The latest saga surrounding corporate wokeness involved a billionaire investor taking on McDonald’s treatment of pregnant pigs — a battle from which McDonald’s emerged decisively victorious on Thursday.
Legendary financier Carl Icahn sent an activist letter to McDonald’s last month blaming the fast food giant for “hypocrisy” in using gestation crates to hold pregnant pigs. He contended that McDonald’s board of directors is “failing shareholders and stakeholders by presiding over animal welfare violations, supply chain lapses and what I perceive to be a hollow environmental, social and governance (‘ESG’) agenda.”
Companies that adopt ESG standards constrain themselves to certain “socially conscious” behaviors. A company may, for instance, emphasize its use of green energy, seek contracts with LGBTQ suppliers, prioritize animal welfare goals, or otherwise arrange its operations such that producing shareholder value is linked to a progressive agenda.
In his letter, Icahn criticized Wall Street for “capitalizing on ESG to drive profits without doing nearly enough to support tangible societal progress” — and said that “the ESG status quo on Wall Street needs to change.” In particular, he pointed to McDonald’s use of gestation crates — tight containers in which sows are trapped during their pregnancies — as a source of the hypocrisy.
The letter noted that McDonald’s pledged ten years ago to source over 85% of its pigs from sows not housed in gestation crates by the end of 2022. In an attempt to hold McDonald’s accountable, Icahn — who only owns around 200 McDonald’s shares — selected two board nominees and attempted to rally other shareholders behind them. However, they only received votes from 1% of outstanding shares.
According to prepared remarks from McDonald’s chairman Enrique Hernandez Jr., which were obtained by CNBC, Icahn was invited to discuss his nominations at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, but withdrew two days ago.
In some sense, Icahn succeeded in drawing attention to the issue — which his daughter and the Humane Society of the United States encouraged him to pursue ten years ago. However, Icahn also succeeded in drawing attention to ESG hypocrisy.
Indeed, a recent poll of American investors conducted by Echelon Insights on behalf of The Daily Wire revealed that respondents want no part in the ESG movement.
Most investors recognize ESG as promoting “more liberal positions” than conservative ones. While 50% believe the former and 16% believe the latter, only 21% believe that ESG investing is neutral. When choosing their own assets, most investors prefer to focus on profits instead of ESG — and most believe that other investors should have the same opportunity.
Asset managers like BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street — which collectively manage over $21 trillion — subscribe to ESG. However, 64% of respondents believe that “individual investors whose savings are being invested” should ultimately decide whether retirement funds and pension plans are allocated according to ESG criteria. A mere 20% believe that “Wall Street asset managers” should make that call.
An even stronger margin of respondents — 66% versus 20% — supported the right of individual investors to opt out of ESG-style investments. By a 56% to 28% margin, investors also supported states’ decisions to pull pension funds from investments not solely focused on the strongest possible financial returns.