Workforce Disclosure Initiative – FAQs

The Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI) is a new project under ShareAction’s Good Work programme. It aims to mobilise investors to improve the quality of jobs in companies’ direct operations and supply chains. Please read on for frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the initiative.

“The WDI will allow investors to fill a crucial data gap to better understand how companies are structuring and managing their workforces.”

What is the WDI?

The Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI) is a project that provides a resource to advance investor understanding and in turn consideration of the people behind the largest publicly listed companies, from those directly employed to those employed in the supply chain. Through the WDI, investor signatories come together to request that companies provide comparable data on the workforces in their operations and supply chain on an annual basis.

A coalition of 79 institutional investors with nearly $8 trillion AUM have become founding signatories to the WDI. The initiative is also endorsed by the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA).

Improved transparency will help investors gain crucial insights into how companies are managing their workforces, and how they compare with peers. The data collected will also inform investor engagement with companies to encourage better employment policies and practices. Ultimately, the goal of the WDI is to improve the quality of jobs for employees in companies’ global operations and workers in their supply chains.

What does the WDI involve?

The WDI is modelled on the Carbon Disclosure Project. It involves an annual investor-led survey of multinational companies. In the 2017 WDI survey investors ask companies to report on key areas like the composition of the workforce, workforce stability, workforce development and worker engagement. Both direct employees and those throughout the supply chain are covered. The initiative will then coordinate collaborative engagement efforts by interested investors with these companies to encourage higher standards.

Case studies will ensure that investors understand good and bad practice, and the project will undertake engagement in two developing countries to ensure interventions are relevant to workers on the ground.

What is the aim of the WDI?

‘Our people are our greatest asset’ is a phrase commonly used by business leaders all over the world. But this asset is being neglected too often. Poor quality and precarious jobs remain prevalent, particularly in developing countries. The United Nations has recognised the importance of tackling this in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 8 calls for ‘decent work for all’.

Multinational companies have a key role to play in meeting this goal. Their growth in recent years has brought significant opportunities for economic development. But the complex supply chains of these companies include many workers at risk of poor quality jobs, and even issues as shocking as child labour and modern slavery.

Companies are facing increased scrutiny and pressure for transparency on their employment practices, whether close to home or in their global supply chains. Companies seeking to come to terms with challenges in workforce management recognise the need to improve data collection and reporting in the ethos of “what gets measured gets managed.”

As shareholders of these companies, investors are well placed to play an important role in encouraging progress. They also have an interest in doing so. The WDI allows investors to fill a crucial data gap to better understand how companies are structuring and managing their workforces. There is growing investor support for the idea that good employment practices can contribute to long-term financial returns. The WDI will also give them the tools to engage with companies to encourage good practice.

Through this process, the WDI seeks to increase the transparency of employment policies and practices in companies’ direct operations and supply chains. Ultimately, the goal is to improve the quality of jobs and livelihoods for all workers linked to these companies.

How does the WDI take gender into account?

There is strong potential for the WDI to deliver positive impacts for women working in global supply chains. Gender equity is an issue rapidly gaining mainstream investor support, as a growing body of research demonstrates the materiality to companies of the productivity lost through the failure to realise women’s talent and potential. Real progress has been made through investor engagement encouraging gender diversity in the boardroom, but much more can be done to secure positive gender impacts for those working for a company further down the chain.

Securing positive gender impacts in developing countries is a particular focus of the project. The WDI survey incorporates a gender lens through the questions. Subsequent engagement with companies will target improvements to women’s lives by focussing on sectors where a high proportion of women are employed, and pushing for improvement in particular employment practices which impact women.

What is Oxfam’s role in the WDI?

ShareAction is collaborating with Oxfam on the initiative. ShareAction and Oxfam have a long history of working together originating with a successful joint campaign in 2007 on access to medicines in developing countries. Oxfam is a member organisation of ShareAction.

Oxfam has substantial experience of working with multinational companies to improve their employment policies and practices, as well as their supply chain transparency.

