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Aegon maps out CSR path

April 2003

One of the world’s largest insurance companies is setting out a long-term plan to improve its corporate social responsibility.

Netherlands-based Aegon, which is among the top ten insurance companies by market capitalization, will talk to stakeholders this year about what they want from the company, and plans to substantially improve its social and environmental reporting next year.

It has created a corporate responsibility department headed by Paul van de Geijn, a member of the board, and senior managers have been appointed as corporate responsibility heads in each of the group’s country units.

Aegon operates mainly in North America, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, as well as in a number of other countries. It employs 25,000 people worldwide and has a turnover of €1.5billion ($1.6bn, £1bn).

Charles Henderson, vice-president of corporate responsibility, said the priority this year will be to make staff aware of a new code of conduct and to gather data on the group’s social and environmental impacts.

‘Our code of conduct has gone live, and that was the first stage in our new approach,’ he told EP. ‘It’s now a question of looking at what we should do, where to do it and what we should report on. That will involve stakeholder dialogue this year.

‘It’s particularly important that we compile the right data so we can do something with it next year. Our reporting on social and environmental issues has been fairly limited to date, but in 2004 we will have something more substantial to offer.’

Henderson said Aegon had yet to decide whether to enlarge the small section in its annual report on CSR issues, or to produce a stand-alone document.

He said the main trigger for the new push on corporate social responsibility ‘was an internal perception in our European operations that we were lagging behind our competitors in this area.’

Aegon plans to shift responsibility for CSR away from the centre, making managers in seven countries where it operates responsible for developing and implementing policy at national level. ‘Instead of imposing a group directive we will provide a framework of guiding principles and empower each country unit to identify and focus on issues relevant to their locale,’ said Henderson. ‘Corporate responsibility policy-setting will primarily be the responsibility of the country units.’

The CSR programme so far has been led by the Corporate Responsibility Inner Circle, a working group drawn from Aegon’s major business units in Canada, Hungary, Netherlands, Spain, UK and the United States. The group was largely responsible for writing the code of conduct and will continue to advise the board on CSR issues.

Aegon Asset Management, the UK fund management wing of Aegon, has decided to close two funds run on socially responsible investment lines that it had managed partly on a positive screening basis.

The asset manager said it intended to return to a ‘deep green’ approach, focusing on portfolios that exclude companies with poor social and environmental performance. ‘The socially responsible investment market is pretty crowded right now, and the negative screening approach is what our investors know us best for,’ it said.




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