Regulatory

On 26 June 2023, the International Sustainability Standards Board (the “ISSB”) issued its inaugural International Financial Reporting Standards (“IFRS”) Sustainability Disclosure Standards (the “Standards”), heralding progress in the development of a global baseline of sustainability-linked disclosures. The Standards build on the concepts that underpin the IFRS Accounting Standards, which are required in more than 140 jurisdictions, but notably not in the United States for domestic issuers subject to regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), which must apply US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“US GAAP”).  Despite broad investor appetite for  transparent, uniform and comparable disclosure rules, the scope of required sustainability disclosure and timing for adoption of the SEC’s pending climate disclosure rule remains unresolved.

  1. IFRS S1 General Requirements for Disclosure of Sustainability-related Financial Information (“IFRS S1”) requires an entity to disclose information about all sustainability-related risks and opportunities that could reasonably be expected to affect the entity’s prospects. The effect on the entity’s prospects refers to the effect on the entity’s cash flows, its access to finance, or cost of capital over the short, medium or long term.
  2. IFRS S2 Climate-related Disclosures (“IFRS S2”) requires an entity to provide information about its exposure to climate-related risks and opportunities. Information to be disclosed includes both physical risks—such as extreme weather events—as well as transition risks, such as changes in customer behaviour.

Both IFRS S1 and IFRS S2 are effective for annual reporting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2024. Accordingly, where the Standards have been adopted for a 2024 reporting cycle, relevant disclosures will begin to be published in 2025 in an entity’s general purpose financial reports (subject to transitional provisions), alongside an “explicit and unreserved statement of compliance” when disclosing against the Standards. Whilst the launch of the Standards has been a welcome step, seeking to provide greater uniformity in corporate reporting, individual jurisdictions will decide whether entities will be required to comply with the Standards.Continue Reading ISSB issues inaugural global sustainability disclosure standards

Today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) unveiled a new bipartisan proposal to develop legislation to promote and regulate artificial intelligence. In a speech at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Leader Schumer remarked: “[W]ith AI, we cannot be ostriches sticking our heads in the sand. The question is: what role [do] Congress

2022 and 2023 may be remembered as pivotal years for efforts against so-called “greenwashing.”  In this article, we look at some recent developments in the regulation of “green claims” in the UK, the US, and the EU that corporates should be aware of.  We provide a broad summary and comparison snapshot of the UK, US and EU regimes to help companies navigate these rules.  Now is a critical time for companies to get up to speed: authorities in all three jurisdictions are focusing more and more intently on this issue; company reputations will increasingly rise and fall with the strength of their green claims, and national regulators are set to get new powers (including the power to levy significant fines) to tackle companies found in breach.

I.  Summary of recent developments: What’s new in greenwashing?

In January 2022, the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority (“CMA”) launched a sector‑by‑sector review of misleading environmental claims.  The CMA started with the fashion sector, and called out a number of high‑profile, fast‑fashion companies for their practices.  Twelve months later, the CMA announced that it was expanding the investigation to greenwashing around “household essentials”, including food, drink, toiletries and cleaning products.  The CMA’s review is the first concerted application of the CMA’s new Green Claims Code, published in September 2021, which gives guidance for any business (wherever based) making environmental claims in the UK.

Meanwhile, in December 2022, the US Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) launched a review of the “Guides for the Use of Environmental Claims” (“Green Guides”), which was last updated in 2012.  The initial comment period closed on April 24, 2023.  The FTC plans to update the Green Guides to reflect developments in consumers’ perception of environmental marketing claims.  As a part of its ongoing review, the FTC also announced a workshop to examine recyclable claims.  The workshop is scheduled for May 23, 2023 and the public can submit comments on the subject of recyclable claims through June 13, 2023.  For more detail on the review, please see our dedicated blog post, here.

