Steelworkers union joins drive for labour rights accountability at world’s largest money manager

Roch Drapeau, a trustee on the Comité des avantages sociaux des Métallos, the Quebec Steelworkers’ benefits fund, demanded improvements in the labour practices of portfolio asset managers at a recent meeting with BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager.

Drapeau was part of a November meeting of 29 labour-nominated pension fund trustees and trade union representatives from around the globe that met with BlackRock.

“Asset-owner clients are keen to hold their managers accountable and to ask that workers’ capital cease to undermine workers’ rights around the globe,” said Drapeau.

BlackRock manages over US$9 trillion in assets – more than five times the size of Canada’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The trustees called on BlackRock to step up its pressure on the companies that undermine fundamental labour rights and that are part of the manager’s portfolio.  

The Global Unions’ Committee on Workers’ Capital (CWC), convened the meeting – the trade union network that drives responsible labour practices across the investment chain. Workers’ capital, which includes pension funds and other union-backed investment vehicles, is a powerful lever to influence the practices of asset managers, in line with fiduciary responsibilities.

In 2020, worldwide pension fund assets amounted to over US$35 trillion. These funds make up a substantial client base for money managers like BlackRock.

During the meeting, trustees urged BlackRock to:

  1. Intensify its engagements to drive better labour practices with companies (including Amazon, Chartwell Retirement Residences, POSCO) that have track records of anti-union practices
  2. Commit to engaging with companies that have been called out by the OECD National Contact Points for violating their labour rights responsibilities under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (e.g., cement maker Holcim in Switzerland)
  3. Require that its portfolio companies uphold the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Fundamental Rights and Principles at Work

BlackRock committed to raising specific labour issues with a set of companies and it agreed to meet annually with the group of trustees and to incorporate the information provided by trade unions into its engagements with companies.  

The ongoing efforts with BlackRock are part of the CWC’s Asset Manager Accountability Initiative, which was launched in 2019.

Simultaneous engagements are taking place with managers like State Street, UBS and Macquarie. The Initiative convenes asset owners from around the globe to hold their money managers accountable to and drive positive changes for workers whose fundamental rights are being violated by multinational companies. To learn more, visit workerscapital.org.

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