Earlier this year, in his influential annual CEO letter, BlackRock head Larry Fink predicted that climate change would upend the financial world order, announcing that his firm would “place sustainability at the center of [their] investment approach.”

But a group of activists say that BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, is failing by its own standards by continuing its investments in companies that drive deforestation and fossil fuel consumption. Without action, activists say, Fink’s words are just hot air. As shareholders came together virtually for BlackRock’s annual general meeting last week, those activists sought to firm up Fink’s commitments.

In a virtual People’s Assembly, activists from across the world spoke out against the BlackRock investments harming their communities and further exacerbating the effects of Covid-19 and climate change. They were joined by Congressman Chuy Garcia and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who shared their concern over BlackRock’s environmentally destructive investments.

Even while social distancing, their campaign, BlackRock’s Big Problem, continues to shine a light on the asset manager’s hypocrisy. “We can’t address the climate crisis without big changes at BlackRock,” Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said while moderating the event.

Activists from Liberia to the Amazon to Oakland to New York joined the call to discuss how BlackRock impacted their health, citing the asset manager’s investments in fossil fuels and companies driving deforestation. Panelists noted as well the particularly hard toll BlackRock’s actions took on the Black and Indigenous communities hit hard by environmental racism. Those impacts are felt even more now, thanks to the particularly harsh impacts of Covid-19 on people in more polluted neighborhoods.

While the assembly was virtual, panelists urged participants to get involved by calling to demand accountability over BlackRock’s use of shareholder power in other companies and submitting postcards to let Fink know that his words are only hot air until followed by action.

Members of the campaign submitted questions for Fink to answer during the shareholders meeting. And on the day of the shareholders meeting, campaigners got creative with socially-distant protests outside BlackRock offices, which included a mock hot air balloon.

Watch the entire assembly below.

Negin Owliaei is a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies, where she co-edits Inequality.org

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