Finally, the EU has proposed two Directives to modernize and harmonize the rules on green claims across the bloc (together, the “EU Green Claims Proposals”).  Currently, EU law does not specifically regulate environmental claims.  Instead, environmental claims are subject only to general consumer protection and advertising rules (set out in Directive 2005/29 on Unfair Business-to-Consumer Practices and Directive 2006/114 on Comparative Advertising).  Admittedly, the EU has published guidance on interpreting and applying the general rules in the context of green claims (see the guidance here, and see our previous blog post discussing the guidance here).  However, in practice, EU Member States approach interpretation and enforcement in a variety of different ways.  On March 3, 2022, the European Commission published a Proposal for a Directive Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition, also known as the “Greenwashing Directive.”  The Greenwashing Directive amends the EU’s existing consumer protection rules, and bans a number of general green claims, such as “climate neutral” or “eco-friendly.”  It also imposes some rules on the use of non-environmental sustainability claims or “social impact” claims, such as “locally produced” or “fair labour.”  One year later, on March 22, 2023, the European Commission presented a Proposal for a Directive on Green Claims (“Green Claims Directive”), which we discussed here.  The Green Claims Directive proposes a new and strict framework, applicable to all companies operating in the EU/EEA, to harmonize the rules on the substantiation of voluntary green claims. 

Below, we outline the key aspects of the different legislative frameworks.Continue Reading The Green Claims Global Drive: Developments in the UK, US and EU

On March 21, 2023, the Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (the “Commerce Proposed Rule”) to implement certain provisions of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 (“CHIPS Act”) that place restrictions on certain activities of businesses receiving federal funding pursuant to the CHIPS Act (“Commerce Guardrails”).  On the same day

Funding incentives under the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) to transition to a clean energy economy are unleashing opportunities for key U.S. allies and partners around the world. In particular, tax credits exceeding 10% of the price of average electric vehicle (EV) sold in the United States are leading to new investments in Mexico and Canada, and have triggered high-level political negotiations from U.S. partners such as the European Union and Japan.

IRA Tax Credits for EV Critical Minerals and Battery Components

Under the IRA, EVs and batteries produced in North America (including Mexico and Canada) may qualify for significant tax breaks. Partial tax breaks are also available for EVs with batteries utilizing critical minerals extracted or processed in countries with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement (FTA).

As we previously discussed in greater technical detail, the IRA amended the Clean Vehicle Credit under section 30D of the U.S. tax code to provide a $7,500 consumer tax credit for the purchase of a qualified vehicle such as an EV. This consists of $3,750 for vehicles meeting the “critical minerals” requirements and $3,750 for those meeting the “battery components” requirements.

  • Under the critical minerals requirements, a share of critical minerals contained in the battery of a qualified vehicle must have beenextracted or processed in the U.S. or in a country with which the U.S. has an FTA, or recycled in North America. The applicable share is at least 40 percent for vehicles placed in service in 2023, and increasing by 10% per year until reaching 80% for vehicles placed in services after 2026.
  • Under the battery components requirements, final assembly must have occurred in North America and the percentage of the value of the components contained in such battery that were manufactured or assembled in North America must be equal to or greater than the “applicable percentage,” i.e., “60% for 2024 and 2025 vehicles, and going up 10% per year till past 2028 at 100%.”

Continue Reading Global Spotlight: the IRA’s Implications for Key U.S. Allies

On February 22, 2023, the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) and the Nasdaq Stock Market (“Nasdaq”) filed rule proposals[1] to adopt new listing standards implementing Rule 10D-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. That rule, which the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted in October 2022, requires national securities exchanges to implement standards to require listed companies to adopt and publicly file so-called “clawback” policies to recover erroneously awarded incentive-based compensation following accounting restatements. Rule 10D-1, which was first proposed in 2015 and re-opened for comment twice, implements Section 954 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

The proposed listing standards are subject to a 21-day comment period once published in the Federal Register before the SEC can approve them, and must, in any event, become effective by November 28, 2023. Listed companies will be required to adopt clawback policies that comply with the new standards within 60 days of the effective date of the applicable listing standards (the “Adoption Deadline”).

The listing standards proposed by both NYSE and Nasdaq are materially consistent with Rule 10D-1 and its adopting release. Among other things, both proposed listing standards provide for the commencement of delisting proceedings for listed companies that fail to either adopt a compliant clawback policy or comply with such policy after a clawback obligation arises. These delisting provisions are discussed below, and, for an in-depth discussion of Rule 10D-1’s requirements, please refer to our previous alert.

