Finance Giant BlackRock Faces Activist Heat for Investing in the War Machine

Anti-war campaigners and members of CodePink demonstrate outside Blackrock's offices in Manhattan on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. (Photo: Sarah Eckel-Dalrymple/CodePink)

Finance Giant BlackRock Faces Activist Heat for Investing in the War Machine

Divest from the war machine, protesters tell the private equity giant

On Wednesday of this week, on a dreary morning in Manhattan, anti-war protesters gathered to turn up the heat on the world's most powerful private equity giant, BlackRock. Attendees carried a plethora of signs and chanted a variety of demands, but their main focus was on holding the massive investment company accountable for its controversial activities--mainly investing in the manufacturing of deadly weapons--within the United States as well as around the world. For the progressive anti-war and women-led Code Pink, BlackRock had to cease making a "killing on killing."

Sarah Eckel Dalrymple, manager for Code Pink's Divest from the War Machine campaign, tells the Independent Media Institute that the weapons BlackRock invests in "are being used in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Those weapons are also in our streets, going into the hands of the police forces. We see the impact of these investments around the world and at home. We are calling on BlackRock, the world's largest investment firm, to divest from war. They need to rip themselves from these profits."

"We're fighting wars that cannot be won," Dalrymple goes on. "[BlackRock] continues engaging in them. That's not what we should be doing. We are bombing, we are engaging in conflict, [but] we are not doing the work to rebuild these communities--and we are not making ourselves safer." The companies that BlackRock invests in include Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon--these are just a few of the companies that make billions off of America's endless wars.

Perhaps the best way to understand how BlackRock makes a profit from investing in companies that manufacture weapons is by looking at the rhetoric of American protectionism: the idea that there is an existential threat to the United States of America at all times. As CNBC noted in March, BlackRock strategists were "optimistic" about jumps in bond yields as more Americans grew enamored with jingoistic paranoia--possibly on the issue of immigration and entries of refugees from countries pillaged by American imperial war. According to CNBC, BlackRock has a whopping $6 trillion in assets and has previously said that it would "supercharge" corporate yields.

The company's global chief investment strategist, Richard Turnill, told CNBC about the company's profits, "There's a relative preference that continues to be for stocks. Our expectation is you're going to get lower returns and higher valuations across all asset classes. It's still an environment where you want to be invested in stocks. It's still an environment where you want to see stocks do well in a period of sustained expansion."

It's that kind of chase after lucrative yields combined with America's ultra-nationalist pro-war rhetoric that keeps the country's war machine well-oiled, according to Dalrymple. In contrast, peace deals tend to be anathema for companies like BlackRock. "After the North and South Koreans leader met, weapon stocks went down," Dalrymple noted. And she has a point. Shortly after the historic handshake took place between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in, the S&P Aerospace and Defense Select Industry Index stock dropped by 1.3 percent. "The Asian markets took a bit of rise while American markets stayed flat," Dalrymple says. She notes that the profitability of such markets is "based on whether or not we can have peace."

"We're allowing this one [war] portion of the market to drive the rest of it," she adds. "It really does highlight how this is only profiting a few people."

Code Pink's focus on BlackRock points to a larger concern about constant war expressed by progressives in the United States. It isn't a new worry either. In 2015, right after the Paris attacks, the stocks of the world's most prominent and potent weapons manufacturers quite literally soared. Those companies included the firms that BlackRock invests, such as Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics plus Booz Allen Hamilton.

The investment firm's activities carry domestic repercussions as well, according to activists. When it comes to American gun violence, BlackRock is under critical spotlight as activists believe the company reaps profits from firearm purchases. Joining CodePink on Wednesday, Jonathan Westin, director of the New York Communities for Change, told New York Daily News, "We're here to send a message that BlackRock investors and big Wall Street investors are propping up the NRA and therefore the death of kids across the country."

Westin added that company's CEO, Larry Fink, "likes to pretend he's a responsible investor when in reality he's just as responsible for the deaths of these kids." In April, perhaps to mitigate pressure and criticism, BlackRock released a memo saying that it would offer new products to clients who did not want to profit off "investing in gun manufacturers and retailers," according to the conservative National Review.

So, what should be done? Dalrymple says that there needs to be more concerted effort, on national and private levels, to put the work in diplomacy and harmonizing bilateral relations with other nations. It's the kind of work that's desperately needed to cull American wars or, she says, the country is perpetuating an idea that "we live in a bubble" and, even more worryingly, causing the radicalization of innocent people.

So far, BlackRock has declined to comment on the Wednesday protest. "We've sent them letters and we've requested meetings. They have yet to respond to us," Dalrymple says.

"What's amazing about today was that you saw an uprising of people coming from different perspectives," she said about the action. "But it's all essentially about the fact that there shouldn't be profits in the destruction of our world. Whether it's coming from a bomb or an AR-15 or fossil fuels, whatever it happens to be, we don't want bottom-line destruction. We want everyone to be able to live in peace."

It's hard to say whether the Wednesday chants will compel BlackRock to rethink its modus operandi, but Dalrymple is optimistic: "You're seeing people stepping up to the world's largest investment firm and saying, 'You have to stop.'"

Considering the pressure put on the company this week, it seems like a message BlackRock can't put off for too long.

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