Are Woke Money Managers Ignoring Enviro/Social Guidance Violations in China?
If you care about potential conflicts of interest that might be influencing your money manager’s silent foreign partner the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — first direct your immediate attention to three perfectly benign-sounding words, "Environmental, Social Guidance," (or "ESG" for short).
Numerous studies have revealed that even many retail investors know little about ESG purposes and implications. According to an April survey, only 24% of 1,228 of those polled defined the abbreviation correctly, and about one in four thought it stood for "earnings, stock, growth."
Briefly described, big, enormously influential ESG banking institutions and financial asset management corporations preferentially guide investment funds to ventures that purport to uphold such goals and standards as reducing pollution and carbon emissions, providing diverse and inclusive workforces from entry level to board positions, and promoting other ethically and socially conscious themes such as social justice and gender equity.
They promote these programs somewhat independently of their primary fiduciary role to protect and grow their investors’ accounts, and many have proven to be lose-lose propositions.
Climate-related "temperature-aligned" funds restricting investments to companies that have committed to the Paris Climate Accord of Dec. 12, 2015, have generally underperformed relative to other indexes as well as accomplishing little or nothing towards a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Depending on the verification process used, 175 to 225 companies in the S&P 500 fail to meet this requirement. Among just "big three" asset managers, BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street hold nearly 20 percent of the outstanding shares of the companies in that S&P 500 Index.
All three firms have been offering Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) to capitalize upon huge China markets. Blackrock and Vanguard have steered American investors into ETFs and other investment products that have reportedly helped the Chinese Communist Party build and modernize its military.
State Street only recently lost its role managing Hong Kong’s largest exchange-traded fund, after being criticized last year for briefly following a U.S. investment ban on some Chinese shares.
Although the CCP now owns or controls 12 companies in Fortune's Global 50 list representing $2.557 trillion in revenues, much of corporate America’s concern about ESG social justice appears to stop at the water’s edge.
As noted by The Wall Street Journal, on Nov. 2, John Lee, the current chief executive and former security head for Hong Kong will keynote the Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit there along with CEO speaker representatives from Blackrock, Blackstone, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and Morgan Stanley.
The U.S. Treasury Department had sanctioned transactions with Mr. Lee in 2020 for "being involved in coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning individuals under the authority of the National Security Law" imposed by Beijing to outlaw dissent in Hong Kong with a maximum penalty of life in prison.
The U.S. corporate summit representatives should be wary that no business or executive is safe in Hong Kong, where authorities have forced the closure of Apple Daily and Stand News, and have frozen their assets without due process and arrested top editors and executives, including pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai, who has been in prison for nearly two years.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who serves on the House Financial Services Committee points out gross hypocrisy when U.S. corporations "that trumpet their so-called 'Environmental, Social and Governance Principles' at home are quick to discard these 'values' for a chance to make a profit from China."
Fellow House GOP committee member Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., echoed Smith’s criticism, telling Politico, "American executives attending an event with the CCP’s so-called enforcer [Lee] makes a person question whether human rights are a real concern."
ESG in China puts the CCP in charge of setting investment requirements while also serving as regulator both for domestic and foreign businesses.
Last year, the CCP scuppered what would have been the world’s largest $37 billion initial public offering of Alibaba’s Ant Financial over CEO Jack Ma’s criticism of state-owned banks and regulators.
Extending its grip beyond its borders, the CCP attempted to influence the Academy Awards, signaling to cinemas in China and state-owned media to "tamp down coverage of the Oscars . . . after the controversy over [the nomination of Nomadland director Chloe] Zhao,” who made unflattering remarks about China in 2013, “and the nomination of a documentary about the Hong Kong protests."
The CCP sees its dual investor-regulator role as a strength. Often referred to as "the policy dividend" in China’s business schools, this would be considered a flaw in governance and a conflict of interest in any other industrialized nation whereby the CCP rewards companies that align with agendas.
Those investments deemed favorable receive support or de facto wavers for ignoring conventional ESG environmental and social justice standards.
American corporate customers for some of these not-so-ESG-products and services are finally beginning to be called into account — as well they should be.
Nike and its investors had to pay to clean up the supply chain after consumer advocacy groups found out that their Chinese suppliers used forced sweatshop labor.
H&M, the largest international clothing retailer, found many of its products removed from Chinese e-commerce sites shortly after Western countries imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over the alleged use of forced labor in Xinjiang’s cotton industry.
Meanwhile however, as woke U.S. ESG companies continue to proselytize "Green Energy" investments (windmills and sunbeams) to save the planet from "CO2 pollution" (plant food), China, whose largest cities have become nearly unbreathable, is rushing to build more new coal-fired plants than all other nations combined.
Such ESG-linked asset managers — who remain the largest shareholders of publicly traded U.S. energy companies — have imposed stringent emission caps (Chevron) and climate strategies (Exxon) resulting in critical underdevelopment and shortages in the absence of feasible energy replacement alternatives.
And as many of those same companies strangle the U.S. hydrocarbon industry of investments needed for transportation, to power industries, and to heat homes, they are eager to drive auto manufacturers to electric vehicle markets which will rely upon China-sourced-and-controlled rare earth minerals for batteries.
There is nothing remotely environmentally or socially justifiable about this destructive scam.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture and the graduate space architecture program. His latest of 12 books is "Architectures Beyond Boxes and Boundaries: My Life By Design" (2022). Read Larry Bell's Reports — More Here.
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