NYSE – Delisting for Noncompliance

Failure to Adopt a Policy: As proposed, a company listed on NYSE that fails to adopt a compliant clawback policy by the Adoption Deadline will have five days to notify NYSE, after which the exchange will send a written delinquency notification to the company. Upon receipt of this notification, the company would have five days to contact NYSE to discuss the delinquency and to issue a press release disclosing the company’s delinquency, the reason for the delinquency and, if known, the anticipated date on which a clawback policy will be adopted. If the company fails to issue such a press release in time, NYSE will issue a press release stating that the company has received a delinquency notice.Continue Reading NYSE and Nasdaq Propose Clawback Listing Standards

In August 2022, the Chips and Science Act—a massive, $280 billion bill to boost public and private sector investments in critical and emerging technologies—became law.  We followed the bill from the beginning and anticipated significant opportunities for industry to inform and influence the direction of the new law’s programs. 

One such opportunity is available now.  The U.S. Department of Commerce recently published a request for information (RFI) “to inform the planning and design of the Regional Technology and Innovation Hub (Tech Hubs) program.”  The public comment period ends March 16, 2023.

Background

The Chips and Science Act authorized $10 billion for the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish a Regional Technology and Innovation Hub (Tech Hubs) program.  Specifically, Commerce was charged with designating at least 20 Tech Hubs and awarding grants to consortia composed of one or more institutions of higher education, political subdivisions, state governments, and “industry or firms in relevant technology, innovation, or manufacturing sectors” to develop and deploy critical technologies in those hubs.  $500 million has already been made available for the program, and Commerce will administer the program through the Economic Development Administration (EDA).Continue Reading Commerce Seeks Comments on Regional Tech Hubs Program

Companies have increasingly leveraged artificial intelligence (“AI”) to facilitate decisions in the extension of credit and financial lending as well as hiring decisions.  AI tools have the potential to produce efficiencies in processes but have also recently faced scrutiny for AI-related environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) risks.  Such risks include AI ethical issues related to the use of facial recognition technology or embedded biases in AI software that may potentially perpetuate racial inequality or have a discriminatory impact on minority communities.  ESG and diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) advocates, along with federal and state regulators, have begun to examine the potential benefit and harm of AI tools vis-à-vis such communities.  

            As federal and state authorities take stock of the use of AI, the benefits of “responsibly audited AI” has become a focal point and should be on companies’ radars.  This post defines “responsibly audited AI” as automated decision-making platforms or algorithms that companies have vetted for ESG-related risks, including but not limited to discriminatory impacts or embedded biases that might adversely impact marginalized and underrepresented communities.  By investing in responsibly audited AI, companies will be better positioned to comply with current and future laws or regulations geared toward avoiding discriminatory or biased outputs caused by AI decision-making tools.  Companies will also be better poised to achieve their DEI goals. 

Federal regulatory and legislative policy and AI decision-making tools

            There are several regulatory, policy, and legislative developments focused on the deployment of responsibly audited AI and other automated systems.  For example, as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s recently announced Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, the Administration has highlighted key principles companies should consider in the design, development, and deployment of AI and automated systems in order to address AI-related biases that can impinge on the rights of the general public.Continue Reading Responsibly Audited AI and the ESG/AI Nexus

Last week the European Commission published its long-awaited proposal for a Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (“proposed Regulation”), and a Communication on an “EU Policy Framework on Biobased, Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics” (“Communication”).  The proposed Regulation is intended to replace the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62 (“Packaging Directive”) and to ensure that all packaging marketed in the EU/EEA is fully recyclable or reusable by 2030.  If adopted, the proposed Regulation’s new requirements and restrictions will have a significant impact on industry, distributors, and consumers.  The European Parliament and Council must now consider the proposed Regulation for adoption through the so-called “ordinary legislative procedure,” which will allow for the introduction of amendments and is likely to take at least 18 months.  

