The term “ESG” refers to a firm’s overall impact on the environment, society, and the strength and openness of its corporate governance, including matters such as executive compensation, company leadership, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights. The environmental considerations center on how the company lessens its environmental impact, for instance, resource depletion, greenhouse gas emission, and deforestation. The social component is concerned with the way a company affects both workplace culture and the larger society, for instance, working conditions, including child labour and slavery; and health and safety. The term “governance” describes the procedures for making decisions, reporting, and managing the day-to-day operations of an organisation including issues on donations and political lobbying, corruption, and bribery.
Similarly, Islamic finance, which is guided by the principles of Islamic law (Shariah), continues to grow rapidly. Islamic finance refers to financial services – such as banking or investment – where money is raised and used in line with Shari’ah. It prohibits interests (riba), engagement with gambling (maysir), uncertainty (gharar), and prohibited industries like alcohol and pornography. It offers perspectives that aligns closely with ESG objectives. This blog post explores the reasons why Islamic finance is inherently compatible with ESG principles and how Islamic banks are taking steps to align with ESG principles. One area of convergence between ESG and Islamic Finance is that both encourage economic expansion and financial stability, as well as the protection of the environment and the eradication of poverty. For instance, countries like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have begun to issue green and sustainable sukuk. These investments in environmental assets and renewable energy are compliant with Shari’ah.
Just like ESG, Islamic Finance requires screening out certain industries, the beneficiaries’/clients’ values must be reflected in the portfolios, together with the objective of creating a just and sustainable society and avoiding environmental or human harm. The screenings could be absolute, for instance, it could prohibit weapons, pornography, and cluster ammunition. Where the screening is relative, the rules can entail for instance barring businesses whose tobacco sales account for at least 10% of their total revenue. Companies or issuers that perform poorly in terms of ESG factors or that transgress international soft laws like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights may also be excluded. Investments in conventional financial services, cigarettes, alcohol, pork, pornography, guns, gambling, human smuggling, and other goods and activities that are regarded as illegal are prohibited under Islamic finance, which is based on Shari’ah regulations.
Islamic finance places emphasis on investments in real assets and tangible projects that have a positive impact on society. This emphasis is consistent with the ESG philosophy of investing in businesses and initiatives that meet social needs, produce sustainable value, and improve the general well-being of communities.
Although similarities exist between ESG and Islamic Finance, there are areas of divergence. Islamic Finance prohibits security lending and shorting. ESG does not prohibit it but some investors running ESG investing strategies also will not partake in security lending and shorting, while others will apply rules that allow them to vote on shareholder resolutions.
Islamic banks are taking steps like their conventional counterparts to align with ESG. Some of them are signatories to the Principles on Responsible Banking like Al Baraka Banking Group (Bahrain), Gatehouse Bank (UK) and Jaiz Bank (Nigeria) which are fully Shari’ah compliant. A new three-year ESG strategy to incorporate ESG risk concerns within the banking framework was recently highlighted in the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank’s second annual ESG report.
Overall, there is a chance to increase the influence of ethical and responsible investing due to the convergence of Islamic finance and ESG. It enables Islamic financial institutions and investors to include ESG factors and support sustainable development while upholding their core values and tenets. This convergence encourages the development of ethical finance, broadens the use of sustainable investment strategies, and helps create a more equitable and sustainable international financial system.