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Pensions and Capital Stewardship Project
Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School

The Pensions and Capital Stewardship Project was established to educate and inform workers, scholars, researchers, and practitioners on issues of retirement security, including employment-based retirement plans, and of pension fund governance, management, investment, and related matters.

The Future of Retirement

Controversies over the future of Social Security, challenges to public and private sector defined benefit plans, and the rise of defined contribution and other individual-account based schemes are evidence of serious and pressing concerns about the ability of households to sustain themselves through the transition to retirement and beyond. The problems are exacerbated by the shift from full-time to temporary, part-term, and other such arrangements. Issues about the adequacy of income are exacerbated by ones relating to the cost of health benefits and the expense of care and support, especially long term care during retirement. For these reasons, the Pensions and Capital Stewardship Project focuses its work not only on challenges to retirement security for those who already enjoy some measure of it through existing schemes, but also to ways in which it can be extended to and enhanced for all households in America.

Pension Plans: Institutions, Systems, and Practices for Investment

Pension stewardship and the choices made by those responsible for overseeing trillions of dollars in retirement plan assets are of tremendous significance for active and retired plan participants’ ability to enjoy sufficient retirement income. These choices also have profound implications for internal corporate stakeholders, including workers, shareowners, and management, as well as the larger community that is affected by employment trends, economic development and growth, the environment, worker and human rights, and social services. So the Project’s work on pension plans focuses on institutions, systems, and practices of pension fund investment that encourage capital markets and corporate policies to work more effectively for workers and the health and well-being of the community at large.

The Project is unique in that it has gained the interest of and financial support from diverse sources including unions, pension fund investment managers, and consultants as well as foundations. In all of its work, the Project has drawn upon international experience with similar issues. The Project has established relationships with scholars, union leaders, trustees, and others who are active in these matters across the world. The Project collaborated with the European Trade Union Institute and Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD to convene at Capital Matters in Europe conference, which took place in Brussels in 2009. In 2010 a conference and forum – modeled on the Project’s annual conference – on “Superannuation: The Past, Present and Future” and “Capital Stewardship – Managing Labour’s Capital” was held at the University of Sydney. The Project’s Director was the keynote speaker and panelist at the Second Annual Managing Labour’s Capital in Australia Conference “Superannuation and the Social Purpose: Nation Building, Governance & Politics” in 2011.   

In 2012, the Project co-sponsored with the U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, a roundtable discussion with investors on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and in 2013, a follow-on workshop on “Promoting Labor and Human Rights Through Investment” involving leading pension fund and other institutional investors. 

Over the period of 2004 through 2014 the project convened thirteen annual conferences on a broad range of topics and whose participants included pension fund trustees, union officials and staff, scholars and researchers, policy makers, and diverse practitioners.  In 2015 the Project collaborated with the University Paris Dauphine in organizing its 13th International Workshop on Pensions, Insurance and Savings in Paris. (The previous year the University Paris Dauphine collaborated in the Project’s 12th annual conference at Harvard.)

The Project has organized conferences speaking to a range of issues including the future of public sector pension funds (with the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems), pension fund investment in infrastructure (in conjunction with the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department), pension fund investment in private equity for market- based returns and labor friendly outcomes, investment decisions and labor and human rights and other workplace factors, and on collaboration among labor, pension, SRI, and other shareholder activists.

From 2007 through 2013 in collaboration with the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems, the Project offered a Program for Advanced Trustee Studies (PATS) for experienced public sector trustees.

Recent, Current, and Future Work

The Project has published numerous papers ranging from incorporating workplace/labor and human rights factors in investment decisions, pension fund investment in infrastructure, labor and private equity, worker voice in the governance and management of pension fund assets, financial markets reform, labor friendly pension fund investments, the merits of automatic enrollment in retirement plans, fiduciary duty in the United States and ot her countries, a comparison of certain aspects of the United States and Brazilian retirement systems.   

Its initiative on work on incorporating workplace issues in investment decisions included a benchmarking study for the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, on the labor and human rights supply chain practices of the ASX 200 companies and a comparison with those of the largest 2500 global corporations. ACSI drew on this study to engage ASX companies on those practices. A group on UN PRI signatories engaged a group of companies world-wide using the results of the Project’s previous benchmarking work. The Project prepared a report on its collaboration with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), FLA member companies, and major institutional investors to develop key performance indicators for companies’ management labor and human rights risks in their supply chains

The Project continues its research on a number of topics.  In progress are studies of fiduciary duty in the context of defined contribution plans, benchmarking of corporate human capital-related policies and practices, a case study of a range of aspects of a major toll road concession and their import for pension fund investors, and an extension of work on the meaning and relevance in financial and other terms of what is referred to as Islamic finance for pension funds and others.  A workshop with pension fund and other investors on the preliminary results of the work on human capital-related policies and practices will be held in late March of 2017.

Project Director: Larry W. Beeferman. E-mail: lwb@law.harvard.edu  Tel.: 617-495-9265
Web-site: http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/lwp/LWPpensions_about.html

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