Updated September 5th, 2022
The asset management firm has holdings in fossil fuels, military & civilian arms manufacturing
Over 700 women’s rights organizations, feminist activists and allies have signed an open letter urging UN Women to ‘immediately rescind and repudiate’ its partnership with the asset management firm BlackRock.
While the Memorandum of Understanding has not been made public, the partnership was announced in a UN Women press release (which was removed from its website on July 25), declaring that the collaboration would ‘promote gender lens investing.’
“There is no explanation of how this effort will measurably contribute to gender equality,” said Emilia Reyes, an economist with the Mexico City-based Equidad De Género: Ciudadanía, Trabajo Y Familia, who first raised concerns about this partnership at the June 2022 conference of the International Association for Feminist Economists in Geneva. “Nor is mention made of whether the partnership will open BlackRock’s vast investment portfolio to feminist scrutiny — exposing how BlackRock’s holdings in fossil fuels, and in military and civilian arms manufacturing, contribute to the precarity of women’s livelihoods and physical security.”
The letter details BlackRock’s investments in industries that contribute to climate change and social instability, as well as the firm’s obstruction of measures to promote labor rights, corporate accountability for sexual harassment, and close gender pay gaps where it has shareholdings. It points out that BlackRock also holds large amounts of external private debt in Global South countries where it has resisted government requests to restructure or suspend repayments to accommodate national crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which affect public budgets to support women.
“UN Women recognizes that gender inequality is exacerbated by the climate crisis, yet has chosen to collaborate with BlackRock while ignoring its destructive business model. The Wall Street giant’s investments in fossil fuels, agribusiness, and border and surveillance companies drive intensifying climate change, human rights abuses and violent border regimes. No organization whose mission is to empower women and uphold human rights should be collaborating with investors that profit from crisis and abuses. Instead, UN Women should call on BlackRock to end its harmful investments – or leave BlackRock behind.” Luisa Galvao, Friends of the Earth US.
Many signatories to the letter were part of a 2015 challenge to UN Women’s partnership with Uber, an arrangement that was swiftly canceled once feminist activists reminded UN Women of Uber’s exploitative labor practices and how its business model entrenches precarious work.
The signatory feminist organizations demand UN Women assumes an important role in curbing corporate abuses of human rights and the environment, rather than partnering with the corporations committing the abuse.
“UN Women’s private sector partnerships are driven by limited funding from Member States,” said Bangladeshi academic and activist, Sanam Amin, who helped author the letter. “The solution, however, is in strengthening UN Women’s access to the UN’s core budget — not rushing to form partnerships with the very organizations that are profiteering from poverty and climate change, and in fact benefiting economically from the competitive advantages offered by relying on low-income women and vulnerable communities across global value chains.”
As Myriam Vander Stichele, Senior Researcher at SOMO, explains, “The MoU seems to allow BlackRock to cheaply use the ‘data and research’ by UN Women in order to get better ESG ratings in which more investors are interested.” BlackRock aims to combine this with ‘competitive financial returns’: a net profit margin of 30.12% (as of June 30, 2022), net income of $5.9 bn in 2021 and $3.7 billion returned to their shareholders in 2021.
A cross-UN review of its capacity to advance gender equality (a ‘Gender Architecture review’) is currently underway, marking an opportune moment to reinforce UN Women’s leadership role and institutional security within the UN.
“This partnership between BlackRock and UN Women presents serious and potentially irreparable risks to UN Women’s legitimacy as the lead intergovernmental agency upholding gender equality,” says Bangladeshi academic and activist, Sanam Amin. “The lack of resources across the UN more broadly is driven by economic systems that have deprived states of tax revenue and fiscal space, and which require systemic solutions beyond forging private sector partnerships. Part of the solution entails bolstering decision-making through the permanent presence of feminist civil society organizations on UN Women’s board.”
As a follow up action, feminists are organising an online public event on Tuesday 16 August to highlight why UN Women needs to rescind the partnership BlackRock and set standards for its private sector partnerships.
For further information contact:
Kerry Skiff, Press Officer, Friends of the Earth US: email@example.com
Margarita Salas, Communications & tactics strategist, AWID: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lindsay Bigda, Senior Communications Manager, WEDO: email@example.com
 ESG ratings assess how companies and investors deal with environmental, social and food governance (ESG) risk for investors and companies, or ESG impacts by companies and investors on people and planet.