War Profiteering, Ecocide & Policing: BlackRock Vies for Corporate Hall of Shame

BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset management firm, has been nominated for the 2022 Corporate Hall of Shame by our friends at Corporate Accountability.

BlackRock has nearly $10 trillion in assets under management. That’s more than the GDP of every country in the world except for the United States and China. BlackRock is a top shareholder across a wide range of global industries that include oil and gas, technology, retail, big banks, healthcare, weapons manufacturing, and much more. All this makes BlackRock one of the most powerful corporate actors on the planet, whose influence touches every aspect of our daily lives.

BlackRock’s Founder, Chairman and CEO, Larry Fink, has attempted to brand the firm as sensitive to global challenges like climate change, structural racism, and public health. However, BlackRock’s investment activity and governance practices drive business operations that directly harm Black and Indigenous communities and people of color around the world. The firm props up the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $260 billion in investments in corporations that are propelling our climate catastrophe. It has nearly $6 billion invested in civilian gun manufacturers and retailers and an astounding $36 billion invested in military weapons’ companies. Larry Fink has been a major donor to the New York City Police Foundation, which supplies equipment and surveillance technology to a New York Police Department that has targeted Black and Brown communities in New York for decades.

For all these reasons and more, BlackRock has been nominated to join Corporate Accountability’s Corporate Hall of Shame – and we believe it is an extremely strong candidate for entry.

Driving Climate Catastrophe

BlackRock is one of the world’s biggest corporate drivers of climate chaos and ecocide. Not only is it a major culprit behind the global climate breakdown because of its huge fossil fuel investments, but its wishy-washy climate promises and support for false climate solutions fail to address the root causes of the climate crisis.

To start, BlackRock oversees one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel portfolios. It is a top owner of the world’s most powerful and most polluting oil and gas corporations – from ExxonMobil to Chevron and from ConocoPhillips to Marathon Petroleum. It recently led a consortium of investors that plowed $15.5 billion into Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil and gas company – and one of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel companies.

BlackRock also remains one of the world’s biggest investors in the coal industry. While insurance and investment for the coal industry is shrinking, BlackRock has recently plunged more than $34 billion into companies developing new coal assets. BlackRock remains the single largest institutional investor in coal, with around $109 billion invested in the industry. This includes the $1.2 billion BlackRock invested in Adani Group’s dirty coal mine project in Australia, which over 100 companies have ruled out investing in due to public pressure. Not BlackRock, though!

Simply put: there are few corporate actors that are more heavily invested and have more of an ownership share in fossil fuels and extractive industries than BlackRock.

This also means that BlackRock has more power than almost anyone when it comes to holding these industries to account for the damage they cause. But does BlackRock use this power for good? Not even close.

According to the shareholder advocacy group Majority Action, BlackRock almost always votes with management in the “climate-critical” industries it invests in. Between 2015 and 2019, BlackRock actively opposed or passively abstained on over 80% of climate-related shareholder motions at FTSE 100 and S&P 500 fossil fuel companies.

For years, BlackRock has nevertheless tried to present itself as enlightened on climate issues. In 2021, the firm declared its support for “the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.” BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote an open letter calling on companies “to disclose a plan for how their business model will be compatible with a net-zero economy.”

But none of this is sufficient. Many believe that corporate net-zero promises are false climate solutions that allow firms like BlackRock to remain massively invested in fossil fuel operations. Even one of BlackRock’s own executives called out the firm for greenwashing. But at least BlackRock was making gestures around climate issues.

Now, BlackRock seems to be backtracking even on those minor shifts. The firm said it would vote for fewer climate shareholder provisions in 2022 than it did in 2021. In Larry Fink’s annual letter this year, he stated that“ [BlackRock] focuses on sustainability not because we’re environmentalists, but because we are capitalists and fiduciaries to our clients.” Fink goes on to write that BlackRock “will not support policies that are good for society but bad for BlackRock.” He also said that businesses “cannot be the climate police.”

In addition to BlackRock’s extensive fossil fuel portfolio, its governance structure is riddled with oil and gas interests. Several BlackRock directors have ties to the fossil fuel industry, and none more than Murry Gerber, who has been BlackRock’s Lead Independent Director since 2017 and part of the Board since 2000. Gerber raked in tens of millions overseeing the rise of the US fracking boom as a top executive at EQT from 1998 to 2021. Since 2012 he’s also been a director of Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil field service corporations.

