The evils laid at the door of ESG by its conservative critics in the US are numerous. Yet while polemics against the term are rarely lacking in vitriol, the same cannot be said for coherence – see Elon Musk recently tweeting: “The S in ESG stands for Satanic.”
More specific concerns are laid out in filings at US companies, shedding light on the perspectives of some of the more extreme ESG sceptics.
JPMorgan Chase, for example, is a financial institution notorious for its “hard-left political orthodoxy”, according to the National Centre for Public Policy Research (NCPPR).
In a shareholder proposal at the banking heavyweight, the US conservative think-tank claims: “Chase has a history of cancelling the accounts of those who hold opinions and political views that deviate from hard-left political orthodoxy.”
By way of evidence, it points to reports that disgraced former Donald Trump aide Michael Flynn was sent a credit card cancellation letter in 2021, which reportedly cited “reputational risk” posed to JPMorgan Chase. The bank apologised at the time for what it said was an error.
Also cited is the closing of an account held by the National Committee for Religious Freedom, a US faith-based non-profit which espouses principles containing “several tenets that are antithetical to many liberal activists and ESG agitators, though not to the broad run of many Americans – including Chase customers”, according to the NCPPR.
To remedy this purported bias, the conservative group wants JPMorgan to report on any practices that “prioritise non-pecuniary factors when it comes to establishing, rejecting, or failing to continue client relationships”.
JPMorgan Chase isn’t the only US bank in the NCPPR’s crosshairs this year. The group is also going after Bank of America, seeking a “congruency report” into the bank’s partnership with “globalist organisations”.
Links with groups such as the Business Roundtable, the influential association of US CEOs, are deemed “antithetical with [sic] the Company’s fiduciary duty”.
According to the NCPPR, they – along with the likes of the World Economic Forum (WEF) – espouse “radical agendas”.
The group is particularly concerned about the WEF, which – allegedly – “openly advocates for transhumanism, abolishing private property, eating bugs, social credit systems, ‘The Great Reset’, and a host of other blatantly Orwellian objectives”.
NCPPR claims that Bank of America’s support for such organisations is being provided without shareholders’ knowledge, meaning their capital is unwittingly “in part being used to pursue this anti-human, anti-freedom agenda”.
Bank of America’s chair and CEO, Brian Moynihan, is a long-standing and very public champion of sustainability. He is co-chair of the Sustainable Markets Initiative and was a signatory to the Business Roundtable’s 2019 statement on the purpose of a corporation.
Another signatory to that statement is Albert Bourla, CEO at US drugmaker Pfizer, which was hit with a virtually identical proposal from NCPPR referencing its partnerships with “globalist” organisations.
Both Pfizer and Bank of America are seeking to exclude the proposals via the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s “no action” process, arguing that the NCPPR has failed to provide evidence of continuous stock ownership, a basic filing requirement.
US jean maker Levi Strauss & Co has already managed to rid itself of an NCPPR proposal on similar grounds. That resolution argued that Levi Strauss’s contribution to charities such as the American Civil Liberties Union are contributing to “the very civilisation-destroying developments that now beset the company”.
NCPPR was particularly concerned about the work of the Levi’s foundation, which it claimed backs “woke causes and organisations”, many of which “support ideologically left-wing objectives and undermine law enforcement”.
Given these policy preferences, the NCPPR concluded, “it should come as no revelation that crime has increased in cities across America, including smash and grabs”.
Their proposal calls on Levi Strauss to create a board-level committee to review the impact of action such as charitable giving on its financial stability.
Despite persistent poor support, anti-ESG proposals are an increasingly familiar feature of the US proxy season. Last year, conservative or anti-ESG proposals more than doubled to 52 from 26 in 2021. Irrespective of how the SEC rules on this set of proposals, the NCPPR and others are likely to keep filing.