Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) has become something of a political football among those determined to single out the issue as an example of so-called ‘wokeism’.
Jason Mitchell, Head of Responsible Investment Research with investment management firm, Man Group, discusses this issue in a Man.com podcast interview on ESG and the Culture Wars. He speaks to London Business School's Dr Ioannis Ioannou, discussing what is at stake in the backlash on ESG and how to think about the factors driving its politicisation.
Mr Mitchell put the following observation to Dr Ioannou: "Your letter in the Financial Times was titled Anti-woke Rhetoric on ESG Will Harm Society. Since that was published on August 1st, it feels like the debate has only intensified. You wrote in that letter that the anti-woke anti-ESG movement is popular sport. I guess my first question is, do you think it's just sports? Is it simply political posturing, or are we watching it transform into something much more partisan and ideological? The rhetoric and tweets and sort of noise now seem to be growing into a much more organised political movement."
Dr Ioannou responds to this observation with the following commentary: “My prediction is that we are going to see ESG going at the centre or rather being pushed at the centre of the famous US culture wars, woke, anti-woke, capitalism, and so on and so forth. I think that fundamentally is partisan and it is ideological, and it is the latest manifestation of a broader issue that typically the political right has had against these issues. For instance, think about climate change denial, for example. Think about all the funding of the Koch brothers that essentially convinced senators and congressmen and women to kill climate bills in the '90s, and the 2000s in the US. Think about all the senators and congressmen and women that were bought out or funded by the fossil fuel industry in order to cast doubt on climate science, and again, block the climate action agenda. I think what we are witnessing right now is a manifestation of that ideology that essentially is based on protecting some of these vested interests.
“Clearly, the oil and gas lobby for instance is one of the most, if not the most powerful lobby in Washington, and essentially, there's a lot of money on the table, especially as we engage in the green transition in a lot of this vested interest and money comes under threat. So, I think this war that we're watching is going to sadly continue, and my grave concern is that it might delay us and probably it will delay us from addressing all of these challenges, and we are already late. I'm not sure if you've seen this week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on their annual update on the sustainable development goals, for instance, they told us that, ‘Well, we are on track towards achieving none of them.’ So, if you add delay on top of that, then that really makes me worried if we will ever meet our environmental and social targets.”