Even more, Gerber took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to profit big from fossil fuels. In the early months of 2020, Gerber scooped up 505,763 shares of Halliburton after its share price collapsed. This amounted to a whopping 732% increase in Gerber’s personal ownership of Halliburton’s oil stock. Since then, he’s raked in millions with Halliburton’s share price skyrocketing back up.

Even more, Gerber took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to profit big from fossil fuels. In the early months of 2020, Gerber scooped up 505,763 shares of Halliburton after its share price collapsed. This amounted to a whopping 732% increase in Gerber’s personal ownership of Halliburton’s oil stock. Since then, he’s raked in millions with Hallburton’s share price skyrocketing back up.

With oil and gas executives like Gerber leading BlackRock’s board, it’s no wonder the company stays so wedded to the fossil fuel industry.

BlackRock is also driving climate injustice around the world through its investments in companies whose operations threaten Indigenous communities on their lands through industrial activity and intimidation, abuse of Indigenous territorial rights, and displacement of communities from their ancestral homes. BlackRock is also the largest investor in companies tied to deforestation all around the world. While BlackRock has said that it will take steps on deforestation, it has given little indication of plans to address Indigenous rights.

In sum: there may be no greater existential crisis facing humanity than the global climate catastrophe and BlackRock is playing an active role in perpetuating this crisis. With assets equivalent to being the world’s third-largest economy in the world, BlackRock has the power, authority, and duty to lead on a just climate transition. But with its huge fossil fuel portfolio and its insufficient actions on climate, BlackRock may be doing more than any other corporate actor to continue to prop up and drive this crisis.

Propping up Police Power

While BlackRock is financing the fossil fuel industry whose operations are harming frontline communities around the world, CEO Larry Fink has also been supporting the police as they target protesters and BIPOC communities in BlackRock’s home city of New York.

Larry Fink served as the co-chair of the New York City Police Foundation’s annual gala for four years beginning in 2016, and he was honored by the foundation in 2015. Fink has also donated to the NYC Police Foundation, which has given millions to the New York Police Department (NYPD) for more surveillance equipment, mounted police horses, and policing gear. In 2020, the NYPD used excessive force to crack down on racial justice protesters after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. In fact, the State of New York filed a lawsuit against the NYPD over their handling of the protests in 2020. The suit claims that the New York City Police Department exhibited “a pattern of using excessive force and making false arrests against New Yorkers during peaceful protests.”

BlackRock’s support of police power in the United States extends far beyond just New York City. As Code Pink has reported, BlackRock is the largest shareholder in Axon, a nationwide supplier of tasers, body cameras, and surveillance software to police departments around the country. BlackRock holds 10.4% of Axon’s stock, which currently amounts to over $600 million invested in the company. In addition to being the largest shareholder, former Chief Investment Officer at BlackRock, Matthew McBrady, has served on the board of Axon since 2016.

Axon has contracts with the police departments in most major cities in the United States. The company’s flagship products are a series of tasers that are sold to civilians, police, and the military. The company claims that the weapon is a safer alternative than guns for police to use in the field. However, a 2019 Reuters report “documented a total of at least 1,081 U.S. deaths following use of Tasers” in the US since they became widely popular with police departments in the early 2000s. Another report from USA Today found that “[f]our of five cases that ended in death” that involved tasers “began as calls for nonviolent incidents, and 84% were unarmed.” In the cases where the race of the victim was reported, the majority were Black or Latino.

Nevertheless, the NYPD stockpiled brand new X26p tasers from Axon in 2020. The Los Angeles Police Department followed suit in 2021 by purchasing 5,260 Taser 7 energy weapons from Axon, making the LAPD the force with the largest energy weapon deployment in the US. Since 2018, the company has also entered into agreements to supply hundreds of tasers to major cities including Chicago, San Jose, Tucson, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. BlackRock has directly benefited from Axon’s 220% growth in the last five years.

BlackRock is also the largest investor in gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, with an 8.3% stake in the company. Smith & Wesson guns or ammunition are used in the police departments in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit, and Chicago. The company also makes assault weapons and restraints marketed and sold to police departments.

Weapons Manufacturers

In addition to profiting off of bloated police budgets, BlackRock also props up many companies whose products are tied to gun violence in the United States and endless war and occupation of places like in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. BlackRock is a top investor in many gun and weapons manufacturers that sell weapons designed to kill people as efficiently as possible, with consequences that are hard to ignore.

