Asset managers BlackRock, Vanguard and J.P. Morgan Chase are failing to live up to their promises to push companies on climate change, according to a group of small investors.
Boston Trust Walden and Mercy Investment Services submitted shareholder proposals to three of the world's largest asset managers, blasting the firms for failing to align their public stances on the climate crisis with their proxy voting records. Zevin Asset Management also filed a resolution over proxy voting concerns with T. Rowe Price.
Shareholder proposals are becoming an increasingly crucial battleground in corporate America's response to climate change. Smaller investors are voicing discontent with the differences in how asset managers talk about their stances on climate, and how they vote on proposals at the public companies in which they own shares.
Shareholder advocacy firms Boston Trust Walden and Mercy have been backing climate change proposals at companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron for years — but BlackRock and Vanguard, among the largest holders of virtually every publicly traded U.S. company, rarely vote with them.
The firms also filed similar proposals at BlackRock, Vanguard and J.P. Morgan in 2017, but withdrew them after the three agreed to enhance their proxy voting policies.
Boston Trust Walden, which managed about $9.4 billion at the end of June, and Mercy, which declined to provide its assets under management, now say the companies haven't kept their promises and might face reputation issues, portfolio risks or concerns about fiduciary duty violations if they do not act.
"They didn't meet expectations," said Timothy Smith, who leads shareholder engagement at Boston Trust Walden. "We've been evaluating them for a couple years and their voting results are still dismal."
BlackRock said in response that its investment stewardship efforts shouldn't be judged only on proxy voting records. The New York-based money manager, which oversees about $7 trillion, said it engaged with 370 companies globally on environmental topics.
"Where companies have not responded to our engagement or where we do not see sufficient progress and attention to climate risk over time, BlackRock Investment Stewardship continues to vote against directors and, where relevant, for shareholder proposals," spokesman Farrell Denby said by email.
Vanguard spokeswoman Carolyn Wegemann confirmed the firm received a letter from Boston Trust Walden. "We responded in kind and expressed our willingness to meet and discuss this matter," she said.
T. Rowe Price spokesman Brian Lewbart said the firm is evaluating the proposal. J.P. Morgan didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
American asset managers — in particular BlackRock and Vanguard — lag behind their European counterparts in supporting climate change-related proposals at U.S. public companies, an analysis of 65 resolutions from U.K.-based group ShareAction found last month.
The campaign against the large asset managers comes as the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering a change in the shareholder proposal process that would make it tougher for smaller investors like Boston Trust Walden, Zevin and Mercy to file shareholder proposals at all companies.