new rules for its Corporate Sustainability Index. The changes in the ranking stemmed from pressure from investors so that the companies evaluated became increasingly attentive to ‘ESG’ actions (Environmental, Social and Governance).

Following the announcement, B3 started to openly publish the scores of the 73 organizations participating in the index. Dimensions such as human capital; corporate governance and senior management; business model and innovation; social capital and environment were all disclaimed.

Among the top 10 companies, the dimension with the lowest average rating was human capital, which includes issues such as diversity and labour rights – followed by the social capital index, which covers the topics of private social investment and community relations. Both represent, not only, but essentially, the ‘S’ within ‘ESG’.

The findings reveal a weakness in materializing actions, measuring achievements, and an unclear commitment to social transformation. A study by BNP Paribas (ESG Global 2021) revealed that 51 per cent of investors surveyed considered the ‘S’ the most difficult to analyse and incorporate into investment strategies. Another analysis, carried out by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in partnership with Deutsche Bank, shows that only 14 per cent of the ‘social’ ratings compiled by the GRI are aimed at investors. In contrast, 97 per cent of environmental ratings and 80 per cent of governance ratings have investors as their primary audience.

The next step for Brazilian companies

Facing this scenario, what should Brazilian companies do to evolve on the social agenda in their ESG practices? The answer is not simple, nor is it unique. Among the options, there is a great opportunity for companies to rethink the way they dialogue with communities, and the role of grantmaking and strategic philanthropy, promoting social transformations aligned to the business.

As a trend, we see a raising involvement of CSOs in companies’ initiatives and, more than that, a transfer of knowledge from the social organizations to their investors, instead of the other way around. Projects are developed in collaboration, and direct investment is made on CSOs, which can increase their influence and capacity for execution and transformation alongside beneficiaries.

The pandemic showed that in the most difficult moments, problems are concentrated in the most vulnerable populations, whether due to the precariousness of the system or to the lack of work and income. At the same time, the experience made it clear that they were the ones most capable of finding the best solutions. Proofing points are the gigantic mobilizations conducted by community leaders during the emergency, such as those carried out by CUFA (Central Única de Favelas), which provided basic needs such as food and PPEs and promoted entrepreneurship in favelas across the country.

The connection between the ESG Agenda and philanthropy can no longer be invisible or ignored. A Census conducted by Gife in 2020 registered an increase of 11 percentage points in the number of social investors focused on ‘strengthening civil society’ in relation to the 2018 survey. Instead of creating new and promoting their own projects, companies should choose to strengthen grassroots organizations, which are more likely to act faster, more precisely and promote the changes we long to see.

Renato Rebelo was the Project Director at IDIS.