Environmentalists are watching closely how asset management giant BlackRock will vote on emission-related issues at Exxon’s shareholders’ meeting after it reported it had voted pro-environment at other companies where it holds stakes.
Bloomberg reports the asset manager had backed the majority of shareholder proposals on sustainability topics during the first quarter of the year. Still, the more important votes are yet to come.
“Not all votes are created equal,” said Ben Cushing, a senior campaign representative for financial advocacy at the Sierra Club, as quoted by Bloomberg. “This is really a moment of truth to see how these long-term commitments are being implemented.”
BlackRock will vote on management-related proposals at Exxon and Duke Energy, where activists are urging large shareholders such as BlackRock and Vanguard to vote against current executives for allegedly failing to do something about climate change.
According to a Reuters report, activists insist that BlackRock and Vanguard—which together hold 13 percent of Exxon—vote against CEO Darren Woods and lead independent director Kenneth Frazier.
Separately, an activist investment fund will be vying for four seats on the Exxon board. The fund, Engine No. 1, has previously bemoaned Exxon’s low returns on investments in oil and gas projects.
BlackRock has been one of the early adopters of sustainability goals in its investment strategy. As early as January 2020, the firm’s CEO, Larry Fink, wrote in his annual letter to shareholders that “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects … But awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”
At the end of last year, BlackRock said it would make climate change central to its investment strategy for 2021, noting, “The changes we have made to our stewardship principles and voting guidelines strengthen our expectations of management and boards in ensuring companies have a sustainable long-term business model.”