ShareAction released its fifth annual report analysing how the world’s largest asset managers voted in 2023 on shareholder resolutions that were aimed at addressing environmental and social issues. The overall picture of the results is that support for these resolutions has catastrophically crashed to a level not seen before in the report series.
The report, Voting Matters, from ShareAction – the responsible investment charity – found that in 2023 only 3% of assessed resolutions passed, down from 21% in 2021. Of the environmental resolutions assessed, just 3% passed last year compared to 32% in 2021. Asset managers who voted against resolutions to protect the environment included JP Morgan Asset Management, State Street Global Advisers and UK-based Baillie Gifford, who have policies claiming they are working to protect the planet by achieving net zero emissions, leaving them open to claims of hypocrisy and greenwashing.
On social resolutions, the report found a drop in majority support from 15% to 4% in 2023. Among the resolutions that failed to pass due to large asset managers like BlackRock, Vanguard, Fidelity Investments and State Street voting them down, was one asking the owners of high street retailer TK Maxx to report on human rights risks in their supply chain.
Claudia Gray, Head of Financial Sector Research, said: “What we are seeing is asset managers turning their backs on people and planet on an unprecedented scale. Efforts to change urgent climate, biodiversity and social issues will face a steep uphill struggle if asset managers do not support them.”
Ranking 69 of the world’s largest asset managers, the report assesses how they voted at AGMs in 2023, and for the first time makes a comparison to the policies and public statements of the asset managers too. It has uncovered a clear distinction between the way European and North American asset managers voted in 2023. As the ranking table shows, European asset managers have a much better record of voting for resolutions protecting the environment, and human and employee rights, than their US counterparts.
Voting Matters reveals the trend toward more responsible voting practices among European asset managers continues unabated. On average, they supported 88% of shareholder proposals on environmental and social issues, signalling a positive trajectory across European countries. In the UK support hovers at around 64% on average, while US asset managers on average only voted for 25%.
UK-based EFG Asset Management, who has performed badly in recent years, has shown it’s possible to improve by jumping up 42 places this year to take the top spot in the rankings.
BlackRock, Fidelity Investments, Vanguard and State Street are known as the ‘big four’ asset managers as they are the largest in the world and therefore have a massive influence on the companies they invest in. Yet average support amongst the big four for environmental resolutions fell from 39% to 14% between 2021 and 2023. Support for social resolutions went down from 29% to 13%. A resolution at Amazon calling for an assessment of its workers’ union rights would have passed had the big four voted in favour, along with 68 other key resolutions.
Claudia Gray, Head of Financial Sector Research said: “This is the worst result we’ve seen from asset managers in recent years. Each day we see the impact of global warming with increased floods, fires and loss of the natural world. At the same time inequality is increasing, with many workers struggling to pay their bills while executives take increasing salaries and bonuses.
“The lack of support for key shareholder resolutions in 2023 is deeply concerning. It is even more worrying that some of the world’s largest asset managers are failing to support climate resolutions despite their public commitments to reduce carbon emissions. The findings from our report really question whether the majority of the world’s wealth is being managed effectively. Many asset managers promote their commitment to responsible investment. For their claims to have any credibility they need to vote in favour of more social and environmental resolutions. We are now seeing the complete opposite of this happening.”
Other key findings from the report include:
- Support from the big four continues to fall, with the world’s largest manager BlackRock supporting just 8% of resolutions this year. Dozens of resolutions would have passed if these managers had voted for them, including at Amazon, Apple, The Coca-Cola Company, Dow, Pfizer, and Lockheed Martin (detailed examples in the report).
- European asset managers supported more proposals than ever in the context of better EU regulations.
- Many asset managers are risking accusations of greenwashing by not supporting crucial climate resolutions despite having net-zero pledges.
- Asset Managers who have signed up to Climate Action 100+ with a mandate to protect the environment are at the same time voting down resolutions at AGMs that would improve environmental protections in what can only be described as greenwashing.
- The world’s leading asset managers are blocking transparency on potential human rights violations by voting against resolutions calling on arms manufacturers to disclose how and where their products are being used.
Claudia Gray, Head of Financial Sector Research at ShareAction said: “Asset managers are blocking progress on globally agreed goals such as tackling climate change, and ending exploitation of workers, whilst continuing to profit from investment in companies that enable those practices. Action is needed urgently as we are running out of time to reach globally agreed 2030 goals.”
In this year’s report we found there was some improvement from asset managers, with Santander Asset Management and EFG Asset Management having the largest rise in our rankings, but with others such as American Century Investment Management and Capital Group significantly backsliding from where they were in 2022.