BlackRock Investment Stewardship Global Principles

Sandra Boss is Global Head of Investment Stewardship; Michelle Edkins is Managing Director of Investment Stewardship; and Shinbo Won is Director of Investment Stewardship at BlackRock, Inc. This post is based on a BlackRock memorandum, by Ms. Boss, Ms. Edkins, Mr. Won, Richard Whitaker, Tanya Levy-Odom, and Jessica McDougall.

The purpose of this post is to provide an overarching explanation of BlackRock’s approach globally to our responsibilities as a shareholder on behalf of our clients, our expectations of companies, and our commitments to clients in terms of our own governance and transparency.

Introduction to BlackRock

BlackRock’s purpose is to help more and more people experience financial well-being. We manage assets on behalf of institutional and individual clients, across a full spectrum of investment strategies, asset classes, and regions. Our client base includes pension plans, endowments, foundations, charities, official institutions, insurers, and other financial institutions, as well as individuals around the world. As part of our fiduciary duty to our clients, we have determined that it is generally in the best long-term interest of our clients to promote sound corporate governance through voting as an informed, engaged shareholder. This is the responsibility of the Investment Stewardship Team.

Philosophy on investment stewardship

Companies are responsible for ensuring they have appropriate governance structures to serve the interests of shareholders and other key stakeholders. We believe that there are certain fundamental rights attached to shareholding. Companies and their boards should be accountable to shareholders and structured with appropriate checks and balances to ensure that they operate in shareholders’ best interests to create sustainable value. Shareholders should have the right to vote to elect, remove, and nominate directors, approve the appointment of the auditor, and amend the corporate charter or by-laws. Shareholders should be able to vote on matters that are material to the protection of their investment, including but not limited to, changes to the purpose of the business, dilution levels and pre-emptive rights, and the distribution of income and capital structure. In order to make informed decisions, we believe that shareholders have the right to sufficient and timely information. In addition, shareholder voting rights should be proportionate to their economic ownership—the principle of “one share, one vote” helps achieve this balance.

Consistent with these shareholder rights, we believe BlackRock has a responsibility to monitor and provide feedback to companies, in our role as stewards of our clients’ investments. BlackRock Investment Stewardship (“BIS”) does this through engagement with management teams and/or board members on material business issues including environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) matters and, for those clients who have given us authority, through voting proxies in the best long-term economic interests of our clients. We also participate in the public debate to shape global norms and industry standards with the goal of a policy framework consistent with our clients’ interests as long-term shareholders.

BlackRock looks to companies to provide timely, accurate, and comprehensive reporting on all material governance and business matters, including ESG issues. This allows shareholders to appropriately understand and assess how relevant risks and opportunities are being effectively identified and managed. Where company reporting and disclosure is inadequate or the approach taken is inconsistent with our view of what supports sustainable long-term value creation, we will engage with a company and/or use our vote to encourage a change in practice.

BlackRock views engagement as an important activity; engagement provides us with the opportunity to improve our understanding of the business and ESG risks and opportunities that are material to the companies in which our clients invest. As long-term investors on behalf of clients, we seek to have regular and continuing dialogue with executives and board directors to advance sound governance and sustainable business practices, as well as to understand the effectiveness of the company’s management and oversight of material issues. Engagement is an important mechanism for providing feedback on company practices and disclosures, particularly where we believe they could be enhanced. We primarily engage through direct dialogue but may use other tools such as written correspondence to share our perspectives. Engagement also informs our voting decisions.

We vote in support of management and boards where and to the extent they demonstrate an approach consistent with creating sustainable long-term value. If we have concerns about a company’s approach, we may choose to engage to explain our expectations. Where we consider that a company has failed to address one or more material issues within an appropriate timeframe, we may hold directors accountable or take other voting actions to signal our concerns. We apply our voting guidelines to achieve the outcome we believe is most aligned with our clients’ long-term economic interests.

Key themes

We recognize that accepted standards and norms of corporate governance differ between markets; however, there are sufficient common threads globally to identify this overarching set of principles (the “Principles”) which are anchored in transparency and accountability. At a minimum, we expect companies to observe the accepted corporate governance standards in their domestic market or to explain why not doing so supports sustainable long-term value creation.

Our regional and market-specific voting guidelines explain how these Principles inform our voting decisions in relation to specific ballot items for shareholder meetings.

