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Republican officials say BlackRock went too far on ESG. Now the investment giant is defending its decisions

September 9, 2022, 9:53 AM UTC

Good morning, Peter Vanham here, filling in for Alan.

In the latest ESG tussle, BlackRock this week fired back at Republican officials who alleged the asset manager had stepped out of bounds on ESG and the transition to a net-zero economy.

As a reminder, back in early August, 19 state attorneys general wrote a letter objecting to BlackRock’s support for the “urgent need to accelerate the transition towards global net-zero emissions.” Two weeks ago, Republican officials in Texas and Florida went a step further, threatening to ban their pension funds from dealing with BlackRock over the firm’s insistence on ESG disclosures.

In a public response sent to CEO Daily this week, BlackRock lamented the criticism as part of a “politicization of the U.S. pension fund system,” and an “anti-ESG narrative.” It defended its ESG practices as serving its client interests.

“We ask companies to provide disclosures…so that investors can…better understand, quantify, and mitigate their risks. We do not dictate to companies what specific emission targets they should meet or what type of political lobbying they should pursue,” BlackRock said.

BlackRock also reminded its Republican critics that it is by no means boycotting U.S. energy companies, owning about $170 billion worth of their stocks. And it touted its waning support for shareholder proposals on environmental and social issues this year, saying it did not want to “micromanage.”

So, what to make of the BlackRock rebuke? I see two takeaways.

First, it’s time to acknowledge ESG means one thing to asset managers (a risk management tool), and another to retail investors and the public at large (a means to invest in green and socially minded companies). That discrepancy isn’t doing anyone any good.

Second, intended or not, there is a real gap between the stakeholder rhetoric of BlackRock’s senior leaders and the company’s actions on the ground. BlackRock does believe in a net-zero transition, but its shareholdings do not necessarily reflect that.   

To its Republican critics, that may be reassurance, as BlackRock isn’t as activist as they may believe it be. But to those who think BlackRock does too little to nudge the companies toward sustainable and inclusive ways, it will undoubtedly provide ammunition for a next salvo in the ESG debate.

More news below.

Peter Vanham
@petervanham
peter.vanham@fortune.com

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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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