Arizona may place another major company on a list of prohibited investments for allegedly boycotting the state of Israel. It would be the second company deemed in violation of Arizona’s ban against Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) of Israel. Arizona already placed Unilever on that list over the Israel BDS enacted by its subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s.
Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee gave the Chicago-based financial services company, Morningstar, 30 days to prove that they weren’t boycotting Israel. In a press release on Monday, Yee shared that her office suspected Morningstar of boycotting because its subsidiary, Sustainalytics, employed environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) policies that punished companies doing business in Israel with poorer scoring.
Arizona doesn’t have any public funds invested in Morningstar presently.
Yee said that ESG-focused companies benefitting from taxpayer dollars victimize other companies in order to advance “woke political gamesmanship.”
“ESG ratings are a political scorecard, not a financial scorecard,” said Yee. “I will not allow companies to promote policies that are antisemitic and discriminatory efforts against Israel, which is America’s longtime friend and ally, and a significant trade partner with Arizona.”
In her letter, Yee pointed Morningstar CEO Kunal Kapoor to his company’s own 117-page report investigating Sustainalytics released in early June. Morningstar insisted in an affiliated press release that it didn’t support boycotts of Israel, and cleared Sustainalytics of boycotting accusations. However, Yee said that pages 69-73, 86-93, and 97-99 of the report proved otherwise.
“ESG, in itself, is a subjective exercise and suffers from inherent bias. While [the] report says there was no bias against Israel, that is not the question presented to us under Arizona law,” wrote Yee. “The very fact that Sustainalytics has chosen to review companies doing business in Israel under the guise of its ESG ratings system, violates Arizona law as your company is ‘performing actions that are not intended to limit commercial relations with entities doing business in Israel.’”
ESG began in 2004 when former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan convened over 50 CEOs from the top financial institutions in a bid to influence markets. Annan’s coordination prompted the rollout of early ESG models, such as the New York Stock Exchange’s Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) in 2006 and the Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative (SSEI) in 2007.
Today, ESG models award scoring to measure companies based on equity-based initiatives. For example, environmental criteria might include waste reduction efforts or natural resource conservation; social criteria might include restorative justice initiatives or reproductive care funding like abortions; and governance criteria might include weighing issues that impact company stakeholders.
Unilever reversed Ben & Jerry’s boycott in late June. They repudiated the ice cream company’s actions, insinuating that they were antisemitic. However, Yee didn’t reverse the state’s divestment.
While some politicians have called in the past for boycotts or buycotts of specific companies, Rep. Reginald Bolding (LD27) has raised the subject of whether the National Football League should consider pulling the February 2023 Super Bowl out of Arizona in response to the state’s new election laws.
Bolding, the House Democratic Leader, broached the issue in a May 11 letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the same day the Senate passed SB1485, a bill which could remove more than 100,000 names from the early voting list of voters who continually fail to utilize the early ballot option.
The NFL announced in May 2018 that the Super Bowl LVII would be returning to Arizona in 2023 with a week-long list of activities culminating with the championship game. But in his letter, Bolding reminded Goodell the NFL reneged on its plan to hold the Super Bowl in Arizona in 1993 after legislators opted to not recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday.
“I am respectfully requesting that you add your powerful voice to a chorus of folks from a broad political spectrum to urge Governor Doug Ducey to veto this reprehensible legislation,” Bolding wrote to Goodell, adding “it is time for organizations like the NFL, the NCAA and the College Football National Championship to get off the sidelines and take a stand like Major League Baseball.”
The MLB reference relates to last month’s announcement that the All-Star Game was being moved from Atlanta to Denver after Georgia lawmakers made changes to the state’s election laws.
What Bolding didn’t know when sending his letter to Goodell was that Ducey signed SB1485 less than one hour after the legislation was transmitted to his desk.
Since then, Bolding’s suggestion that the NFL could consider pulling a premier sporting event has been heavily criticized for its negative impact on Arizona’s tourism and hospitality industries still reeling from the last 15 months of COVID-19 restrictions.
An economic study released after last year’s Super Bowl LIV in Miami showed that visitor spending -including spectators, media, teams, and NFL – brought in nearly $250 million to the Greater Miami area. There were also millions in short term labor income, and a $34 million bump in local and state tax revenues connected to the event.
Bolding’s letter to Goodell referred to a decision by Michael Bidwell, owner of the Arizona Cardinals, to join a few dozen Arizona business leaders to oppose some election-related legislation, including SB1485.
But Ducey made it clear when signing the bill that he found nothing nefarious about making changes to the state’s elections law.
“Arizona has for years continuously improved and refined our election laws —including intuitively renaming ‘absentee’ voting to ‘early’ voting— and constantly seeking to strengthen the security and integrity of our elections,” he said. “SB 1485 ensures Arizona remains a leader for inclusive, accessible, efficient and secure election administration.”
Bolding has continued to attack SB1485, although he has not repeated his panned comments about the NFL’s option to pull the Super Bowl from Arizona. The February 2023 game would be the fourth time the Super Bowl is held in the state.