BlackRock accused of double dealing with the environment

BlackRock, the company that manages the most money in the world including civil service pensions and local government investments, recently said loudly that tackling climate change has become a priority.

But its votes at general meetings (GA) of companies in which it invests undermine this promise, regret several environmental NGOs.

The boss of the New York-based company, and one of the most influential voices in American finance, Larry Fink, caused a sensation in January when he said that the rise in temperature on Earth represented a real risk for companies.

With its $ 7,300 billion to manage, BlackRock, then assured the big boss, will become a leader in sustainable and responsible investments. The American giant was banking on its financial strength to, willy-nilly, convert the business community to green.

“We applauded” at the time, recalls Ben Cushing of the popular American environmental association Sierra Club. “And we recognize that they have made progress in this direction,” he adds, citing, for example, the decision to reduce their investments in coal.

“But clearly, they’re not acting as quickly or frankly as they should. “

Two resolutions

BlackRock even sometimes seems to be backing down: at general meetings of companies in which it is a shareholder, the group voted for only 13% of resolutions intended to protect the environment this year, up from 20% in 2019, according to Proxy Insight.

The NGO Majority Action, in a report published at the end of September, claimed that the New York-based company had voted in favor of only 3 of the 36 specific climate-related resolutions presented at the GA of the companies included in the Wall Street index. S&P 500.

More importantly, denounces the organization, BlackRock supported only 2 of the 12 resolutions presented by the coalition of investors Climate Action 100+, which the company joined at the beginning of the year.

BlackRock is a shareholder in large companies ranging from Apple, Facebook to ExxonMobil, including ConocoPhillips, Bunge and Nike.

To justify its opposition to proposals asking, for example, Chevron to publish a report on petrochemical risks or the company Delta Airlines to bring its lobbying actions into line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, the firm often emphasizes that the affected company “already has programs in place to deal with this problem”.

She also said that she often voted against the appointment of certain board members because of their positions on environmental issues.

BlackRock also says it exerts its influence during meetings with management.

“It should be noted that not all shareholder proposals are created equal and that it would be wrong to consider that voting against the management (of a company) without taking into account the impact of a proposal is good. governance, ”the company told AFP.

“Discouraging”

Other big asset managers are being much more restless, retorts Giulia Christianson, head of sustainable investments for research organization World Resources Institute.

According to the Majority Action report, US bond investment giant Pimco voted in favor of all climate resolutions deemed essential. Ditto for French asset manager Amundi (78%) and US bank JPMorgan Chase (53%). BlackRock, up to 8%.

“The results of BlackRock’s votes this year are discouraging”, regrets Mme Christianson.

Larry Fink’s message “seemed to indicate that he considered that addressing climate change was now part of his fiduciary obligations,” said the expert. His company’s votes at general meetings “say something quite different”.

It is all the more unfortunate, according to her, that investments that meet specific rules on the environment, social and governance (ESG) are gaining more and more legitimacy.

With the turmoil that shook the stock markets at the start of the year, “they have passed the test of volatility, often managing to do better than traditional investments,” says Mr.me Christianson.

BlackRock has a huge responsibility, says Cushing.

Society “is a big contributor to the climate crisis through funding for fossil fuels, deforestation and climate-damaging industries,” he explains.

But she is also one of the biggest investors in many publicly traded companies, which gives her “considerable power to influence” their behavior.

It’s a shame, according to the activist, that the company prefers to “maintain the status quo”.

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