The Limits of Woke Capitalism
Republicans and conservatives reacted negatively to the political advocacy taken by large corporations.
Republicans and conservatives reacted negatively to the political advocacy taken by large corporations such as Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines against the Georgia voting rights law. However, conservatives ought not to be surprised by this corporate activism. It reflects the success of a long-term campaign by parts of the investment community to encourage large companies to adopt a "progressive" political agenda.
BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, with $8.67 trillion in assets under management, has been forceful in using its massive clout to press companies to pursue its "woke" agenda. Its CEO Larry Fink was once mooted to be on Hilary Clinton's shortlist for Treasury Secretary.[i] His "Annual Letter to CEOs" routinely contains a strong progressive political message. [ii]
However, this corporate governance agenda remains very selective in its priorities. For example, human rights in China does not even warrant a whisper. Some of the very same companies, such as Apple, Nike, and Coke that promote their ESG (Environment, Social, Governance] bona fides have also pushed Congress to alter legislation cracking down on imports of goods made with forced labor from persecuted Muslim minorities in China.
Their lobbyists fought to water down provisions of the bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act intended to prevent Chinese atrocities. According to the New York Times: "Human rights groups and news reports have linked many multinational companies to suppliers there, including tying Coca-Cola to sugar sourced from Xinjiang, and documenting Uyghurs workers in a factory in Qingdao that makes Nike shoes."[iii]
Coke's "see no evil" approach to China's human rights abuses can hardly surprise. The company describes China as its "third-largest market by volume, and "a significant long-term growth opportunity for The Coca-Cola Company and its bottling system." [iv] Not to be outdone as a China sycophant, Delta Airlines proclaims that the country is "leading the way in international growth and Delta is committed to being the most Chinese-friendly U.S. airline." [v]
Investors seeking companies that match their values have alternatives. 2nd Vote Advisers performs a full social audit of every company in the S&P 1500, analyzing their advocacy, philanthropy, corporate statements, and legislative support to determine the quality, quantity, type, and extent of a corporation's social activism. Based on their analysis, 73% of S&P 1500 companies are either "liberal" or "lean liberal."[vi]
The American Conservative Value ETF takes another approach. This actively managed Exchange Traded Fund avoids ownership in companies that its adviser determines disproportionately support liberal causes. The ETF's current list of excluded companies includes Facebook, 3M, Johnson & Johnson, BlackRock, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, Walt Disney, General Motors, AT&T, Twitter, Comcast, JP Morgan Chase, Walmart, Salesforce.Com, Nike, Progressive, Starbucks, Dick's Sporting Goods, Wells Fargo, New York Times, Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet.[vii]
Individual investors can follow their consciences and personal preferences, unlike fiduciaries legally required to act in the best interests of those who entrust their money with them. Canny investors can also take advantage of the opportunities created when ideological "Woke Investors" avoid otherwise attractive companies.
Pension fiduciaries such as BlackRock's Fink are required by Federal law to make investment decisions "based only on pecuniary factors." Thus they are prohibited from making investment decisions to promote non-economic benefits or goals.[viii] Fink exploits a pension regulations loophole to contend that investments in non-woke companies are more likely to turn out badly. Nevertheless, BlackRock is legally constrained against entirely acting on its CEO's rhetoric.
Consequently, despite all its virtue signaling, BlackRock has itself become a target of the progressive left. Activists inflated a 10-foot hot air balloon with a banner "BlackRock: Hot Air on Climate" a last year's annual meeting. Environmental groups have launched a website, "BlackRock' Big Problem," ridiculing the all too evident chasm between its rhetoric and its actual practice. [ix]
The German word is Schadenfreude, the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction from learning or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.
[ii] https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter [iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/29/business/economy/nike-coca-cola-xinjiang-forced-labor-bill.html ; https://www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale; https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/china-compels-uighurs-to-work-in-shoe-factory-that-supplies-nike/2020/02/28/ebddf5f4-57b2-11ea-8efd-0f904bdd8057_story.html
[vii] The American Conservative Values ETF's creator, William "Bill" Flaig, Founder and CEO of Ridgeline Research, recently appeared on the Montgomery County Republican Club's DirectLine, see too https://acvetfs.com/