These Principles cover seven key themes:

  • Boards and directors
  • Auditors and audit-related issues
  • Capital structure, mergers, asset sales, and other special transactions
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Environmental and social issues
  • General corporate governance matters and shareholder protections
  • Shareholder proposals

Boards and directors

The performance of the board is critical to the economic success of the company and the protection of shareholders’ interests. As part of their responsibilities, board members owe fiduciary duties to shareholders in overseeing the strategic direction and operation of the company. For this reason, BlackRock focuses on directors in many of our engagements and sees the election of directors as one of our most important responsibilities in the proxy voting context.

We support boards whose approach is consistent with creating sustainable long-term value. This includes the effective management of strategic, operational, and material ESG factors and the consideration of key stakeholder interests. Our primary focus is on the performance of the board of directors. The board should establish and maintain a framework of robust and effective governance mechanisms to support its oversight of the company’s strategic aims. We look to the board to articulate the effectiveness of these mechanisms in overseeing the management of business risks and opportunities and the fulfillment of the company’s purpose. Disclosure of material issues that affect the company’s long-term strategy and value creation, including material ESG factors, is essential for shareholders to be able to appropriately understand and assess how the board is effectively identifying, managing, and mitigating risks.

Where a company has not adequately disclosed and demonstrated these responsibilities, we will consider withholding our support for the re-election of directors whom we hold accountable. We assess director performance on a case-by-case basis and in light of each company’s particular circumstances, taking into consideration our assessment of their governance, sustainable business practices, and performance. In serving the interests of shareholders, the responsibility of the board of directors includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Establishing an appropriate corporate governance structure
  • Supporting and overseeing management in setting long-term strategic goals, applicable measures of value-creation and milestones that will demonstrate progress, and steps taken if any obstacles are anticipated or incurred
  • Providing oversight on the identification and management of material, business operational and sustainability-related risks
  • Overseeing the financial resilience of the company, the integrity of financial statements, and the robustness of a company’s Enterprise Risk Management [1] frameworks
  • Making decisions on matters that require independent evaluation which may include mergers, acquisitions and disposals, activist situations or other similar cases
  • Establishing appropriate executive compensation structures
  • Addressing business issues, including environmental and social issues, when they have the potential to materially impact the company’s long-term value

There should be clear definitions of the role of the board, the committees of the board and senior management. We set out below ways in which boards and directors can demonstrate a commitment to acting in the best interests of long-term shareholders. We will seek to engage with the appropriate directors where we have concerns about the performance of the company, board, or individual directors. As noted above, we believe that when a company is not effectively addressing a material issue, its directors should be held accountable.

Regular accountability

BlackRock believes that directors should stand for re-election on a regular basis, ideally annually. In our experience, annual re-elections allow shareholders to reaffirm their support for board members or hold them accountable for their decisions in a timely manner. When board members are not re-elected annually, we believe it is good practice for boards to have a rotation policy to ensure that, through a board cycle, all directors have had their appointment re-confirmed, with a proportion of directors being put forward for re-election at each annual general meeting.

Effective board composition

Regular director elections also give boards the opportunity to adjust their composition in an orderly way to reflect the evolution of the company’s strategy and the market environment. BlackRock believes it is beneficial for new directors to be brought onto the board periodically to refresh the group’s thinking and in a manner that supports both continuity and appropriate succession planning. We expect companies to keep under regular review the effectiveness of its board (including its size), and assess directors nominated for election or re-election in the context of the composition of the board as a whole. This assessment should consider a number of factors, including the potential need to address gaps in skills or experience, the diversity of the board, and the balance of independent and non-independent directors. We also consider the average tenure of the overall board, where we are seeking a balance between the knowledge and experience of longer-serving members and the fresh perspectives of newer members.

When nominating new directors to the board, there should be detailed information on the individual candidates in order for shareholders to assess the suitability of an individual nominee and the overall board composition. These disclosures should give a clear sense of how the collective experience and expertise of the board aligns with the company’s long-term strategy and business model. We also expect disclosures to demonstrate how diversity is accounted for within the proposed board composition, including demographic factors such as gender, ethnicity, and age; as well as professional characteristics, such as a director’s industry experience, specialist areas of expertise, and geographic location.

