By Ross Kerber
BOSTON (Reuters) – BlackRock Inc <BLK.N> released figures showing it took a tougher stance on climate matters in the springtime proxy season, though it drew criticism from environmentalists claiming the top asset manager failed to back up its recent emphasis on the area.
BlackRock of New York said in a report on Tuesday that it voted against management at 53 companies worldwide, most of them energy companies, for “lack of progress” on climate concerns during the 2020 proxy season, and warned another 191 companies to take faster action.
A BlackRock spokesman said via email its critical voting at 53 companies compared to critical votes it cast at six companies in 2019, indicating a tougher overall approach.
With some $7 trillion under management BlackRock wields much influence on Corporate America’s boardrooms. Under pressure from clients and activists, BlackRock had said it would put a new focus on climate change concerns after supporting shareholder resolutions on the topic only about 10% of the time in the past.
Tuesday’s numbers included votes that BlackRock cast for resolutions and against directors, breaking with management recommendations, and was not directly comparable to the 10% figure.
Of the 53 companies, 37 were energy companies with a market capitalization of $408 billion, BlackRock said.
In its report BlackRock cited votes like those it cast against directors at ExxonMobil Corp <XOM.N> this year, which were previously disclosed, for reasons including “Exxon’s failure to have clear, long-term greenhouse gas reduction targets.”
Ben Cushing, a representative of U.S. environmental group Sierra Club, said BlackRock should have voted critically more often rather than giving out warnings.
“BlackRock took only baby steps forward by voting the right way on a fraction of the climate tests on the table, and claiming that stronger action is on the way,” Cushing said via email.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)