An activist investor who has been a vocal critic of so-called environmental, social and governance, or ESG, investments is urging Apple Inc. AAPL 1.07%
and Walt Disney Co. HAZE -1.74%
not to engage in political discussions and to make employment decisions without regard to a person’s race, gender or political views.
Vivek Ramaswamy, who recently launched Strive Asset Management, said Disney should no longer take public positions on political issues unrelated to the company’s core business. The letter cited how Disney CEO Bob Chapek took a position on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act.
“Disney must act now,” Mr. Ramaswamy wrote in his letter, dated Monday. “If Disney continues to speak out on political issues that don’t affect its business, it will face even greater pressure to act when they do. And the sides Disney is expected to take will not be ones that are favorable to their business.”
A Disney spokesman said in an email that the company regularly receives input from its shareholders. “We listen to their perspectives,” he said.
In a separate letter to Apple, Mr Ramaswamy pushed back on the company’s plans to conduct a racial equality audit and asked the tech giant to make all hiring decisions without regard to political beliefs, race or gender.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Strive has positions in Apple and Disney in a recently launched exchange-traded fund that invests in large public companies. The fund has about $11 million in net assets.
Mr. Ramaswamy is the author of “Woke Inc.,” a book that argues that businesses should not be swayed by politics. Strive Management’s main energy-focused fund has $320 million in assets. Earlier this month, he publicly called out Chevron Inc.
to pump more fossil fuels over the next decade and curb spending on its energy transition plan. His energy ETF has a position in Chevron.
He says companies owe a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, not the firms that represent those shareholders, such as big asset managers like BlackRock Inc.
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“You owe a fiduciary duty to the actual owners of Disney, not to the institutions that claim to represent them,” Mr. Ramaswamy in his letter to Disney. “There is strong reason to believe that these large asset managers are not acting with their clients’ best interests in mind.”
Many asset managers have previously pushed back on criticism of ESG – the loosely defined practice of considering issues beyond short-term profit when making financial decisions – by noting that companies that consider environmental risks and opportunities have a tend to be more profitable over time.
Earlier this year, Disney’s Mr. Chapek the course on his policy of staying out of politics. At the company’s annual meeting, he said he had told Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis he was concerned about the education law’s potential impact on LGBT children. He also pledged to spend $5 million on contributions to LGBT causes. Florida passed a law in April that eliminates Disney’s special tax benefits in the state.
In his letter to Disney, Mr. Ramaswamy also called on the company to commit to having personnel policies that make it clear that customers and employees alike will not be penalized for expressing their political beliefs.
He said Disney should make all its decisions based on profitability “without regard to social, cultural or political pressure from employees, activist groups or other stakeholders.”
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