BlackRock’s Agribusiness Engagement Guidelines Draw Scrutiny from Environmental Groups

Amazon Watch and Friends of the Earth demand real action on deforestation and human rights

WASHINGTON — Environmental groups Amazon Watch and Friends of the Earth released an analysis today of BlackRock’s newly released statement on its engagement with agribusiness – the second leading driver of the climate crisis after fossil fuels. The analysis highlights weaknesses in BlackRock’s approach to agribusiness, including the company’s failure to explain how it will adhere to international human rights norms and hold companies accountable.

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, quietly released the new statement on agribusiness weeks after the company rolled out new policies on climate change and sustainability. The statement comes after sustained pressure from climate activists, investors, legislators, and thought leaders for BlackRock’s role as a major investor in the agribusiness commodities most responsible for deforestation.

BlackRock’s statement acknowledges the inherent financial, material, and climate risks posed by the agribusiness sector. But an analysis by Friends of the Earth and Amazon Watch shows just how weak BlackRock’s approach is. The new statement on agribusiness fails to indicate how it will hold companies accountable for ongoing climate emissions, deforestation, land grabbing, and broader human rights violations, as well as public health concerns around agrochemical inputs.

The analysis suggests that BlackRock should adopt high-level policies to address the inherent risks in the agribusiness sector and should provide clear guidelines for transparent time-bound engagement with companies.

“BlackRock is clearly feeling the pressure from the climate and indigenous rights movement to align its investment practices with a sustainable world, which includes how it engages with and invests in agribusiness,” said Moira Birss, climate and finance director at Amazon Watch. “Its new statement identifies many of the key risk factors of the industry but does not include any actual commitments. To be a real leader in tackling deforestation and associated risks, BlackRock needs to clarify its standards for companies, the metrics it will use to measure company behavior, and consequences for violations of those standards. The Amazon rainforest is dangerously close to a tipping point driven largely by the agribusiness industry, and nothing less than strong, enforceable standards from investors will prevent further deforestation and violence against forest defenders.”

“BlackRock’s approach to agribusiness should begin by recognizing that industrial plantation agriculture is inherently unsustainable,” said Gaurav Madan, Senior Forest and Land Campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S. “BlackRock’s acknowledgment of the extensive risks in the agribusiness sector is a positive step — but how it will act on those risks is entirely unclear. BlackRock needs to disclose its standards for gauging companies’ operations and the consequences companies will face when they fail to put an end to deforestation, land grabbing, and human rights abuses. Until and unless it takes clear action, BlackRock’s response falls far short of the approach needed to match the scale of the climate crisis.”

Background:

BlackRock is one of the largest investors in the world in deforestation-linked commodities and the largest global investor in fossil fuels. Deforestation stemming from the production of industrial agricultural commodities are responsible for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions and involve clearing hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests, dispossessing indigenous and local communities, and driving protracted land conflicts. Agribusiness is one of the deadliest sectors in the world for environmental defenders and communities on the front lines of extractive industries.

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Expert contact: Jeff Conant, (510) 900-0016, jconant@foe.org
Communications contact: Aisha Dukule, (202) 893-3502, adukule@foe.org

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