We expect there to be a sufficient number of independent directors, free from conflicts of interest or undue influence from connected parties, to ensure objectivity in the decision-making of the board and its ability to oversee management.

Common impediments to independence may include but are not limited to:

  • Current or recent employment at the company or a subsidiary
  • Being, or representing, a shareholder with a substantial shareholding in the company
  • Interlocking directorships
  • Having any other interest, business, or other relationship which could, or could reasonably be perceived to, materially interfere with a director’s ability to act in the best interests of the company

BlackRock believes that the board is able to fulfill its fiduciary duty when there is a clearly independent, senior non-executive director to chair it or, where the chairman is also the CEO (or is otherwise not independent), a lead independent l director. The role of this director is to enhance the effectiveness of the independent members of the board through shaping the agenda, ensuring adequate information is provided to the board and encouraging independent participation in board deliberations. The lead independent director or another appropriate director should be available to shareholders in those situations where an independent director is best placed to explain and justify a company’s approach.

There are matters for which the board has responsibility that may involve a conflict of interest for executives or for affiliated directors. BlackRock believes that objective oversight of such matters is best achieved when the board forms committees comprised entirely of independent directors. In many markets, these committees of the board specialize in audit, director nominations and compensation matters. An ad hoc committee might also be formed to decide on a special transaction, particularly one involving a related party, or to investigate a significant adverse event.

Sufficient capacity

As the role of a director is demanding, directors must be able to commit an appropriate amount of time to board and committee matters. It is important that every director has the capacity to meet all of his/her responsibilities—including when there are unforeseen events—and therefore, he/she should not take on an excessive number of roles that would impair his/her ability to fulfill his/her duties.

Auditors and audit-related issues

BlackRock recognizes the critical importance of financial statements, which should provide a true and fair picture of a company’s financial condition. Accordingly, the assumptions made by management and reviewed by the auditor in preparing the financial statements should be reasonable and justified.

The accuracy of financial statements, inclusive of financial and non-financial information, is clearly of paramount importance to BlackRock. Investors’ views on financial materiality are developing to encompass a broader range of risks. Over time, we expect increased scrutiny of the assumptions underlying financial reports.

In this context, audit committees, or equivalent, play a vital role in a company’s financial reporting system by providing independent oversight of the accounts, material financial and non-financial information, internal control frameworks, and Enterprise Risk Management systems. BlackRock believes that effective audit and risk committee oversight strengthens the quality and reliability of a company’s financial statements and provides an important level of reassurance to shareholders.

We hold the members of the audit committee or equivalent responsible for overseeing the management of the audit function. Audit committees or equivalent should have clearly articulated charters that set out the committee’s responsibilities and have a rotation plan in place that allows for a periodic refreshment of the committee memberships.

We take particular note of critical accounting matters, cases involving significant financial restatements or ad hoc notifications of material financial weakness. In this respect, audit committees should provide timely disclosure on the remediation of Key and Critical Audit Matters identified either by the external auditor or Internal Audit function.

The integrity of financial statements depends on the auditor being free of any impediments to being an effective check on management. To that end, we believe it is important that auditors are, and are seen to be, independent. Where the audit firm provides services to the company in addition to the audit, the fees earned should be disclosed and explained. Audit committees should have in place a procedure for assessing annually the independence of the auditor and the quality of the external audit process.

Comprehensive disclosure provides investors with a sense of the company’s long-term operational risk management practices and, more broadly, the quality of the board’s oversight. The audit committee or equivalent should periodically review the company’s risk assessment and risk management policies and significant risks and exposures identified by management, the internal auditors or the independent accountants, and management’s steps to address them. In the absence of robust disclosures, we may reasonably conclude that companies are not adequately managing risk.

Capital structure, mergers, asset sales, and other special transactions

The capital structure of a company is critical to shareholders as it impacts the value of their investment and the priority of their interest in the company relative to that of other equity or debt investors. Pre-emptive rights are a key protection for shareholders against the dilution of their interests.

Effective voting rights are basic rights of share ownership and we believe strongly in one vote for one share as a guiding principle that supports effective corporate governance. Shareholders, as the residual claimants, have the strongest interest in protecting company value, and voting power should match economic exposure.

