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BlackRock CEO faces call to step down amid claims of hypocrisy

<span>Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and one of the most vocal supporters of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investment principles, is facing pressure from an activist hedge fund to step down amid claims of hypocrisy.

London-based Bluebell Capital Partners, a $250m hedge fund, took aim at Fink and BlackRock on Tuesday, claiming the firm’s ESG strategy was inconsistent and had “alienated clients and attracted an undesired level of negative publicity”.

“The contradictions and apparent hypocrisy of BlackRock’s actions have … politicised the ESG debate,” Bluebell wrote in a letter. “The reputational damage of being dragged into this politically charged debate, in our view, is very significant because it calls into question the independence of BlackRock as an asset manager.”

According to Bluebell, which holds a 0.01% stake in BlackRock, the asset giant has not gone far enough to detach itself from fossil fuel investments in pursuit of its ESG goals, and Fink has become a target of environmental and human rights campaign groups.

“Fink clearly has political ambitions because it is not his job as chief executive of BlackRock to dictate energy policy,” Bluebell chief investment officer, Giuseppe Bivona, told Reuters.

Bluebell’s criticism of BlackRock focuses on commitments to invest in companies – including Glencore – that mine coal for energy production, and BlackRock’s refusal to support their campaign to prevent a Belgian chemical company called Solvay from dumping soda ash into the Mediterranean.

A BlackRock spokesperson said that the company did not “support” Bluebell’s campaigns because it does “not consider them to be in the best economic interests of our clients”.

Bluebell has been involved in previous skirmishes. Last year, it followed powerhouse investor Elliott Management in demanding that GlaxoSmithKline’s chief officer, Emma Walmsley, reapply for her job and launch a search for new leadership after taking a stake in the company.

Fink has been an outspoken supporter of ESG investing, a stance that has put him and BlackRock in political cross-hairs. Over the summer, 19 conservative US state attorney generals accused Fink and BlackRock of violating their fiduciary duties and of sacrificing returns to advance the company’s net zero carbon emissions agenda. Last week, Florida said it would pull $2bn in state pension funds from the asset giant.

“I think stakeholder capitalism is not political or woke – I just think it’s capitalism,” Fink told a New York Times conference last week.