Oxfam’s contribution to the WDI is threefold. Firstly, Oxfam is using its extensive knowledge of supply chain issues in developing countries to ensure the WDI survey collects useful data which drives meaningful company engagement. Secondly, Oxfam will bring to life the issues workers face for companies and investors through case studies and research in targeted developing countries. Finally, Oxfam will engage with investors, companies and civil society in the targeted countries to pinpoint how companies can improve their employment practices.

“‘Our people are our greatest asset’ is a phrase commonly used by business leaders all over the world. But this asset is being neglected too often.”

Why should investors participate?

There is a growing body of evidence supporting the financial materiality of companies’ management of human capital. Institutional investors increasingly want to integrate workforce management into their investment analysis. Major investors also want to engage with companies to reduce risks and take advantage of opportunities in this area.

However, the lack of comparable data reported by companies is a major barrier at present. Requesting data from companies as an individual investor is a costly and labour-intensive process, for the investor and company alike. A collaborative effort such as the WDI can overcome this barrier and create an efficient process for all parties.

What does being a signatory involve?

Signatories agree for the name of their institution to appear on letters to the chief executives of surveyed firms, asking for the company to complete the survey. The names of the signatories are published.

We are recruiting signatories on an ongoing basis. For more information on becoming a WDI signatory, please contact james.coldwell@shareaction.org.

What do signatories receive?

Signatories will receive special access to the data generated by the WDI survey, along with detailed analysis of trends and sector comparisons. Signatories wanting greater involvement are welcome to play a role in shaping the methodology and research process. The WDI will also provide opportunities for knowledge-sharing and networking through newsletters, research notes, webinars and events.

Would signatories have a chance to shape the questions sent to companies?

The WDI welcomes input on the survey from potential signatories. Of particular interest is feedback on the challenges the WDI faces and how to overcome them. If you would like to take part in the WDI survey consultation process, please contact james.coldwell@shareaction.org and/or vaidehee.sachdev@shareaction.org.

Can information be shared with a broader coalition of investors?

The WDI aims to gather support from the largest possible number of investors. Prospective investor signatories are encouraged to share information on the WDI widely among their networks.

What is the value of the WDI for companies?

Many companies see their people as their greatest asset and make substantive efforts to invest in and develop their workforce, as well as manage any risks of poor practice. Collecting key data and disclosing relevant information to stakeholders is an important part of this process. There is an increasing trend of progressive firms moving towards further disclosure of workforce information from their direct operations and the first tier of their supply chains.

The WDI builds on this momentum by assisting companies to communicate with investors and other stakeholders about their workforce in a resource-efficient way. Through a response to the WDI, companies have the opportunity to communicate to a significant group of investors about their business strategy and how the workforce plays a role in that. Taking part in the WDI also sends a clear signal of leadership by the company.

Companies are facing more regulatory requirements and pressure for disclosure on how they manage their employees and supply chains. The timing is right for a mechanism which provides guidance and encouragement for companies to collect and report key data underpinning company strategies, policies and practices.

The WDI points to some of the fundamental data that a company should start to collect and report on. It also provides a forum for sharing best practices and celebrating leadership through highlighting examples of positive responses or useful learnings.

How does the WDI complement other reporting initiatives?

A number of mandatory reporting standards and voluntary reporting frameworks apply to companies on workforce issues. Key pieces of legislation like the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act and the 2014 EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive have pushed companies to disclose information. Companies are also integrating voluntary frameworks into their reporting practices.

The WDI is not attempting to reinvent these initiatives. Instead it aims to bring together key questions from mandatory reporting standards and voluntary reporting frameworks into a single consolidated survey. The WDI survey closely reflects the different mandatory reporting obligations that apply to companies. It also cross-references existing voluntary reporting initiatives that companies are already using.

How does the WDI complement initiatives like the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark and KnowTheChain?

Initiatives like the WDI, the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) and KnowTheChain (KTC) are signals that investors are increasingly concerned with the “S” in ESG. They share the common aim of increasing investor and company action in this space. Beneath this common aim, the initiatives are distinct in their scope and their processes.

The CHRB provides a holistic cross-sector comparison of corporate human rights performance including how companies respond to allegations and incidents. KTC provides in-depth understanding of how global companies in high risk sectors perform relative to their peers on tackling the risks of forced labour in their supply chains. The WDI brings to the space an investor-led call for comparable data reporting on the workforce. This adds a signal of encouragement from the investor community for companies to produce further public reporting.

