BlackRock boss Larry Fink, at the forefront of the business world’s adoption of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) standards, has stopped using the term, saying it has become too politicized.
But the world’s largest asset manager hasn’t changed its stance on ESG issues, Fink told the Aspen Ideas Festival on Sunday.
ESG, a catch-all term that encompasses a range of ethically responsible business practices, from curbing carbon emissions to cracking down on discrimination in the workplace, has become politically polarizing in parts of the Western world, especially in the United States.
Republican politicians have attacked ESG as a way for the corporate world to implement what they argue is a politically liberal agenda, triggering a backlash from Democrats who are seeking to defend it.
The controversy has led to some Wall Street firms backing down on ESG commitments, with insurers abandoning a United Nations-backed climate alliance becoming the latest example last month. BlackRock has itself been the target of investigations by some Republican-controlled states, and even an investment boycott in Texas.
“I don’t use the word ESG any more, because it’s been entirely weaponized ... by the far left and weaponized by the far right,” Fink said.
But he said dropping references to ESG would not change BlackRock’s stance. The firm would continue to talk to companies it has stakes in about decarbonization, corporate governance and social issues to be addressed, he added.
On the issue of climate change, BlackRock has sought to strike a balance, continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies while nudging them to adopt energy transition plans. It has projected that by 2030 at least three quarters of its investments will be with issuers of securities that have scientific targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions on a net basis.
Fink had said in January that BlackRock had lost about $4 billion in managed assets as a result of the backlash against ESG, a tiny sliver of its $9 trillion under management. He reiterated at the Aspen conference that there had been no material impact on BlackRock’s business.
“We had ... one of the best years ever, but I’m ashamed of being part of this conversation,” said Fink, adding that his annual letters to investors that addressed ESG issues were never meant to be political statements.
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