BlackRock: Funding War, Preaching Social Responsibility

With $5 trillion in assets under its control, BlackRock is the largest corporation of its kind in the world. In recent years the company has been seeking to burnish its image by urging the companies it funds to take into account the concerns of the communities in which they operate, including showing leadership on “environmental, social and governance matters.” Among BlackRock’s own efforts in this regard have been the creation of two “gun free” investment funds and support for a shareholder resolution by faith-based organizations that would force gun-maker Sturm Ruger to do a reportthat takes account of the risks posed by its activities, as a step towards promoting greater gun safety. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility applauded the successful resolution, noting that it “sends a strong message to Sturm Ruger’s board that business as usual is insufficient given the current climate, and that new safety standards responding to the risks guns pose for society are needed.”

BlackRock’s actions on the issue of gun violence are a small step in the right direction, and a refreshing change from the indifference that too often greets efforts to persuade major investment firms to take into account the societal impacts of their activities. But when it comes to stemming global violence, the company falls far short of the mark.

The company’s “U.S. aerospace and defense” fund has billions of dollars invested in major weapons contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman. These firms are the top recipients of Pentagon contracts, splitting $100 billion in our tax dollars among them in 2017. Much of this funding goes to pay for weapons we don’t need at prices we can’t afford, from Lockheed Martin’s defective F-35 combat aircraft to General Dynamics’ next-generation ballistic missile firing submarine. These funds would be far better spent on education, health care, environmental protection, alternative energy, public transportation, and other urgent needs that have gone unmet while the Pentagon consumes well over half of our nation’s discretionary budget, as noted by the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

In addition to starving urgent social and economic needs at home, the weapons built by the companies bolstered by BlackRock are causing untold suffering abroad. The most egregious example is the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where U.S.-supplied fighter planes (Lockheed Martin), bombs (Raytheon and Boeing), tanks (General Dynamics), and missiles (Lockheed Martin) have been used to kill thousands of civilians in indiscriminate bombing attacks that have targeted everything from weddings to funerals to hospitals to civilian marketplaces. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) has rightly pointed out that these U.S.-backed Saudi strikes “look like war crimes.” How can BlackRock claim to be socially responsible while profiting from the slaughter in Yemen and enabling the companies that are fueling it?

The weapons companies supported by BlackRock are also on the leading edge of the Pentagon’s dangerous and unnecessary $1.2 trillion nuclear weapons buildup, which aims to create a new generation of nuclear bombers (Northrop Grumman), ballistic missile submarines (General Dynamics), nuclear warheads (Honeywell, Bechtel, and other firms), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (Lockheed Martin), and more. At a time when the United Nations has taken the historic step of creating a treaty banning nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, and the Trump administration is demanding that North Korea roll back its nuclear weapons program, the last thing the world needs is more nuclear warheads, and more ways to deliver them. The only way to protect the world from nuclear weapons is to get rid of them altogether. Buying more just increases the chances that they will be used again one day, with devastating, and possibly world-ending, consequences.

So, which is it, BlackRock? Fueling war and the nuclear arms race, or promoting social responsibility? It’s not possible to do both at the same time.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, and the author of “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex,” (Nation Books).