Disappointment as oil and gas CEO re-elected to BlackRock’s board

Shareholders were also unsuccessful in requesting a review of BlackRock’s proxy voting record

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Michael Nelson

Environmental organisation Sierra Club expressed dismay at the results of the BlackRock 2024 annual general meeting, saying shareholders failed to hold the firm accountable for its climate risk management.

Shareholders were given the opportunity to vote on the election or re-election of members to the board and investor proposals, including reviewing the company’s climate-related proxy voting record.

There was disappointment that Amin Nasser – CEO of the world’s largest oil and gas producer, Saudi Aramco – retained his position on the board of directors at BlackRock. Although they did not disclose individual votes for directors, BlackRock did indicate all 16 directors up for election or re-election received majority support. Precise results are expected in the coming days.

The appointment of Nasser to the board last year was controversial, as Saudi Aramco is accused of being a major laggard in the energy transition and is implicated in human rights violations. Nasser himself has also been a vocal advocate for fossil fuel expansion, having said recently the world should abandon the “fantasy” of phasing out oil and gas.

Earlier this month, the New York City Comptroller’s office filed an exempt solicitation with the SEC, writing it does not believe Nasser is qualified to serve as an independent director on BlackRock’s board. 

“His nomination represents a step backward for the company, aligning BlackRock with outdated perspectives and practices that are incompatible with the pressing need for climate action and responsible business practices as reflected in BlackRock’s own commitments,” the solicitation noted.

It went to question the progress BlackRock can truly make with the board election of Nasser – also citing the company’s withdrawal from Climate Action 100+ – and pointed out in June 2023, Nasser received a letter from independent human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, expressing concern and requesting clarification over allegations that Aramco was involved in “one of the largest ever climate-related breaches of international human rights law by a business”.

Additionally, only 8% of shareholders supported a resolution requesting the board review BlackRock’s proxy voting record and policies related to climate change. Proponents argued neither BlackRock’s voting record nor voting guidelines reflect the firm’s position that climate risk is material. The resolution was filed by Mercy Investment Services. 

Responding to the shareholder votes, Jessye Waxman, senior strategist with the Sierra Club’s Fossil-Free Finance Campaign, said: “Climate risk management is not a political issue, it’s a responsible investment practice. Financially material climate-related risks are growing but can be mitigated through better corporate governance and investment decisions. That shareholders appear timid about encouraging BlackRock to take this issue seriously – whether through its proxy voting or choice of directors – suggests that either shareholders are still failing to understand climate-related risks, or are making decisions influenced by political disinformation, rather than promoting what is in the best interest of BlackRock or its clients.”

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