Texas’s threat to boot BlackRock from pension funds forces corporations into can’t-win battle over ESG investing

August 25, 2022, 8:23 AM UTC
Updated August 25, 2022, 6:41 PM UTC
Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, at the Handelsblatt Banking Summit in Frankfurt, Sept. 4, 2019.
Alex Kraus—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Hi from Geneva, Switzerland. Peter Vanham here, filling in for Alan. 

I’m Fortune’s newly minted executive editor, responsible for the Connect learning platform. I’ll also be joining Alan in writing on corporate America’s turn to stakeholder capitalism and sustainable business practices.

Speaking of which, in the latest backlash to ESG, Texas state comptroller Glenn Hegar yesterday listed BlackRock and nine other asset managers using ESG investing as “financial companies that boycott energy companies.” He warned BlackRock and Co. would be “subject to divestment” by the state’s multibillion-dollar pension funds.

That does not seem like a pleasant prospect, and it sure looks like Hegar means it. “The ESG movement has produced an opaque and perverse system in which some financial companies no longer make decisions in the best interest of their shareholders or their clients, but…to push a social and political agenda shrouded in secrecy,” he said.   

The comptroller’s words sound eerily similar to what Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his State Board of Administration decided earlier this week. They too will ban “social, political, or ideological interests” when making investment decisions for the state’s pension fund.

Initiatives like these will force the companies in question—and many others, no doubt—to reassess their embrace of environmental, social, and corporate governance investment practices. 

That is almost certain to end in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. It’s hard to please both sides in a thorny political debate. Just ask Disney, which tried to do just that following Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” initiative, only to anger all parties involved

Partially, these asset managers have themselves to blame. Hegar is right to call out current ESG investing practices as “opaque.” As The Economist pointed out earlier this summer, much of what financial firms label as ESG investments, is in fact anything but. For ESG to rebuild its credibility, that needs to change. 

Yet it would be wrong to discard environmental, social, and corporate governance altogether. The vilification of ESG is also partially a deflection tactic, taking attention away from the shortcomings many U.S. (and Texas) companies still have in shifting to more sustainable business practices. 

Seen from this angle, going along with ESG critics now will only lead to more painful adjustments down the road. Coming out of a summerlong heat wave, my appetite for such deflect-and-delay tactics is low.  

More news below. 

Peter Vanham


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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Claire Zillman.

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