In principle, we disagree with the creation of a share class with equivalent economic exposure and preferential, differentiated voting rights as it violates the fundamental corporate governance principle of proportionality, and results in a concentration of power in the hands of a few shareholders, thus disenfranchising other shareholders and amplifying any potential conflicts of interest. However, we recognize that in certain markets, at least for a period of time, companies may have a valid argument for dual-class listings. We believe that such companies should review these share class structures on a regular basis or as company circumstances change. Additionally, they should receive shareholder approval of their capital structure on a periodic basis via a management proposal at the company’s shareholder meeting. The proposal should give unaffiliated shareholders the opportunity to affirm the current structure or establish mechanisms to end or phase out controlling structures at the appropriate time, while minimizing costs to shareholders.

In assessing mergers, asset sales, or other special transactions, BlackRock’s primary consideration is the long-term economic interests of our clients as shareholders. Boards proposing a transaction need to clearly explain the economic and strategic rationale behind it. We will review a proposed transaction to determine the degree to which it enhances long-term shareholder value. We would prefer that proposed transactions have the unanimous support of the board and have been negotiated at arm’s length. We may seek reassurance from the board that executives’ and/or board members’ financial interests in a given transaction have not adversely affected their ability to place shareholders’ interests before their own. Where the transaction involves related parties, we would expect the recommendation to support it to come from the independent directors, and ideally, the terms have been assessed through an independent appraisal process. In addition, it is good practice that it be approved by a separate vote of the non-conflicted shareholders.

BlackRock believes that shareholders have a right to dispose of company shares in the open market without unnecessary restriction. In our view, corporate mechanisms designed to limit shareholders’ ability to sell their shares are contrary to basic property rights. Such mechanisms can serve to protect and entrench interests other than those of the shareholders. We believe that shareholders are broadly capable of making decisions in their own best interests. We expect any so-called ‘shareholder rights plans’ proposed by a board to be subject to shareholder approval upon introduction and periodically thereafter for continuation.

Compensation and benefits

BlackRock expects a company’s board of directors to put in place a compensation structure that incentivizes and rewards executives appropriately and is linked with performance that aligns with shareholder interests, particularly the generation of sustainable long-term value. We would expect the compensation committee to carefully consider the specific circumstances of the company and the key individuals the board is trying to incentivize. We encourage companies to ensure that their compensation plans incorporate appropriate and rigorous performance metrics consistent with corporate strategy and market practice. We use third party research, in addition to our own analysis, to evaluate existing and proposed compensation structures. We hold members of the compensation committee or equivalent board members accountable for poor compensation practices or structures.

BlackRock believes that there should be a clear link between variable pay and company performance that drives value creation. We are not supportive of one-off or special bonuses unrelated to company or individual performance. Where discretion has been used by the compensation committee, we expect disclosure relating to how and why the discretion was used, and further, how the adjusted outcome is aligned with the interests of shareholders. We acknowledge that the use of peer group evaluation by compensation committees can help ensure competitive pay; however, we are concerned when the rationale for increases in total compensation at a company is solely based on peer benchmarking rather than a rigorous measure of outperformance.

We support incentive plans that foster the sustainable achievement of results consistent with the company’s long-term strategic initiatives. The vesting timeframes associated with incentive plans should facilitate a focus on long-term value creation. We believe consideration should be given to building claw back provisions into incentive plans such that executives would be required to forgo rewards when they are not justified by actual performance and/or when compensation was based on faulty financial reporting or deceptive business practices. We also favor recoupment from any senior executive whose behavior caused material financial harm to shareholders, material reputational risk to the company, or resulted in a criminal investigation, even if such actions did not ultimately result in a material restatement of past results. Compensation committees should guard against contractual arrangements that would entitle executives to material compensation for early termination of their contract. Finally, pension contributions and other deferred compensation arrangements should be reasonable in light of market practice.

Non-executive directors should be compensated in a manner that is commensurate with the time and effort expended in fulfilling their professional responsibilities. Additionally, these compensation arrangements should not risk compromising their independence or aligning their interests too closely with those of the management, whom they are charged with overseeing.

Environmental and social issues

We believe that well-managed companies will deal effectively with material ESG factors relevant to their businesses. As stated throughout this document, governance is the core structure by which boards can oversee the creation of sustainable long-term value —appropriate risk oversight of environmental and social (“E&S”) considerations stems from this construct.

