In what investors are saying is a big win, the DOL announced yesterday that it won’t enforce its pair of recent rules that limited consideration of ESG factors in retirement plans’ voting & investment decisions. The details of the non-enforcement stance are explained in a 1-page policy statement. Here are the key takeaways:
The Department has heard from a wide variety of stakeholders, including asset managers, labor organizations and other plan sponsors, consumer groups, service providers, and investment advisers, who have asked whether these two final rules properly reflect the scope of fiduciaries’ duties under ERISA to act prudently and solely in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries. Stakeholders have also questioned whether those rulemakings were rushed unnecessarily and failed to adequately consider and address the substantial evidence submitted by public commenters on the use of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations in improving investment value and long-term investment returns for retirement investors.
The Department has also heard from stakeholders that the rules, and investor confusion about the rules, have already had a chilling effect on appropriate integration of ESG factors in investment decisions, including in circumstances that the rules can be read to explicitly allow. Accordingly, the Department intends to revisit the rules.
Until it publishes further guidance, the Department will not enforce either final rule or otherwise pursue enforcement actions against any plan fiduciary based on a failure to comply with those final rules with respect to an investment, including a Qualified Default Investment Alternative, or investment course of action or with respect to an exercise of shareholder rights. This enforcement statement does not preclude the Department from enforcing any statutory requirement under ERISA, including the statutory duties of prudence and loyalty in section 404 of ERISA. The Department will update its website at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa as more information becomes available.
-Liz Dunshee, TheCorporateCounsel.net March 11, 2021