As we reported earlier this month, BlackRock is the largest shareholder in weapons manufacturer Sturm, Ruger, & Company, owning 15.9% of shares, worth nearly $200 million. According to reports out of Palestine, the gun used to kill Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was a Sturm Ruger Mini-semi automatic 14 rifle.

In the past, BlackRock has tried to distance itself from the gun industry and the violence it perpetuates. For example, in response to the Parkland mass shooting in 2018, where the shooter used a Smith & Wesson rifle, BlackRock issued a statement that announced an internal policy change to allow clients to choose not to invest in gun manufacturers or retailers, as well as a statement claiming that it would “[engage] with firearms manufacturers and retailers in which our clients are invested regarding business policies and practices.”

However, Axios reports that following this statement, little changed at any of the companies that BlackRock was trying to engage. BlackRock consistently supported gun manufacturer leadership with few exceptions and was the deciding vote in rejecting an attempt to pass a comprehensive human rights resolution at Smith & Wesson. The resolution, proposed by Catholic nuns, failed with only 44% of the shareholder vote.

BlackRock’s investments in weapons manufacturers also equip and profit from war machines across the world that create massive refugee crises. In yet another attempt to distance itself from the harm tied to its business operations, BlackRock just announced a new partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to help refugees displaced by war in Ukraine and Afghanistan. However, as Code Pink reports, BlackRock maintains sizable investments in some of the largest weapons manufacturers in the world who are directly profiting from arms sales tied to many of the wars that are creating refugee crises.

BlackRock has tens of billions invested in the top military contractors in the United States. It is a top beneficial owner of Lockheed Martin (6.4%), Boeing (5.2%), General Dynamics (3.94%), Northrop Grumman (5.5%), and Raytheon (6.6%). BlackRock executives and governors also have interlocking roles with these defense manufacturers. For example, Boeing director Stayce D. Harris is also a director of BlackRock’s Fixed Income Mutual Funds.

BlackRock granted the IRC’s Supporting Afghan Financial Empowerment (SAFE) initiative with $500,000. That donation amounts to a truly minuscule fraction of the funds that BlackRock has invested in just the five largest military contractors in the US listed above. While the firm tries to attract positive attention in the press through modest charitable giving, BlackRock continues to profit off of the defense industry and the violence its products are tied to around the world.

BlackRock also owns hundreds of millions of dollars worth of shares in a range of smaller gun and weapons manufacturers. A few examples include:

  • Vista Outdoors, which sells ammunition, primers, and powder directly to consumers in addition to law enforcement and the military. BlackRock is a 15.26% owner of Vista, a $307.7 million stake at the time of the most recent filing.
  • Olin Corporation, a manufacturer of ammunition and chemical products that also owns Winchester Ammunition, the largest manufacturer for small caliber ammunition for the United States military. BlackRock owns 10.4% of Olin, an $825.8 million stake at the time of the most recent filing.
  • Ammo Inc, which supplies ammunition to the US military and the police and is a leading manufacturer of armor piercing bullets. BlackRock owns 11.26% of Ammo, a $27.4 million stake at the time of the most recent filing.
  • National Presto Industries, which owns AMTEC, the “largest volume producer of 40mm Grenade Ammunition and Fuzing in the world” along with several other explosives manufacturers. BlackRock owns 12.52% of National Presto, a $67.9 million stake at the time of the most recent filing.

BlackRock is also a top owner of major gun and ammunition retailers like Big 5 Sporting Goods (6.11%) and Sportsman Warehouse Holdings (6.78%).

Final Argument

As the world’s top asset manager, BlackRock is a majority investor in almost every major publicly-traded company. It profits from those companies’ operations and, as a major shareholder, bears significant responsibility for their governance and the impacts of their operations across the world.

While we’ve only examined a few areas of the shameful impacts of BlackRock’s business operations, there are many more examples we could look at, ranging from Big Tech hate profiteers to union-busting corporations and much, much more. Where there is corporate-driven harm going on, you’ll almost always find BlackRock.

Finally, as if BlackRock could use more arguments to win the 2022 Hall of Shame award, the company is also a beneficial shareholder for the large majority of other U.S. based Hall of Shame nominees. For example, BlackRock owns 6.9% of Facebook, 6.45% of Coca Cola, 5.7% of Amazon, 6.4% of LockHeed Martin, 6% of Philip Morris, and 6.5% of Chevron.

For all these reasons and more, we believe BlackRock is an excellent candidate to enter Corporate Accountability’s Corporate Hall of Shame in 2022. Vote for BlackRock here!