As Washington sets its sights on the banking industry, private equity as an asset class remains hard at work burnishing its own image – an effort that largely began when legislators first starting taking aim at the carried interest tax “loophole” in 2006 and 2007. The most recent effort comes in the form of new guidelines for responsible investment.

The Private Equity Council, an industry lobbying group, issued a release Tuesday morning detailing new guidelines for investors that cover environmental, health, safety, labor, governance and social issues.

Effectively, member firms will consider these issues both prior to making investments and during the oversight of their portfolio companies. A few of the promises include efforts to “consider environmental, public health, safety and social issues associated with target companies,” and “remain committed to compliance with applicable national, state, and local labor laws in the countries in which they invest.” Other tenets of the initiative focus on accessibility, performance, governance, transparency and human rights.

The Service Employees International Union, one of the more vocal critics of the industry in recent years, issued a response that again admonished the asset class soon after the guidelines were released.

“The principles are just a fig leaf; a failed attempt to mask greediness as usual,” Andy Stern, SEUI president, said in the statement.

The Private Equity Council noted that the new guidelines were drafted under the “umbrella of the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment.”

Christopher Ailman, the chief investment officer of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, suggested that the guidelines represent a change in thinking among private equity investors. “Historically, the market place wanted to disdain environmental, social and governance issues,” he said in a statement. “That myopic view doesn’t translate into today’s complex global market.”

Meanwhile, Ted Eliopoulous, who is serving as the interim chief investment officer of the California Public Employees Retirement Systems, stated that the commitment reaffirms what the asset class already does. “Private equity has not only generated positive returns for our beneficiaries but has also been a positive force in building stronger, more competitive companies,” he said in the same statement.

The SEIU’s Stern, however, remains unconvinced. He proposed that if the industry was “serious about behaving responsibly,” the asset class would have to commit to “independent third-party monitoring,” with “viable mechanisms for enforcement.”

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