The Country With the Worst ESG Rating in the World

ESG (environmental, social and governance) ratings for companies have come under considerable pressure. Many investors have been encouraged to go beyond strictly financial measures as they purchase corporate securities, and the practice has a growing list of opponents.

The battle about ESG yardsticks has become pitched. Even state governments and politicians have gotten into the fray. They have pressed the argument that investments are to make money, and what makes money should be judged on financial reports and not additional considerations. Some states, led by Florida, have passed laws that prevent ESG as a measure for funds in state pensions and other money controlled by government agencies. While other states have joined this movement, it also has spread on the federal level to Congress.

The other core argument against ESG investing is that the measures are subjective. Dozens of firms have ESG rating formulas, which are often confidential, to direct money toward investments with good ESG scores. Usually, the targets of these firms are the large institutions that control trillions of invested dollars.

The support for ESG investing is powerful. Companies operate within the wider society, proponents argue. It matters how they treat their workers and customers, beyond financial benefits. As the global environment tumbles toward disaster, corporate decisions may well make a difference in an effort to arrest this fall. How companies are governed, particularly by their boards, is at the heart of their relationships with the broader world, particularly as it affects income and gender inequality. Huge sums of money have moved into stocks and funds with good ESG ratings.

Some organizations have gone beyond corporate ratings to measure ESG factors in the nations. Among these is the Economist Intelligence Unit. In its new Sovereign ESG ratings, it considers how elections are conducted, how government functions, water and waste management, environmental stewardship and labor conditions.

The authors point out that “The bottom of our ESG rankings remains dominated by fragile, emerging-market states with poor governance, including Sudan, Iran and Yemen.” (Oddly, Russia and China are not in this category).

Indeed, the country at the bottom of the list of 150 nations is Sudan. It was formed in 2011 and has a population of about 46 million people. There have been two coups in the last year, and the government remains unstable. There has been and continues to be violence as military and political groups clash.

The World Factbook puts the nation’s gross domestic product per capita at $4,000, one of the lowest levels in the world.

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