The teams of the three initiatives are coordinating to ensure complementarity and alignment.

Which companies receive the WDI survey?

In the pilot year, the WDI survey is being sent to the FTSE 50 plus 25 mega cap companies listed on global stock exchanges. Millions of workers are employed in the direct operations and supply chains of these companies. Mainstream investors will be interested in them due to both their direct shareholdings and the market capitalisation of these firms. The number of major companies approached to respond to the WDI survey is expected to increase significantly in subsequent years.

Which issues does the WDI survey cover?

In broad terms, the WDI survey covers companies’ governance of the workforce, workforce composition, workforce stability, workforce development and worker engagement. These areas have been identified by the investment community as the most fundamental pieces of information required to make informed judgements about how a company is managing its workforce.

The WDI survey uses the framework developed by the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) in particular, and builds on it to develop indicators that cover the entire workforce. For example, the WDI survey asks questions on the composition of the workforce in companies’ direct operations and in their supply chains.

Questions include both standard metrics where companies are expected to provide quantitative data, alongside narrative questions on how this data relates to the company’s overall business strategy. While it is recognised that companies face specific individual and sector-based risks and opportunities, the questions asked are intended to capture the most fundamental risks and opportunities which are relevant to all companies.

To find out more about the survey, please contact vaidehee.sachdev@shareaction.org.

Is it possible to see a copy of the WDI survey?

Click here to see a copy of the 2017 WDI survey.

What guidance is available for companies to complete the WDI survey?

It is acknowledged that it takes resources for companies to report on workforce issues, and that they are faced with a number of different reporting requirements and frameworks. That is why as much as possible the WDI survey references other reporting frameworks in order to make the process of completing the survey easier for companies.

In addition, a company resources page has been developed to assist companies in completing the survey. The WDI team is also available for individual discussion with companies to support them in completing the survey. For support, please contact vaidehee.sachdev@shareaction.org.

How is the WDI funded?

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) is providing just under £1 million in grant funding for the WDI over the course of 30 months. DFID is funding the WDI as part of the Responsible, Accountable and Transparent Enterprise (RATE) Programme that works to provide practical tools and innovative initiatives to advance responsible business practice globally.

DFID leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty. It tackles the global challenges of our time including poverty and disease, mass migration, insecurity and conflict.

Inclusive economic development is a key priority for DFID as part of its work to build a safer, healthier, more prosperous world for people in developing countries and in the UK too. DFID wants the gains from economic development and private sector activity to benefit the many not the few and believes that ensuring and increasing responsible business practice and workforce management is key to achieving that and reducing poverty.

How is the WDI governed?

ShareAction is partnering with DFID, Oxfam and Lake Advisory to deliver the WDI. For the pilot phase of the programme, a WDI steering group has been set up to govern the programme including members from DFID, Oxfam, Lake Advisory, ShareAction’s senior team, and Paul Dickinson, Executive Chair CDP, and Trustee of ShareAction. This group provides a range of perspectives on how to ensure the programme’s success.

A wider WDI advisory group is made up from a cross-section of representatives from the investment community, academic institutions, NGOs and trade unions. This group operates in an advisory capacity – it is designed to challenge the WDI team with the sometimes opposing views of the various constituents of the project. The WDI is being developed and overseen through a consultative multi-stakeholder approach. Individuals or organisations wishing to be involved in the process are invited to get in touch.

What is the long-term plan for the WDI?

The WDI is envisioned as a long-term initiative as the changes it is seeking to make are long-term. With that, its governance, sustainability and resourcing for beyond the 30 month period are under active consideration and open to consultation with stakeholders.

“There is growing investor support for the idea that good employment practices can contribute to long-term financial returns.”

Find out more

Charlie Crossley Project Officer - WDI

Clare Richards Programme Manager - Good Work

James Coldwell Investor Engagement Manager - WDI

Rosie Mackenzie Company Engagement Manager - WDI

Vaidehee Sachdev Senior Research Manager - WDI


Colette St-OngeWorkforce Disclosure Initiative – FAQs