Racial justice leaders, allies call for shareholder action

Racial justice leaders, allies call for shareholder action

Dozens of foundation and nonprofit leaders have signed an open letter calling on asset managers to use their influence as corporate shareholders to change "business-as-usual practices" and help advance racial justice.

Published in the Financial Times by advocacy group Majority Action and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the letter notes that, in 2020, "the world's largest asset managers voted in favor of all-white boards, for directors with known histories of racist harm, and to shield management from disclosing lobbying activities and political contributions that harm Black, Indigenous, [and] other communities that have been historically targeted and marginalized." The signatories call on asset managers to, at a minimum, oppose all-white boards or those with token representation by a single person of color; oppose directors in charge of political spending that have failed to address their funding of elected officials implicated in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol or those behind voter suppression efforts; and support shareholder demands for racial equity audits, complete transparency and accountability with respect to political spending and lobbying, and action to address racist practices such as workplace and customer discrimination, algorithmic bias, and community surveillance.

The more than hundred and forty racial justice leaders and foundation, nonprofit, and corporate allies who signed the letter include Repairers of the Breach president William J. Barber II, Media Justice founding director Malkia Devich-Cyril, #BlackLivesMatter co-founder and Black to the Future Action Fund principal Alicia Garza, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights interim CEO Wade Henderson, SEIU secretary treasurer Gerry Hudson and president Mary Kay Henry, People for the American Way president Ben Jealous, NAACP president Derrick Johnson, Demos trustee emeritus Heather McGhee, Color of Change president Rashad Robinson, and Color of Change and Majority Action co-founder James Rucker. Other signatories include Women's Foundation of California board members Dion Aroner, Lora O'Connor, Susan Pritzker, and C.M. Samala, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation president Rini Bannerjee, Leeway Foundation board president Amadee Braxton, Wallace Global Fund executive director Ellen Dorsey, MoveOn executive director Rahna Epting, George Gund Foundation board chair and Art for Justice Fund board member Catherine Gund, Libra Foundation executive director Crystal Hayling, Libra Foundation board co-chair and Kataly Foundation co-founder Regan Pritzker, and Beneficial State Foundation co-founders Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor.

The letter is aimed at BlackRock, Vanguard Group, and State Street, which, according to Majority Action and SEIU's 2020 Racial Justice Report (38 pages, PDF), hold approximately 25 percent of voting shares across the S&P 500 but in 2020 supported only a fraction of the shareholder resolutions seeking to improve oversight of risks driven by systemic racism. In addition, BlackRock and Vanguard supported every director on more than 90 percent of the boards in the S&P 500 with no "racially or ethnically diverse" members.

"Without shareholder action, major corporations will continue to endanger Black and other marginalized communities to maximize profit gains and conduct business as usual," said Robinson. "In just the span of a few months, we have already witnessed corporations attempt to walk back their commitment to halt donations to insurrectionist enablers...Since companies have failed to act on their own, shareholders and their asset managers must step up to use their power to force these companies to enact protective policies."

"Letter to Asset Managers." Majority Action and Service Employees International Union open letter 04/20/2021. "Top racial justice movement leaders demand largest asset managers fulfill racial justice commitments in open letter." Majority Action and Service Employees International Union press release 04/20/2021.