Robust disclosure is essential for investors to effectively gauge companies’ business practices and strategic planning related to E&S risks and opportunities. When a company’s reporting is inadequate, investors, including BlackRock, will increasingly conclude that companies are not adequately managing risk. Given the increased understanding of material sustainability risks and opportunities, and the need for better information to assess them, BlackRock will advocate for continued improvement in companies’ reporting and will hold management and/or directors accountable where disclosures or the business practices underlying them are inadequate.

BlackRock views the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and the standards put forward by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) as appropriate and complementary frameworks for companies to adopt for the disclosure of financially material sustainability information. While the TCFD framework was crafted with the aim of climate-related risk disclosure, the four pillars of the TCFD Governance, Strategy, Risk Management, and Metrics and Targets are a useful way for companies to disclose how they identify, assess, manage, and oversee a variety of sustainability-related risks and opportunities. SASB’s industry-specific guidance (as identified in its materiality map) is beneficial in helping companies identify key performance indicators (KPIs) across various dimensions of sustainability that are considered to be financially material and decision-useful within their industry,

Accordingly, we ask companies to:

  • Disclose the identification, assessment, management, and oversight of sustainability-related risks in accordance with the four pillars of TCFD; and
  • Publish SASB-aligned reporting with industry-specific, material metrics and rigorous targets. [2]

Companies may also adopt or refer to guidance on sustainable and responsible business conduct issued by supranational organizations such as the United Nations or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Further, industry specific initiatives on managing specific operational risks may be useful. Companies should disclose any global standards adopted, the industry initiatives in which they participate, any peer group benchmarking undertaken, and any assurance processes to help investors understand their approach to sustainable and responsible business practices.

Climate risk

BlackRock believes that climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. We expect every company to help their investors understand how the company may be impacted by climate-related risk and opportunities, and how they are considered within strategy. Specifically, we expect companies to articulate how they are aligned to a scenario in which global warming is limited to well below 2°C and is consistent with a global aspiration to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2050. [3]

The public and private sectors have roles to play in aligning greenhouse gas reduction efforts with targets based on science, where available, to curb the worst effects of climate change and reach the global goal of carbon neutrality by the mid-century. Companies have an opportunity to utilize and contribute to the development of current and future low-carbon transition technologies, which are an important consideration for the rate at which emissions can be reduced. We expect companies to disclose how they are considering these challenges, alongside opportunities for innovation, within their strategy and emissions reduction efforts.

Key stakeholder interests 

Given our expectation that companies operate in long-term shareholders’ interests to create sustainable value and fulfill their purpose, BlackRock believes that companies should take due account of their key stakeholders’ interests. It is for each company to determine its key stakeholders based on what is material to its business, but they are likely to include employees, business partners (such as suppliers and distributors), clients and consumers, government and regulators, and the communities in which they operate, as well as investors.

Having regard to the interests of key stakeholders recognizes the collective nature of long-term value creation, and the extent to which each company’s prospects for growth are tied to its ability to foster strong sustainable relationships with those stakeholders. Companies should articulate how they address adverse impacts that could arise from their business practices and affect critical business relationships with their stakeholders. We expect companies to implement, to the extent appropriate, monitoring processes (often referred to as due diligence) to identify and mitigate potential adverse impacts, and grievance mechanisms to remediate any actual adverse impacts. The maintenance of trust within these relationships is often equated with a company’s social license to operate.

To ensure transparency and accountability, companies should report on how they have identified their key stakeholders and considered their interests in business decision-making, demonstrating the applicable governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets. This approach should be overseen by the board, whose job it is to ensure that the approach taken is informed by and aligns with the company’s purpose.

General corporate governance matters and shareholder protections

BlackRock believes that shareholders have a right to material and timely information on the financial performance and viability of the companies in which they invest. In addition, companies should also publish information on the governance structures in place and the rights of shareholders to influence these structures. The reporting and disclosure provided by companies help shareholders assess whether their economic interests have been protected and the quality of the board’s oversight of management. We believe shareholders should have the right to vote on key corporate governance matters, including changes to governance mechanisms, to submit proposals to the shareholders’ meeting, and to call special meetings of shareholders.

