From passive owners to planet savers? Asset managers, carbon majors and the limits of sustainable finance

Joseph Baines, Sandy Brian Hager*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines the role of the Big Three asset management firms – BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street – in corporate environmental governance. Specifically, it investigates the Big Three’s relationships with the publicly listed Carbon Majors: a small group of fossil fuels, cement and mining companies responsible for the bulk of industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Engaging with the corporate governance concepts of ownership and control, and exit and voice, it charts the rise to prominence of the Big Three, including their environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds, in the ownership of the Carbon Majors. Having established their status as key sources of permanent capital that are unlikely to exit from their investment positions in the world’s most polluting publicly listed corporations, the article examines how control may be exercised through voice by analysing the Big Three’s proxy voting record at Carbon Major annual general meetings. It finds that they more frequently oppose rather than support shareholder resolutions aimed at improving environmental governance and that their voting is more likely to lead to the failure than to the success of these resolutions. Remarkably, there is little to distinguish the proxy voting of the Big Three’s ESG funds from their non-ESG funds. Regardless of whether these resolutions succeeded or failed, they also tend to be narrow in scope and piecemeal in nature. Overall, the article raises serious doubts about the Big Three’s credentials as environmental stewards and argues instead that they are little more than stewards of the status quo of shareholder value maximization.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • asset management
  • Carbon Majors
  • climate change
  • corporate governance
  • environmental social and governance
  • sustainable finance


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