BlackRock grappled with a couple of political landmines Thursday at its annual shareholders’ meeting from conservative and progressive activists seeking to pin down the world’s largest asset manager on climate change and social justice.
A resolution pushing BlackRock to follow through on its recent agreement to adopt a “sustainable” corporate model garnered 3.85% of the vote, more than the 3% needed to bring the measure forward again in 2021.
“Now is the time to turn words into action, to actively implement the ideas already agreed to, and create a just and sustainable economy for us and for our children,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of the leftist shareholder advocacy group As You Sow, which introduced the resolution.
Fueling the pressure on BlackRock is its fiduciary role in administering the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, prompting questions about whether the $7 trillion investment firm is treating businesses in a politically neutral manner.
At Thursday’s remote shareholder meeting, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink declined to take a question about the discrepancy between the firm’s recent embrace of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives and its extensive investments in China, given its “deplorable” record on human rights and greenhouse-gas emissions.
Justin Danhof, general counsel of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research, accused Mr. Fink of “extreme corporate cowardice” for failing to address the company’s “hypocritical” stance.
Mr. Fink “consistently brags about his commitment to pushing environmental, social, and governance [ESG] causes as part of a new ‘stakeholder’ capitalism,” Mr. Danhof said in a statement. “Yet when I asked him about the two-faced nature of these hollow boasts against the backdrop of BlackRock’s promotion of Chinese investments that lack any ESG stewardship, he couldn’t answer the question.”
BlackRock has come under pressure from the right and left after Mr. Fink signed in August the Business Roundtable’s left-leaning new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, then announced in January a “fundamental reshaping” of its focus driven by “climate risk.”
While Mr. Fink has not responded to the criticism on the right, he said at Thursday’s meeting that he believes BlackRock already was operating “in accordance with the principles and commitments consistent with the Business Roundtable’s New Purpose,” according to As You Sow.
“However, he gave no implementation details appearing to believe that the New Purpose was already implemented, disregarding the many contradictions between words and actions highlighted in the proposal,” the environmental group said in a statement.
The As You Sow resolution also asked whether BlackRock would make the “new purpose” statement legally binding and “assist” the thousands of companies in which the firm invests to adopt the statement.
The group pushed BlackRock to oppose a proposed Securities and Exchange Commission rule change that would raise the threshold on shareholder resolutions, making it more difficult to pass increasingly popular proposals on climate change and social justice.
“We agree with The World Economic Forum, the Business Roundtable, and BlackRock on the path forward,” Mr. Behar said in prepared remarks. “This requires an alignment of words and actions. Yet, historically BlackRock has voted for nearly every egregious CEO pay package and against nearly every climate resolution. This cognitive dissonance is troubling.”
Conservatives, meanwhile, focused on the dissonance between BlackRock’s climate push and its China investments. On Wednesday, BlackRock said Chinese stocks are “still worth holding” in a report, “3 reasons to like Chinese stocks.”
Mr. Danhof noted that the Senate passed by unanimous consent Wednesday a bill to delist Chinese companies from the U.S. stock market unless they comply with audits from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board for three years in a row.
“Fink may not care if Chinese companies comply with basic accounting standards required of American-based corporations, but the U.S. Senate sure does, and I am guessing that many BlackRock shareholders do as well,” Mr. Danhof said. “If Fink won’t respond to our basic questions, perhaps he should be called to answer before Congress.”