Shareholder proposals

In most markets in which BlackRock invests on behalf of clients, shareholders have the right to submit proposals to be voted on by shareholders at a company’s annual or extraordinary meeting, as long as eligibility and procedural requirements are met. The matters that we see put forward by shareholders address a wide range of topics, including governance reforms, capital management, and improvements in the management or disclosure of environmental and social risks.

When assessing shareholder proposals, we evaluate each proposal on its merit, with a singular focus on its implications for long-term value creation. We consider the business and economic relevance of the issue raised, as well as its materiality and the urgency with which we believe it should be addressed. We take into consideration the legal effect of the proposal, as shareholder proposals may be advisory or legally binding depending on the jurisdiction. We would not support proposals that we believe would result in over-reaching into the basic business decisions of the issuer.

Where a proposal is focused on an issue that we agree needs to be addressed and the intended outcome is consistent with long-term value creation, we will look to the board and management to demonstrate that the company has met the intent of the request made in the shareholder proposal. Where our analysis and / or engagement indicate a need for improvement in the company’s approach to the issue, we will support shareholder proposals that are reasonable and not unduly constraining on management. Alternatively, or in addition, we may vote against the re-election of one of more directors if, in our assessment, the board has not responded sufficiently or with an appropriate sense of urgency.

BlackRock’s oversight of its investment stewardship activities

Oversight

We hold ourselves to a very high standard in our investment stewardship activities, including proxy voting. To meet this standard, BIS is comprised of BlackRock employees who do not have other responsibilities other than their roles in BIS. BIS is considered an investment function.

BlackRock maintains three regional advisory committees (“Stewardship Advisory Committees”) for (a) the Americas; (b) Europe, the Middle East and Africa (“EMEA”); and (c) Asia-Pacific, generally consisting of senior BlackRock investment professionals and/or senior employees with practical boardroom experience. The regional Stewardship Advisory Committees review and advise on amendments to BIS proxy voting guidelines covering markets within each respective region (“Guidelines”).

In addition to the regional Stewardship Advisory Committees, the Investment Stewardship Global Oversight Committee (“Global Committee”) is a risk-focused committee, comprised of senior representatives from various BlackRock investment teams, a senior legal representative, the Global Head of Investment Stewardship (“Global Head”), and other senior executives with relevant experience and team oversight.

The Global Head has primary oversight of the activities of BIS, including voting in accordance with the Guidelines, which require the application of professional judgment and consideration of each company’s unique circumstances. The Global Committee reviews and approves amendments to these Principles. The Global Committee also reviews and approves amendments to the regional Guidelines, as proposed by the regional Stewardship Advisory Committees.

In addition, the Global Committee receives and reviews periodic reports regarding the votes cast by BIS, as well as updates on material process issues, procedural changes, and other risk oversight considerations. The Global Committee reviews these reports in an oversight capacity as informed by the BIS corporate governance engagement program and the Guidelines.

BIS carries out engagement with companies, monitors and executes proxy votes, and conducts vote operations (including maintaining records of votes cast) in a manner consistent with the relevant Guidelines. BIS also conducts research on corporate governance issues and participates in industry discussions to contribute to and keep abreast of important developments in the corporate governance field. BIS may utilize third parties for certain of the foregoing activities and performs oversight of those third parties. BIS may raise complicated or particularly controversial matters for internal discussion with the relevant investment teams and/or refer such matters to the appropriate regional Stewardship Advisory Committees for review, discussion and guidance prior to making a voting decision.

Vote execution

We carefully consider proxies submitted to funds and other fiduciary account(s) (“Fund” or “Funds”) for which we have voting authority. BlackRock votes (or refrains from voting) proxies for each Fund for which we have voting authority based on our evaluation of the best long-term economic interests of our clients as shareholders, in the exercise of our independent business judgment, and without regard to the relationship of the issuer of the proxy (or any shareholder proponent or dissident shareholder) to the Fund, the Fund’s affiliates (if any), BlackRock or BlackRock’s affiliates, or BlackRock employees (see “Conflicts management policies and procedures”, below).

When exercising voting rights, BlackRock will normally vote on specific proxy issues in accordance with the Guidelines for the relevant market. The Guidelines are reviewed regularly and are amended consistent with changes in the local market practice, as developments in corporate governance occur, or as otherwise deemed advisable by the applicable Stewardship Advisory Committees. BIS analysts may, in the exercise of their professional judgment, conclude that the Guidelines do not cover the specific matter upon which a proxy vote is required or that an exception to the Guidelines would be in the best long-term economic interests of BlackRock’s clients.

