Human Rights Principles Statement for Investments
Adopted on July 28, 2022
1. Our vision as an organization
The inspired vision of our founder, General Robert Wood Johnson II, was to improve health and healthcare for all in America, especially for those most in need. Energized by our legacy of taking on challenging issues, we are dedicated to building a Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being.
2. How we manifest our vision
We take seriously our responsibilities, and we pledge to work in ways that reflect our Guiding Principles:
We seek bold and lasting change rooted in the best available evidence, analysis, and science, openly debated.
We treat everyone with fairness and respect.
We act as good stewards of private resources, using them to advance the public’s interest with a focus on helping the most vulnerable.
We cultivate diversity, inclusion, and collaboration.
We speak out as leaders to promote health and wellbeing.
3. Our investment approach
The Foundation was established as a national philanthropy in 1972 with a generous bequest of shares of Johnson & Johnson from the Foundation’s founder, Robert Wood Johnson II. For many years, the Foundation’s investments were held mainly in the form of shares in that company, but we have now substantially diversified our investment portfolio.
We realize that the Foundation’s vision is a long-term endeavor that will require sustained attention over many years to come. The Foundation therefore seeks to earn an investment return that, over time, equals or exceeds the sum of its annual spending, so we can promote a steady, stable flow of support to our grantees and preserve our purchasing power in perpetuity. The Foundation is committed to prudently generating high returns while integrating into its investment management activities ethical practices that adhere to the Foundation’s core commitment to improve health and healthcare for all in America.
Our current investment strategy involves both public and private investments through long-term relationships with managers who share our values. The Foundation invests across a wide variety of asset classes that are almost exclusively managed by external managers. We seek managers that can demonstrate sustainable competitive advantage, prudent risk management and disciplined capital deployment. As part of our underwriting process, the Foundation ensures that our managers take into account social and ethical considerations into their investment actions. Our managers, and the companies they invest in, are committed to meeting standards of ethical behavior within their own operations.
We believe that it is our responsibility to live up to the principles of our organization through our assets and our grantmaking processes. An important element of ethical investing is recognition of the importance of respecting human rights. Investments in all of our funds require examination not only of fund managers and companies but also of the human rights positions and actions of the relevant country.
Additionally, because we focus our philanthropy on meeting many of our nation’s most critical health challenges, we seek to avoid investments in companies that generate a material portion of their income from the manufacture, sale, or distribution of firearms, alcohol, cannabis or cannabis-derived products, or tobacco-related products.
4. Definitions of human rights
As an organization, we are continuing to think critically about our assets and how they are invested. In addition, we have begun to incorporate more human rights considerations1 into our decision-making processes as we think about responsible investing.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, issued by the United Nations, articulated a set of fundamental human rights.2 The declaration recognized that Member States have a duty to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. In particular, international human rights law codifies these obligations for countries, which have a unique role in upholding and protecting human rights.3
The United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) defines human rights as:4
“People have a universal right to be treated with dignity. Every individual is entitled to enjoy human rights without discrimination—whatever their nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language or any other status. Human rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
1 There are additional human rights instruments that focus on belonging to particular groups or populations. RWJF also believes in the ideas put forth by the UN, including: The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
4 UN PRI, Why and how investors should act on human rights, October 2020
The UNPRI also declares that business enterprises’ responsibility to respect human rights is based on internationally recognized human rights—understood, at a minimum, as those expressed in the following instruments:
5. Purpose of human rights focused principles
We believe that we can act on our mission not only through our grant-making process but also through how we invest our assets. Upon recommendation of senior management and the Investment Committee, the Board has adopted these human rights focused investment principles for the following purposes:
1. To describe how human rights issues are incorporated into the investment decision-making process in evaluating and monitoring investment managers
2. To create processes to ensure our fund managers and portfolio companies are aligned with our values to the maximum extent possible
3. To support ongoing communication between the Board and the Foundation Treasurer, Chief Investment Officer, investment managers, investment consultants, and Foundation stakeholders.
6. Our responsibility to respect human rights in investment activities
As a part of our commitment to integrate human rights into our investment decision-making process, we have decided to become a member of the globally-respected Investor Alliance for Human Rights. This organization is a collective action platform for responsible investment that is grounded in respect for peoples’ fundamental rights.
The Investor Alliance for Human Rights has articulated five elements for institutional investors to have in place regarding responsible investing around human rights:
1. A commitment to respect all internationally recognized human rights;
2. Human rights governance structures;
3. Human rights due diligence processes which is two-pronged: a) the investor should identify and manage risks of causing or contributing to potential or actual adverse impacts; and b) the investor should seek to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts that the investor is directly linked to
4. Effective grievance mechanisms enabling remediation of adverse impacts caused or contributed to; and
5. Comprehensive and meaningful human rights disclosure
We already have several of these elements in place, and we are working to add the rest.
The Investor Alliance for Human Rights articulates that the role and responsibility of institutional investors is therefore to assess whether portfolio companies (or investment managers) have robust and effective human rights policies, due diligence processes, and grievance mechanisms in place and take meaningful action based on those assessments. The table below details the actions investors should take throughout the investment lifecycle:
As a member of the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, we will join a like-minded group of investors who are committed to respecting internationally recognized human rights. We will be able to leverage best practices and apply toolkits to our investment portfolio over time. Joining as a member is only a first step. Incorporating human rights into our investment process will require the diligent work of our investment team and Board to fulfill these commitments. We already have processes in place for many of the actions above, and we are continuously improving them.
7. Potential conflicts
Human rights issues can be controversial, and conflicts may arise from time to time in the course of managing a global endowment portfolio that is invested across thousands of companies and securities. This statement reaffirms the Foundation’s commitment to make investments that are consistent with the Foundation’s philanthropic mission and guiding principles, while investing our assets with a long-term view. The Foundation will create a set of clear processes to identify questionable investment exposures and will seek to remedy the exposure while maintaining our fiduciary and ethical responsibilities. The Foundation will take appropriate actions depending on numerous considerations, including asset class, fund structure, materiality, duration, and more.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s commitment to improve health and healthcare in the United States is unwavering. Beyond grantmaking, the Foundation believes that taking a human rights lens to our investments is imperative to fulfill our vision and mission.