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Vivek Ramaswamy’s BlackRock broadside marks a new phase in his anti-ESG activism

September 22, 2022, 9:32 AM UTC

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

New York this week has been bustling with energy, as the UN General Assembly and many of its side-events are underway, attracting CEOs of many Fortune 500 companies, as well as politicians.

In one side event, Larry Fink of BlackRock spoke about his company’s role in stewarding the green energy transition. “Our role is to help educate…[investors] that climate risk is investment risk,” he said. It earned him compliments from the host, former President Bill Clinton, who spoke highly of Fink’s “balancing” of stakeholder and shareholder interests.

But back in Ohio, one man doesn’t like one bit the role Fink has been playing in promoting the ESG agenda. Over the past few months, entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy has been on a crusade against the world’s largest asset manager. It culminated in three letters he sent this month to Disney, Apple, and Chevron, three companies in which BlackRock is a major institutional investor. In them, Ramaswamy asked the companies’ CEOs to walk back ESG policies supported by BlackRock.

Why? “I’m opposed to the unilateral decision-making authority […] of a small group of agents,” Ramaswamy told us in an interview. “The proper role of a board and asset manager is to exclusively look after what serves the long-term interest, rather than taking individual issues into account.”

The letters are not Ramaswamy’s first anti-BlackRock statements, but they do mark a new phase in his activism. They were signed by Strive, an asset management firm Ramaswamy founded earlier this year with the specific objective to “compete directly with the world’s largest asset managers.” Strive this month launched products such as the Strive 500 ETF, and a similar index fund tracking energy stocks, which reportedly attracted $300 million in investments in its first few weeks.

By linking his activism to ETFs, investors are provided with a “different voice,” Ramaswamy says. “Part of the problem today is that many people today believe they invest in an asset manager that looks only after their financial value, while these asset managers often pursue another agenda.”

So, where does Ramaswamy’s escalation of the ESG debate go next? “I would like to see a debate on the fundamental issue,” Ramaswamy said. That is: “Does business have a responsibility for receiving limited liability? Is there a quid pro quo? And if so, is it, as I believe, that companies should not get involved in politics? Or is it that companies need to give back to society?”

So far, it seems still more companies are signing on to the ESG agenda than signing off from it. Around the time Ramaswamy reportedly had dinner with a Chevron executive last week to discuss his anti-ESG demands, the energy company set up a digital Q&A with retail investors. One of the top questions submitted by Chevron shareholders, according to CNBC?  “Are you investing in clean energy, and if you are, where?”

More news below.

Peter Vanham
@petervanham
peter.vanham@fortune.com

TOP NEWS

World Bank

U.S. President Joe Biden is facing calls to dismiss World Bank President David Malpass, after former Vice President Al Gore accused the latter of being a climate denier. Quizzed onstage about the charge at U.N. Climate Week, Malpass could not bring himself to say that the manmade burning of fossil fuels was rapidly warming the planet. The World Bank continues to fund fossil-fuel projects, and experts including U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry are pretty fed up with it. Fortune

Bloomberg vs. petrochemicals

Media magnate, former NYC mayor and current U.N. “climate ambition and solutions” special envoy Michael Bloomberg has launched an $85 million campaign to block new plastic and petrochemical plants from being built across the U.S. Bloomberg: “This campaign will help ensure more local victories, support laws that protect communities from harm, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling the climate crisis.” Reuters

Meta cuts

Meta is planning staff reductions as part of a plan to cut expenses by at least 10%, due to stalling growth and rising competition. The company reportedly isn’t officially conducting layoffs, but rather reorganizing staff structures and giving people a brief time in which they can apply for jobs elsewhere in the social networking giant. Deeper cuts may yet be coming. Wall Street Journal

AROUND THE WATERCOOLER

S&P 500 falls to 2-month low after the Fed’s big rate rise ‘managed to out-hawk the markets’, by Associated Press

Flying-car company backed by Google co-founder Larry Page will shut down, by Bloomberg

Middle managers feel trapped in the return-to-office war, by Chloe Berger

Top economist Mohamed El-Erian says the odds of a ‘soft landing’ for the U.S. economy are now ‘uncomfortably low’ as 3 major economies face a reckoning, by Will Daniel

Inside the Ethereum merge: Behind the scenes of the historic event, according to the people who made it possible, by Taylor Locke

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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