In the uncommon circumstance of there being a vote with respect to fixed income securities or the securities of privately held issuers, the decision generally will be made by a Fund’s portfolio managers and/or BIS based on their assessment of the particular transactions or other matters at issue.

In certain markets, proxy voting involves logistical issues which can affect BlackRock’s ability to vote such proxies, as well as the desirability of voting such proxies. These issues include, but are not limited to: (i) untimely notice of shareholder meetings; (ii) restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to exercise votes; (iii) requirements to vote proxies in person; (iv) “share-blocking” (requirements that investors who exercise their voting rights surrender the right to dispose of their holdings for some specified period in proximity to the shareholder meeting); (v) potential difficulties in translating the proxy; (vi) regulatory constraints; and (vii) requirements to provide local agents with unrestricted powers of attorney to facilitate voting instructions. We are not supportive of impediments to the exercise of voting rights such as share-blocking or overly burdensome administrative requirements.

As a consequence, BlackRock votes proxies on a “best-efforts” basis. In addition, BIS may determine that it is generally in the best interests of BlackRock’s clients not to vote proxies if the costs (including but not limited to opportunity costs associated with share-blocking constraints) associated with exercising a vote are expected to outweigh the benefit the client would derive by voting on the proposal.

Portfolio managers have full discretion to vote the shares in the Funds they manage based on their analysis of the economic impact of a particular ballot item. Portfolio managers may from time to time reach differing views on how best to maximize economic value with respect to a particular investment. Therefore, portfolio managers may, and sometimes do, vote shares in the Funds under their management differently from one another. However, because BlackRock’s clients are mostly long-term investors with long-term economic goals, ballots are frequently cast in a uniform manner.

Conflicts management policies and procedures

BIS maintains policies and procedures that seek to prevent undue influence on BlackRock’s proxy voting activity. Such influence might stem from any relationship between the investee company (or any shareholder proponent or dissident shareholder) and BlackRock, BlackRock’s affiliates, a Fund or a Fund’s affiliates, or BlackRock employees. The following are examples of sources of perceived or potential conflicts of interest:

  • BlackRock clients who may be issuers of securities or proponents of shareholder resolutions
  • BlackRock business partners or third parties who may be issuers of securities or proponents of shareholder resolutions
  • BlackRock employees who may sit on the boards of public companies held in Funds managed by BlackRock
  • Significant BlackRock, investors who may be issuers of securities held in Funds managed by BlackRock
  • Securities of BlackRock, or BlackRock investment funds held in Funds managed by BlackRock
  • BlackRock, board members who serve as senior executives of public companies held in Funds managed by BlackRock

BlackRock has taken certain steps to mitigate perceived or potential conflicts including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Adopted the Guidelines which are designed to advance our clients’ interests in the companies in which BlackRock invests on behalf of clients.
  • Established a reporting structure that separates BIS from employees with sales, vendor management, or business partnership roles. In addition, BlackRock seeks to ensure that all engagements with corporate issuers, dissident shareholders or shareholder proponents are managed consistently and without regard to BlackRock’s relationship with such parties. Clients or business partners are not given special treatment or differentiated access to BIS. BIS prioritizes engagements based on factors including, but not limited to, our need for additional information to make a voting decision or our view on the likelihood that an engagement could lead to positive outcome(s) over time for the economic value of the Within the normal course of business, BIS may engage directly with BlackRock clients, business partners and/or third parties, and/or with employees with sales, vendor management, or business partnership roles, in discussions regarding our approach to stewardship, general corporate governance matters, client reporting needs, and/or to otherwise ensure that proxy-related client service levels are met.
  • Determined to engage, in certain instances, an independent fiduciary to vote proxies as a further safeguard to avoid potential conflicts of interest, to satisfy regulatory compliance requirements, or as may be otherwise required by applicable law. In such circumstances, the independent fiduciary provides BlackRock’s proxy voting agent with instructions, in accordance with the Guidelines, as to how to vote such proxies, and BlackRock’s proxy voting agent votes the proxy in accordance with the independent fiduciary’s BlackRock uses an independent fiduciary to vote proxies of BlackRock, Inc. and companies affiliated with BlackRock, Inc. BlackRock may also use an independent fiduciary to vote proxies of:
    1. public companies that include BlackRock employees on their boards of directors,
    2. public companies of which a BlackRock, board member serves as a senior executive,
    3. public companies that are the subject of certain transactions involving BlackRock Funds,
    4. public companies that are joint venture partners with BlackRock, and
    5. public companies when legal or regulatory requirements compel BlackRock to use an independent fiduciary.

