The ESG research firm involved in the Australian National University's decision to divest seven of its resources stocks has rejected accusations that it was forced to "rewrite" a report.
The ANU announced its decision to divest its holdings in Iluka Resources, Independence Group, Newcrest Mining, Sandfire Resources, Oil Search, Santos and Sirius Resources in early October.
The decision by the university to divest around 5.1 per cent of its Australian equities holding was attacked as a “stupid decision” by Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week – with Treasurer Joe Hockey and Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs voicing similar concerns.
The Australian Financial Review has also been mounting a concerted campaign against the ANU’s decision to "blacklist" the seven resources companies.
The campaign culminated on Friday with a front page story claiming the university’s ESG research consultant CAER had been forced to ‘rewrite’ its report about Sandfire Resources.
Speaking exclusively to InvestorDaily, CAER chief executive Duncan Paterson categorically rejected the claim that his company had agreed to revise its report following conversations with Sandfire executives.
“We reject the criticisms of our work, and the characterisation of the engagement we’ve had with the companies,” Mr Paterson said.
“It hasn’t been a case of them coming and fixing up our information, it’s been a case of wanting to hear what they have to say and taking it into account,” he said.
“We’ve given no undertakings whatever that we’ll change any results as a result of it,” Mr Paterson said.
He also rejected as inaccurate the Australian Financial Review claim that CAER publishes "blacklists".
“We never have [published blacklists], and we never will. It’s just not the way we do our work,” Mr Paterson said.
“We haven’t been, as has been described, commissioned by the ANU to write reports on companies – rather, the ANU has subscribed to our standard research service.
“And [the ANU] made their own investment decisions, taking into account all of their own financial responsibility issues,” Mr Paterson said.
CAER has also released a statement calling for a retraction from the Australian Financial Review.
“The AFR article is factually incorrect and Mr Potter was aware of this prior to publication, but has chosen to publish anyway. CAER will be seeking a retraction from the AFR,” said the statement.
Mr Paterson said the potential damage to CAER’s brand is the “collateral damage” of the furore.
“I think we’ve been miscast in this debate and it’s very disappointing,” he said.
But the support from clients and peers in the investment industry has been the “most gratifying” thing throughout the ordeal, Mr Paterson said.
“I’d certainly like to extend my thanks to all those people who have shown support,” he said. “It has been a very difficult time for my team. It’s quite upsetting for them. It’s not the sort of thing they’re used to, given that it’s not our role.
“We’ve been miscast in this little play that’s being enacted,” he said.
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