BlackRock joins in i-Activism

A week after Jana Partners LLC and California State Teachers Retirement System wrote to Apple demanding it take action over the addiction of children to smart phones, BlackRock has made a powerful intervention in the governance debate. I dubbed this i-Activism LAST WEEK as I think this stance by investors is genuinely new. Many serious people can see that either capitalism reforms itself, or it risks being overturned by a populist revolt.

The New York Times is reporting that Larry Fink, the founder and CEO of BlackRock, which has some $6 trillion under management, is writing to companies in which the firm has a major stake to warn them to ensure they are making “a positive contribution to society”. He says that as equities have reached record highs, so has “popular frustration” and society is demanding that companies “serve a social purpose”. 

In particular, BlackRock wants companies to publish a long term strategic plan, approved by the board.

Meanwhile, in the UK, there was an animated exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions today over the collapse of Carillion, which created more heat than light. It does not take a genius to observe that Carillion’s bankruptcy is a tailor-made issue for Mr Corbyn. Those who are looking for leadership from the current crop of political leaders are likely to be disappointed.

Unless a refreshing Macron-style figure emerges in the UK or the US, only business itself can really provide the leadership. As Jonathan Hill, a co-founder of Prosperity UK observes in the Financial Times today: “For reasons wider than Brexit, business needs to reconnect with the society which it serves. It needs to overcome the crisis of confidence it has suffered since the financial crisis and remake the case for why we need markets and a competitive private sector. Otherwise it will increasingly find itself at the mercy of populist politicians.”

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