Last month, investment powerhouse Vanguard announced its exit from the Net Zero Asset Managers (NZAM). Vanguard stated that its reason for leaving is to “make clear that Vanguard speaks independently on matters of importance to our investors.” In Vanguard’s exit, many see the first substantive win for the Anti-ESG movement and have accused the firm of caving to political pressure.
GOP lawmakers and Attorneys General threatened the financial services industry with antitrust litigation against and public fund divestment from firms participating in climate pacts. According to this piece from Bloomberg (subscription required), Florida and Texas have both withdrawn contracts with BlackRock due to the firm’s ESG commitments.
Shortly after Vanguard announced its exit from NZAM, Texas removed the firm from an investigation into ESG investment strategies. And just two days ago, the Treasurer of Kentucky published its list of eleven “financial companies that are engaged in energy company boycotts.” Interestingly, Vanguard is not one of the listed companies, although it was one of the companies initially investigated by the state for “alleged violations of Kentucky’s consumer protection laws related to ESG (environmental, social, governance) investment practices” (see the actual subpoena here).
On its face, it appears that Vanguard was essentially rewarded for withdrawing from NZAM. Could this be just the first of a string of NZAM defections? Possibly.
The Anti-ESG movement is growing, especially in red states, and many are concerned about the financial and legal impacts that Anti-ESG will have. However, as Kirsten Snow Spalding, Vice President of Sustainability at Ceres and NZAM founding partner – points out effectively managing risks is a crucial part of a financial firm’s fiduciary duty and that includes climate risks. Additionally, legal experts have pointed out that the odds of success for Anti-ESG antitrust lawsuits are questionable, and that far more litigation is arising from companies failing to adequately address climate risks.
Regardless of the likelihood of success for antitrust enforcement, Anti-ESG states are likely to continue divesting public funds from climate-aligned firms which may result in real financial impacts. The question for financial services firms is where to hedge their bets on appeasing the Anti-ESG movement and keeping contracts with those states or on planning for the future by adequately mitigating climate risks. For our members looking to keep up with the latest in Anti-ESG our new Anti-ESG Subject Area houses plenty of content to bring you up to speed and keep you informed as this area develops.