Share Action

More companies embrace transparency as scrutiny of working conditions intensifies

A record 141 companies disclosed data on workforce policies and practices to the Workforce Disclosure Initiative in 2020.

Following a year in which working conditions came under greater scrutiny during the Covid-19 crisis, more listed companies than ever before participated in the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI).

A coalition of 52 investors with assets valued at $6.5 trillion supports the WDI, whose annual survey calls for listed companies to disclose information on key workforce-related topics including pay, contract types, diversity and supply chain transparency. Investor signatories include Nest, Aberdeen Standard Investments, HESTA, Ethos Foundation, MFS and Quantum Advisors.

During the worst months of the pandemic, societies realised the extent of their reliance on key workers. At the same time, expectations rose for how companies should look after their staff and suppliers. Greater transparency is a prerequisite for companies wanting to do right by their workers and for the public to have confidence in powerful corporate actors. The provision of comparable data on workforce topics is also vital for investors to conduct responsible stewardship activities.

Some previous disclosing companies did not report to WDI in 2020, with a number of firms having furloughed staff responsible for corporate reporting. Despite these challenges, a record 141 companies submitted data to the WDI, a net increase of 20% compared to 2019.

Multinational firms such as H&M, HSBC and Unilever reported to the survey for the fourth successive year. Major first-time responders included Nike, Vodafone, Legal & General, Santander and Fast Retailing. Even though the pandemic has hit some sectors harder than others, 2020 WDI responses increased across all sectors.

Responding companies have a combined market capitalisation of $7.9 trillion. Participants report having 12 million direct employees and some 1.4 million Tier 1 suppliers.

The WDI team will now analyse the disclosures and write up the 2020 findings report. The report will be launched at an online conference on 31 March 2021, which will also convene the first WDI awards ceremony, where companies demonstrating the greatest commitment to workforce transparency will be recognised

Rosie Mackenzie, Company Engagement Manager for the WDI, said:

“Covid-19 has shone a stark light on how companies look after their employees. The pandemic has demonstrated that many of the key workers we all rely on have little or no voice or visibility in the wider world. Against this backdrop, investors, employees and civil society are calling for a better understanding of how companies care for, protect and nurture their workers.

Most corporations speak the language of transparency, but these 141 WDI responders are showing leadership by walking the talk. We thank them for their commitment and we encourage those companies who have yet to take this critical step to join them soon. Those that fail to do so risk being left behind as investor expectations on transparency and accountability rise.”

Deborah Lee, Group Engagement Manager at Compass Group, said:

“Our people are behind everything we do. Never has that been more true than during this unprecedented, intensely challenging year. As one of Europe's biggest employers, we have found the WDI to be a useful framework to help us understand what investors want to know about our organisation. The disclosures allow us demonstrate progress as well as the areas that need more focus and improvement.”

Sophie Deleuze, Lead ESG Analyst – Engagement and Voting at Candriam, said:

The need for reliable, relevant and comparable data on companies’ direct and indirect workforces is greater than ever. The pandemic has accentuated this need, testing the management of human resources for direct employees, suppliers and subcontractors. As a responsible investor, Candriam needs WDI data to better understand the specifics and the associated challenges of every company in which we invest.”

Notes to editors:

For more information, please contact Conor Quinn, Media Communications Manager, Shareaction, at or +44 (0)7444 696 214

  • The WDI 2020 survey was open from September to November 2020. It was sent to 750 companies.
  • The full list of WDI investor signatories can be found here.
  • ShareAction is a research and campaigning organisation pushing the global investment system to take responsibility for its impacts on people and planet, and use its power to create a green, fair, and healthy society. We want a future where all finance powers social progress. For 15 years, ShareAction has driven responsibility into the heart of mainstream investment through research, campaigning, policy advocacy and public mobilisation. Using our tools and expertise, we influence major investors and the companies they invest in to improve labour standards, tackle the climate crisis and address inequality and public health issues.
  • Established in 2016, the Workforce Disclosure Initiativecalls for greater transparency on workforce policies and practices in companies’ direct operations and supply chains. Using the influence of 52 investor signatories with over $6.5 trillion assets under management, the WDI encourages publicly listed companies to complete a comprehensive annual survey which covers freedom of association, human rights due diligence, diversity, pay ratios and more.
  • The WDI is funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office – FCDO; and by annual investor signatory membership fees.

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