Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

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

Mehreen Kasana

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.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute which retains all rights.

Mehreen Kasana

Mehreen Kasana is a news writer. Previously, she worked as the front-page editor for the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter: @mehreenkasana

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Senate Dems Help Torpedo Resolution That Would Have Blocked $650 Million Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

"My simple question is, why in the world would the United States reward a regime that has caused such pain in Yemen with more weapons," Sanders asked after the vote. "The answer is we should not."

Brett Wilkins ·

Amnesty Scorecard Finds Twitter Failing to Protect Women From Online Abuse

"As our world has become increasingly dependent on digital spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic, it's critical that Twitter meet this moment with demonstrated commitment to improving the online experiences of all users, regardless of their identity."

Jessica Corbett ·

Filibuster Reform for Debt Ceiling Fight But Not Voting Rights or Reproductive Freedom?

"If our senators are willing to suspend the filibuster to protect our economy, they should be willing to suspend it to protect our democracy and our freedom to vote."

Jessica Corbett ·

As Senate Holds Guantánamo Hearing, Biden Urged to 'Finally End This Chapter of Injustice'

"Guantánamo is a centerpiece of the forever wars. It is a shameful symbol of racial injustice, torture, and violations of the Constitution and international law."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Unbreakable Solidarity': Kellogg's Workers Reject Contract That Would Leave New Employees Out of Benefits

"We're not willing to sell our souls for our future employees that are going to work side by side with us but not get the same pay or benefits."

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo