A UK activist investor with a history of taking on big companies has called on BlackRock founder Larry Fink to resign as chief executive over the “apparent hypocrisy” of the asset manager’s use of environmental, social and governance investment factors.
Bluebell Capital Partners went public with its concerns about the world’s largest money manager on Tuesday, releasing a letter it had sent to Fink last month.
Giuseppe Bivona and Marco Taricco, Bluebell’s co-chief investment officers, contended that BlackRock had changed positions several times on investing in thermal coal production while failing to live up to Fink’s widely publicised sustainability commitments. Shareholder data show Bluebell has about a 0.01 per cent stake in BlackRock, which has a market capitalisation of $107bn.
“The contradictions and apparent hypocrisy of BlackRock’s actions have unnecessary politicised the ESG debate,” they wrote. “The reputational damage of being dragged into this politically charged debate, in our view, is very significant because it calls into question the independency of BlackRock as an asset manager.”
The Bluebell partners added that it had “direct experience . . . [with] BlackRock’s inconsistent approach”. They said BlackRock failed to support Bluebell’s position on environmental shareholder resolutions at mining and commodities group Glencore and chemicals group Solvay.
BlackRock said: “In the past 18 months, Bluebell has waged a number of campaigns to promote their climate and governance agenda. BlackRock Investment Stewardship did not support their campaigns as we did not consider them to be in the best economic interests of our clients.”
The group has been hit with criticisms from both sides of the sustainability debate. Texas officials have put BlackRock on a list of fund managers it considers hostile to fossil fuel, and Republican officials in several states have pulled money out of BlackRock funds. Democratic officials complain that BlackRock has not gone far enough in its support for reducing carbon emissions.
Bluebell is best known for helping to topple the chief executive at Danone in 2021 despite holding less than €20mn in shares and having total assets of €70mn. It has been sparring with luxury group Richemont over its dual- class share structure since earlier this year. BlackRock voted against Bluebell’s proposals to give ordinary shareholders more say over director elections.
Bivona told the Financial Times that Bluebell bought into BlackRock earlier this year and now has about $250mn under management.
He said he particularly objected to BlackRock’s new Voting Choice programme, which allows institutional investors to vote their own shares on contested proxy issues. Bluebell’s letter called voting choice “a clear sign of BlackRock’s capitulation of its obligation to exercise its fiduciary duties and little more than a cute commercial tool”.