South Africa is globally renowned for the development of ground-breaking corporate governance and responsible investing initiatives, like the King Report on Corporate GovernanceTM. However, there is a huge disconnect between asset owners and those who manage funds on their behalf, and the impacts on our people and environment of the companies they invest in. Many of the companies listed on the JSE act in ways which exacerbate inequality in South Africa, and threaten our ability to transition to a low-carbon future. There is an urgent need for a renewed and robust approach to driving good corporate citizenship.
It is against this background that Just Share* is being launched. Just Share is a new non-profit shareholder activism and responsible investment organisation that will promote the use of investor power for a fairer South Africa. Just Share is the culmination of an extensive civil society consultative process. It will initially be housed at the Centre for Environmental Rights in Cape Town, with a view to becoming independent by 2020.
Just Share’s vision is of an investment system in which shareholder power is effectively deployed to ensure that companies are continuously challenged to be good corporate citizens, contributing to a just and equal society and a healthy environment.
Given the urgent need to ensure that South Africa makes rapid and significant changes to transition to a low-carbon economy – to enable us to meet our commitments under the Paris Agreement and avoid the worst consequences of catastrophic climate change – Just Share’s pilot campaign will focus on coal. The South African private sector continues to support and finance energy planning which relies irrationally and disproportionately on coal for decades into the future: this must be challenged by investors.
When asked to comment on Just Share, Theo Botha, South Africa’s best-known activist shareholder, said: “South Africa needs many more engaged and active stakeholders to hold listed companies to account. I am very excited about the launch of Just Share: the time is right for an organisation like this in South Africa, and I hope that it will usher in a new era of courageous and urgently needed shareholder activism.”
The move will also see South Africa aligning with the growing global trend of civil society-inspired shareholder activism, evident in the extensive work of organisations such as ShareAction (UK), Market Forces (Australia) and CERES (USA). Just Share will work collaboratively with social and environmental justice organisations, investors, businesses and government to help connect the lived realities of ordinary South Africans with the decisions of the investor community, to ensure a fairer South Africa.
* The official Just Share website will launch in early 2018.