Spring is in the air and many in-house members are busy preparing for shareholder engagement meetings. To help companies prepare, last week BlackRock issued its 2021 engagement priorities along with a slew of memos relating to stewardship engagements. The stewardship engagement memos address BlackRock’s engagement on board diversity, human capital management, climate risk, natural capital, long-term strategy, executive incentives and human rights.
BlackRock’s 2021 engagement priorities map each priority to UN Sustainable Development Goals – and include key performance indicators for each engagement priority. It’s not a surprise that one of the asset manager’s engagement priorities relates to how companies are dealing with climate-related risks. As emphasized in Larry Fink’s January letter to CEOs, the “climate risk” KPIs include expectations for companies to explain how they are aligned with achieving net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. The “natural capital” KPI builds on that theme, and encourages companies to disclose how their business practices are consistent with sustainable use and management of natural capital. It also calls on companies with material dependencies or impacts on natural habitats to publish “no-deforestation” policies and strategies on biodiversity.
One takeaway from BlackRock’s 2021 engagement priorities is that it appears the asset manager may vote “for” more shareholder proposals focused on sustainability. Here’s an excerpt:
In 2021, we see voting on shareholder proposals playing an increasingly important role in our stewardship efforts, particularly on sustainability issues. As a long-term investor, BIS has historically engaged to explain our views on an issue and given management ample time to address it. However, given the need for urgent action on many business relevant sustainability issues, we will be more likely to support a shareholder proposal without waiting to assess the effectiveness of engagement. Accordingly, where we agree with the intent of a shareholder proposal addressing a material business risk, and if we determine that management could do better in managing and disclosing that risk, we will support the proposal. We may also support a proposal if management is on track, but we believe that voting in favor might accelerate their progress.
-Lynn Jokela, TheCorporateCounsel.net March 22, 2021
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