This blog post highlights the main changes and new requirements that the proposed Regulation would introduce, and outlines the principal recommendations of the Commission’s Communication.

Main changes introduced by the proposed Regulation

The proposed Regulation would introduce the following eight main changes:

1.         Adoption of a Regulation.  The first important change is that the EU legislation on packaging and packaging waste would take the form of a Regulation rather than a Directive.  This, together with the harmonization clause of Article 4 of the proposed Regulation and the inclusion of certain packaging items in the definition of Article 3, is intended to limit Member States’ attempts to impose additional requirements on packaging. 

2.         Ban on Certain Packaging Formats.  The proposed Regulation would also propose to ban single-use packaging formats, including single-use composite packaging (e.g., containers); single-use packaging for fresh fruits and vegetables; single-use plastic grouped packaging used to group cans, tubs, tins and pots together; single-use hotel miniature packaging (e.g., sachets around miniature bar soap); and single-use plastic and composite trays and boxes for foods and beverages in the HORECA sector (e.g., trays or boxes used to wrap hamburgers).

3.         Compostability Requirements.  The proposed Regulation would also require that particular categories of packaging (e.g., sticky labels attached to fruits and vegetables, very lightweight plastic carrier bags, and tea and coffee bags and single-serve units intended to be used and disposed of with the product) be “compostable in industrially controlled conditions in bio-waste treatment facilities.”  The proposed Regulation does not itself  define the criteria that these types of packaging must meet to be compostable.  However, its Impact Assessment states that companies may demonstrate the compostability of their packaging on the basis of existing EU harmonized standards, such as, e.g., Standard EN 13432:2000.  European authorities are also likely to take into account the compostability criteria for plastics of the Communication (see below).

The proposed Regulation would also empower the Commission to subject other packaging items to the obligation to be compostable through delegated acts if justified and appropriate due to technological and regulatory developments impacting the disposal of compostable packaging and if the packaging meets the criteria of Annex III.

Other types of packaging that are not subject to the compostability obligation mentioned above would have to be designed in a way that they can be recycled without affecting other waste streams (such as the bio-waste waste streams).  Contrary to earlier version of the proposal, the proposed Regulation does not seem to impose a general ban on compostable plastic polymers. 

4.         New Deposit and Return Schemes.  The proposed Regulation would require EU Member States to put in place deposit and return schemes for single-use plastic and metal beverage bottles of up to three liters (with the exception of wine, spirits and milk). 

In addition, the proposal would also require Member States to encourage the introduction of systems for the reuse and refill of packaging in an environmentally sound manner.Continue Reading The Commission unveils its proposal for a Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, and provides recommendations on Biobased, Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics

President Biden recently signed bipartisan legislation reinforcing anti-human trafficking prohibitions. The End Human Trafficking in Government Contracts Act of 2022 builds on the existing anti-human trafficking framework at Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) § 52.222-50 (Combatting Trafficking in Persons) by requiring agencies to refer contractor reports of potential human trafficking activity directly to an agency suspension and debarment official (“SDO”).  Prior to this legislation, contractors have been required to notify their contracting officer and the agency inspector general upon receiving “[a]ny credible information” that a human trafficking violation had occurred.  See FAR § 52.222-50(d)(1).  Now agencies will be required to refer these reports to their SDOs, creating additional risk for contractors that disclose potential violations. 

This legislation – which passed Congress unanimously – demonstrates the federal government’s ongoing focus on anti-human trafficking matters – a focus that has been shared across presidential administrations.  For instance, in 2015, President Obama significantly expanded the FAR’s anti-human trafficking prohibitions, and in 2019, President Trump sought to undertake a comprehensive review of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and released a list of “best practices” to guide contractors.  President Biden now joins this ongoing, bi-partisan effort to increase government contractors’ focus on human trafficking by signing the recently-passed legislation.

Despite the federal government’s longstanding efforts to prevent human trafficking in its supply chain, many questions remain concerning how to comply with the requirements.  Below are three of the most common questions we encounter in applying the FAR’s anti-human trafficking provision:Continue Reading New Law Increases Government Scrutiny of Contractor Compliance with Anti-Trafficking Provisions