It is rare during judging sessions run by IJGlobal that the independent panel calls for an additional award to be granted, but that’s what happened with Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners being recognised for its work on human rights.
The judges – who were given the final say on all categories and allocation of awards – insisted that Quinbrook be singled out as “highly commended” for its submission having impressed the judges for the role it has played on this highly-emotive human rights issue.
During the virtual judging session, the panel celebrated Quinbrook’s “comprehensive areas of action / expertise, with special compliments to the work performed in human rights”.
They singled Quinbrook out as “a stellar example of how to take human rights and modern slavery seriously” alongside a “strong focus on practical ESG issues in infra procurement” with one adding “their human rights work stands out as being above and beyond the efforts seen elsewhere”.
One judge adds: “Modern slavery issues tacked well and the Gemini project as an example of where they used their policy to screen the supply chain.”
Quinbrook recognises the issue of modern slavery in the renewable energy supply chain, describing it in the submission as “endemic” – particularly related to labour and raw materials used in solar modules and batteries.
In its submission, the fund manager writes: “Quinbrook has dedicated significant time and effort into formulating policies and procedures to address these issues within our supply chain and guide organisations towards international best practices.
“Beyond policy and process, Quinbrook has sought to work directly with global suppliers to assess risks and engage upfront on key areas of issue or concern, supporting suppliers who have implemented change or are closely aligned with Quinbrook's policies and equally seeking to drive change, by working with suppliers who need to adjust their practices and who are working to implement direct transparency, provenance and control over their input materials – in some instances, right back to the silicon stages.
“We believe in holding open, direct and – at times – uncomfortable conversations as a way of not brushing over the issue nor covering it with policy, but instead as a means to open genuine communication and seek to implement change.”
Over the course of the judging period, Quinbrook adopted a more detailed Human Rights Policy and Supplier Code of Conduct, that is now being implemented across all portfolio companies. This is supported by contractual requirements – such as factory audits, termination rights and requirement of evidence of provenance of inputs.
“We implemented training across the portfolio companies and investment teams, as well as key ESG team members undertaking external modern slavery training and working with specialists and supply chain auditors to assess and improve on our processes,” the company states.
In its daily operations, Quinbrook – and its portfolio companies – seek to enter into contractual arrangements with suppliers that can comply with and promote the principles contained in its Human Rights Policy and Supplier Code of Conduct.
To accomplish this, it has instilled policies and procedures to undertake thorough due diligence into operations and supply chains, to identify and remediate actual or potential adverse human rights impacts, which it may inadvertently cause, contribute or be directly linked to.
In procurement processes, Quinbrook will communicate to potential key suppliers that it has a zero-tolerance policy with regards to slavery and will work with suppliers to assist them in their understanding of human rights and adoption of best practices to ensure respect for human rights.
Quinbrook states: “Through implementation of these policies and procedures, we aim to strengthen our commitment to: the highest ethical standards and behaviour; seek to identify and understand our connection to human rights risk; adopt strategies and processes to identify, mitigate and address human rights risks in our investment portfolios; proactively engage with our portfolio companies on issues related to human rights; take the risk of human rights impacts into account when making investment decisions, including divestment; and seek to use our leverage to influence decision-making in our investments to take into account human rights considerations.”
It believes implementation of this initiative is an holistic effort that requires cooperation and integration from Quinbrook's senior management, its investment team, portfolio company management teams, and portfolio company procurement professionals.
To date, all parties have materially integrated application of these policies into procurement and investment decisions. While more repetition is needed to further ingrain best practices, positive results have already been achieved.
A good example of this strategy, Quinbrook's ESG team worked with the procurement team for the Gemini project – the largest solar and battery project in the US – to screen and assess all equipment suppliers for commitments and track record in human rights.
The team also used external reports available, such as Sheffield Hallan University's report In Broad Daylight, and Quinbrook guided and worked with investee procurement and contracting teams to demand increased levels of disclosure from suppliers, factory and provenance audit controls, and driving direct change in supply chains to avoid suppliers or products using reported forced labour of Ugyhur Muslim minorities from Xinjiang, seeking alternatives to cobalt in lithium-ion batteries by potentially changing technology to lithium ferrous phosphate batteries, or to work with companies seeking alternative sources of cobalt.