In selecting an independent fiduciary, we assess several characteristics, including but not limited to: independence, an ability to analyze proxy issues and vote in the best economic interest of our clients, reputation for reliability and integrity, and operational capacity to accurately deliver the assigned votes in a timely manner. We may engage more than one independent fiduciary, in part in order to mitigate potential or perceived conflicts of interest at an independent fiduciary. The Global Committee appoints and reviews the performance of the independent fiduciaries, generally on an annual basis.

When so authorized, BlackRock acts as a securities lending agent on behalf of Funds. With regard to the relationship between securities lending and proxy voting, BlackRock’s approach is driven by our clients’ economic interests. The decision whether to recall securities on loan to vote is based on a formal analysis of the revenue producing value to clients of loans, against the assessed economic value of casting votes. Generally, we expect that the likely economic value to clients of casting votes would be less than the securities lending income, either because, in our assessment, the resolutions being voted on will not have significant economic consequences or because the outcome would not be affected by BlackRock voting the loaned securities that were recalled in order to vote. BlackRock also may, in our discretion, determine that the value of voting outweighs the cost of recalling shares, and thus recall shares to vote in that instance.

Periodically, BlackRock reviews our process for determining whether to recall securities on loan in order to vote and may modify it as necessary.

Voting guidelines

The issue-specific Guidelines published for each region/country in which we vote are intended to summarize BlackRock’s general philosophy and approach to issues that may commonly arise in the proxy voting context in each market where we invest. The Guidelines are not intended to be exhaustive. BIS applies the Guidelines on a case-by-case basis, in the context of the individual circumstances of each company and the specific issue under review. As such, the Guidelines do not indicate how BIS will vote in every instance. Rather, they reflect our view about corporate governance issues generally, and provide insight into how we typically approach issues that commonly arise on corporate ballots.

Reporting and vote transparency

Investment stewardship is how we use our voice as an investor to promote sound corporate governance and business practices to help maximize long-term shareholder value for our clients, the vast majority of whom are investing for long-term goals such as retirement. We are committed to transparency in the stewardship work we do on behalf of clients. We inform clients about our engagement and voting policies and activities through direct communication and through disclosure on our website. Each year we publish an annual report as well as quarterly stewardship reports which provide a global overview of our investment stewardship engagement and voting activities during the quarter, including market developments, speaking engagements, and engagement, and voting statistics. Additionally, we make public our market-specific voting guidelines for the benefit of clients and companies with whom we engage. We also publish commentaries to share our perspective on market developments and emerging key themes.

At a more granular level, we publish quarterly our vote record for each company that held a shareholder meeting during the period, showing how we voted on each proposal and explaining any votes against management proposals or on shareholder proposals. For shareholder meetings where a vote might be high profile or of significant interest to clients, we publish a voting bulletin shortly after the meeting, disclosing and explaining our vote on key proposals. We also publish a quarterly list of all companies we engaged and the key topics addressed in the engagement meeting.

In this way, we help inform our clients about the work we do on their behalf in promoting the governance and business practices that support long-term sustainable value creation.

Endnotes

1Enterprise risk management is a process, effected by the entity’s board of directors, management, and other personnel, applied in strategy setting and across the enterprise, designed to identify potential events that may affect the entity, and manage risk to be within the risk appetite, to provide reasonable assurance regarding the achievement of objectives. (Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO), Enterprise Risk Management—Integrated Framework, September 2004, New York, NY).(go back)

2See our commentary on our approach to engagement on TCFD and SASB aligned reporting for greater detail of our expectations.(go back)

3The global aspiration is reflective of aggregated efforts; companies in developed and emerging markets are not equally equipped to transition their business and reduce emissions at the same rate—those in developed markets with the largest market capitalization are better positioned to adapt their business models at an accelerated pace. Government policy and regional targets may be reflective of these realities.(go back)

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